Sciaska Ulysse (C '21) began to visit Penn in ninth grade, when her brother was receiving treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Sciaska recalls taking breaks during hospital visits, walking around, and finding herself fascinated by Penn’s campus.
As a first–generation, low–income student and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, Sciaska always kept the importance of higher education in mind. When it was time to apply to college, she saw Penn as the perfect fit, in part because it was close to her hometown and allowed her to visit her brother at CHOP.
The summer before her senior year of high school, Sciaska participated in Penn’s summer business institute for high school students, the Leadership, Education, and Development Program. It made her even more interested in attending Penn and gave her a clearer picture of what she wanted to study.
“I found out that business wasn't my first love. I didn't see myself pursuing it full time, but it's still something I really want to dabble in. So I was like, ‘Okay, I'm not going to major in it. I'm not going to go to Wharton, but I still don't want to give up [that] side of me,'” she says.
She decided to follow the pre–med track, majoring in neuroscience with minors in health care management and chemistry. Sciaska says that even though she tried to stay away from medicine growing up—a lot of her family members are in the field—she constantly found herself back on that path. She hopes her studies will allow her to accomplish her goal of making medicine and health care more accessible.
On top of her academic pursuits, Sciaska has found other ways to accomplish her mission. As a first year at Penn, she got involved in the Moelis Access Science Program at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, which supports STEM education in K–12 classrooms. She saw this as a way to use her knowledge of neuroscience to support other students interested in the field.
“I've always been this person who likes to really mentor students and teach other people, just because I grew up with a lot of help and a lot of people guiding me," she says. "I felt like this would be the best way for me to give back.”
She also works with Community School Student Partnerships (CSSP), an organization that provides academic support to schools in West Philly. Through her involvement, Sciaska has had the opportunity to help students with both academic and general life skills, like how to apply to college or how to write a check.
“I thought [CSSP] was really cool, just because it was very, very personal. It was after school, and a lot of students didn't have to be there," she says. "So the fact that they wanted to spend their time really just perfecting these important life skills meant the world to me—because if I'm giving my time, [and] you're giving your time, we can make something happen."
Sciaska has also dedicated her time to organizations that focus on undergraduate Penn students’ needs. Since her first year, she's been involved with the Minority Association of Pre–Health Students (MAPS). Initially, she was a general body member, but her commitment increased as she went from external affairs chair, to vice president, to her current position as president of the organization.
Sciaska emphasizes the impact MAPS can have by offering minority students a great support system while they're pursuing their studies in challenging STEM fields. “I really ensure that we have this community to help students be successful for their four year journey," she says. "So I make sure they have adequate resources, give them great tips about what professors to take, what not to take, what combination of classes to take. I feel as though it's been helpful, for sure.”
One of her activities stands out from the rest. At first glance, Sciaska’s work for The WALK Magazine may seem unrelated to everything she does. However, it allows her to explore one of her passions: makeup. She says that she joined the magazine because it gave her the opportunity to practice looks on a diverse group of people.
“[The WALK] was one of my favorite experiences when it was happening in person, just because I got to add a creative outlet that I never really got to express in my STEM classes,” she says.
Sciaska's even been able to connect her love for makeup with her passion for medicine. She posts makeup looks and relates them to health topics on her Instagram page, @beatbyskeet. For example, she posted an eyeshadow look with hot pink flames and wrote tips to prevent academic burnout in the caption.
Her campus involvement—along with her summer work at the Penn Center for Women’s Behavioral Wellness and the Penn Program for Public Service—led Sciaska to receive the Women of Color at Penn Award. This award recognizes women of color at Penn who have worked towards “[promoting] education, cultural diversity, and positive change on campus and in the world.”
Sciaska didn't know she was nominated until she won the award. “I was just surprised because—I said it in my speech—but the work that I do, I don't do it to be recognized. I do it because this is just who I am," she says. "To know that people have been watching me and people are proud of my work added a different layer and made me feel really appreciated. It was a very heartwarming experience. Just being able to be in that ceremony with other Black women celebrating Black women—it was a great afternoon.”
Now, as her time at Penn comes to an end, Sciaska wants to promote these ideas of education, diversity, and positive change through her work in the medical field. After graduation, she plans to move to Boston to do research for two years at the Brigham and Women's Hospital through Harvard Medical School.
“I'm working on racial disparities and implicit bias interventions among physicians at certain Harvard hospitals. I'm really excited about that because I've always been focused on racial disparities,” she says.
In a couple of years, Sciaska hopes to go to medical school and eventually become an obstetrician–gynecologist. She also wants to give back to her community, whether by returning to her hometown to practice medicine or moving to a town that is predominantly Black and Hispanic.
Sciaska has an additional ambition: to get her MBA while in medical school. She hopes to use her medical degree and MBA to eventually open a Black–owned hospital.
“That's my biggest goal—to have my own Black–owned hospital. That is very far down the line. But just to say ... 'Yes—you. You're welcome here. You should feel safe here. And we'll take care of you the way you're supposed to be being taken care of.’ I think that would change a lot of people's lives.”