Jessica Chelst (Class of 2022)

photo of Jessica Chelst

  • Pre-Law junior majoring in Political Science 
  • Minor in Disability Studies 
  • From Bethesda, Maryland 
  • Prodesse Scholar; director of diversity and inclusion for the Panhellenic Association
  • Co-chair for Panhellenic’s Education and Programming Impact team; member of Miami Dance Corps

"No one forces you to do things in college. You may be slightly nudged, but at the end of the day it’s your choice. College is the life you create for yourself, so I’ve made this life one where I can learn, grow, make friends, and feel like a part of a community. Even after I graduate and these experiences fizzle away, I’ll still have the skills, the memories, and all the fun because of everything I do on campus."

Why Miami?

"I chose Miami because the community felt like a great space, and I liked the small college town feel. I was accepted into the Prodesse Scholars Program as a Law and Public Policy (now Law and Politics) Scholar, which has given me a lot of opportunities to go to law school. I also got a good sense that Miami professors are supportive and willing to meet with me to talk about my interests and help me with any questions, even beyond schoolwork.

"I always wanted to study political science and go to law school. I’m also getting my master’s degree, and coming in I didn’t know that Miami has a combined BA-MA graduate program, so that was a cool opportunity that I discovered. And as a Prodesse Scholar, I got to take a special class during freshman year with a lawyer from Cincinnati. Academically, I was able to have those intimate experiences in exploring pre-law and political science at Miami."

Best Miami Experiences

Jessica performing with the Miami Dance Corps.

"I want to become a public interest lawyer, and I’m very passionate about diversity and inclusion. I’m the director of diversity and inclusion for the Panhellenic Association, which puts me in charge of such initiatives for all the Miami sororities. I played this role last year at my own sorority, Tri Delta, and founded its first diversity and inclusion committee. Having the opportunity to explore diversity and inclusion within my academics has encouraged me to continue this work in law school. 

"After the death of George Floyd, I talked with my sorority's chapter president about how we can make our communities better. Nationally, Tri Delta gave a statement about diversity and inclusion committees, and I realized that our Miami chapter never had that committee. We were able to create this committee and start initiating change in our chapter, and that is what ultimately led me to do the same with the Panhellenic Association. I also had the opportunity to become the co-chair for the Education and Programming Impact team."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

Jessica with members of her sorority volunteering at Ronald McDonald House

"The political science major involves critical thinking about structures of our government and politics. It provides an in-depth perspective on different forms of government policy and helps you build reading, writing, and critically thinking skills. We look at the implications of policy and issues, thinking about how and why this happened.

"I love that Miami’s Department of Political Science offers so many different opportunities and types of classes. I’m currently taking a class on public policy, which has given me the opportunity to work with the City of Oxford. I’m getting hands-on experience by working on policies regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’ve been able to take classes on both foreign and domestic policy. This has allowed me to explore what I’m interested in within the field because there are so many different possibilities.

"The Sue J. Henry Center for Pre-law Education has been really amazing at helping me discover my interests in the legal field and narrow down possible interests for the type of law I want to pursue. Not only has being a Prodesse Scholar focusing on law and politics allowed me to have special opportunities to further my academic interests, but faculty such as pre-law director Maria Vitullo have been a great resource in preparing me for law school."

Working to Expand Opportunities in Diversity and Inclusion

Jessica with fellow Prodesse Scholars visiting their professor's Cincinnati law firm.

"As co-chair for the Panhellenic Association’s Education and Programming Impact team, I have created educational programming on the historical implications of Greek life and looked at our policies to see how we can best educate sorority members about diversity and inclusion. 

"Having that experience in my own sorority chapter at Tri Delta and Panhellenic has led me into managing all the diversity and inclusion chairs across all chapters. I have also been working with Miami’s Associated Student Government (ASG) to talk about diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

"For example, one initiative is working with ASG to create a non-discriminatory clause in our bylaws. Mark Curnutte, an instructor of social justice in the Department of Sociology and Gerontology, has been extremely helpful. He has really served as a great inspiration in fueling my passion for social justice and giving me ideas for this position.

"Working with both Panhellenic and chapter leaderships has helped me learn how to be a better advocate to help marginalized communities and create an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Greek life space here at Miami. It has also taught me how to be a leader and an active listener. I’ve found that one of the most important parts of the role is to listen to feedback!"

Advice to Students

"Keep an open mind. Coming to Miami, you probably don’t know at first what path you want to take. None of the things I have accomplished during my time here I would have ever expected to do or even thought about doing. With an open mind about all of these opportunities, you may discover an interest that you never would have expected. 

"If you decide to pursue a major in political science, make sure it is something you’re passionate about. All the hard work is worth it if you are interested in the material, enjoy what you’re doing!"

[April 2021]