STELLAR STUDENT: Jasmeen Wellere

Near her three-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s South Side, SIUE Jasmeen Wellere has heard the sounds of people fighting or dealing drugs. Other times she has heard gunshots.

SIUE junior Jasmeen Wellere, a social work major, hopes to become a family law attorney after graduation. The Chicago native was awarded the College of Arts and Sciences' Stellar Student award. (Photo by Joe Lacdan)

While living amid poverty and homelessness in the west Woodlawn neighborhood, academics provided a stabilizing force in her life, Wellere said.As a student attending Hirsch Metro High school Wellere said she kept to herself and focused on her academics, while her peers were cutting class, getting into trouble or engaging in activities not related to school.

“Education was the only way out of my situation,” said Wellere, 21. “It was my key to success, to financial stability.”

Now an SIUE junior, she carries a 4.0 GPA and has made the Dean’s list each semester. The Stellar Student Award winner hopes to eventually attend law school and become a family law attorney.

Wellere positioned herself for her future success at an early age. At Hirsch, she was accepted into the University of Chicago’s Upward Bound, a college preparatory program that taught students advanced English, science and math. She also participated in internships first as an office assistant at the Cook County circuit courthouse in Chicago and worked as an assistant for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I like to learn,” Wellere said. “It’s more fulfilling to be in school than to be going places and getting high. I never saw it as appealing because there’s nothing you can get out of that. I like to learn; I like the environment of people.”

At SIUE Wellere participates in SIUE First, a program that helps mentor first-generation college students. Each week she helps freshmen with study sessions and offers advice through texting or the program’s Facebook page. Wellere is also a member of the SIUE Student Social Work Association and the National Collegiate Scholars. The junior was even invited to be a guest speaker for Black Girl’s Rock, a student group designed to empower black women.

“I think she is a natural leader,” said SIUE Social Work instructor Jewel Stafford. “She is well-positioned to do great things, whether she is counseling individuals or whether she is doing more macro-based, community organized activities.”

Wellere said growing up in a lower income area like the west Woodlawn families often don’t have access to public services is what motivated her to pursue a career in social work. According to U.S. Census data in April 2014, 40 to 60 percent of residents living in Chicago’s South and West side live below the poverty level. In Woodlawn, more than 60 percent live below the poverty level.

“All the poverty, all the violence in my neighborhood is something I would love to change,” Wellere said. “So that kind of drives me a little bit more.”

Wellere said she would like to work in family practice and work with families on issues related to divorce and child advocacy. Last summer and during winter break, the SIUE junior interned for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Office of the Inspector General in Chicago.

“I know of a lot people where I come from they don’t know their rights,” Wellere said. “Social work is a passion to me because I’m interested in families and a way to improve their function and their life condition; to help people be able to navigate life.”

Wellere, a reserved but well-spoken 21-year-old, is also a trailblazer. When she graduates next year, she not only will be the first person in her family to finish college but she was also her family’s first high school graduate.

Wellere also shoulders great responsibility at a young age. The youngest of five siblings, Wellere said her family calls upon her when they need help.

Her father, Gerald Wellere, is a postal worker and had back surgery this summer. Her mother, Ameenah Ali, is unemployed and disabled. She said she provides her mom with financial support and also takes her to all of her medical appointments. She also is the only family member who owns a car.

“My family relies on me a lot so it’s kind of tough to leave my family and my mom,” Wellere said.

The four-hour drive from Chicago to Edwardsville makes things tougher, but Wellere said her parents continue to encourage her to pursue her academic goals, as they did during her years at Hirsch, where she ranked first in her graduating class of 113.

At SIUE, Wellere attended two of Stafford’s classes: Foundation of Social Work and a course where the junior shadowed a social service agency. Stafford said Wellere may seem quiet at first glance, but is very driven and assertive. After graduation, she will enter SIUE’s Social Work Master’s program.

“She is really mature, genuine and authentic,” Stafford said. “What I think her reserved nature does it allows her to take in information to make more informed decisions to what to do next. She is more of a chess player than a hockey player. She is strategic.”


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