Four years ago, Jessica Tan was ready to discover a new world. In her hometown, Tan had excelled academically and was class valedictorian at Cheshire High School, but in moving to the University of Pennsylvania, she looked forward to immersing herself in the bigger and more diverse city of Philadelphia.
“In the summer between high school and college, I traveled to China to see my extended family for like three weeks,” recalled Tan. “Having that time to decompress from high school and then start a new chapter was good.”
Today, she has no regrets about choosing UPenn. Tan earned an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience in three years and recently completed her first year of dental school.
“A lot has happened since I attended high school,” reflected Tan. “It has been a long and winding journey.”
While at CHS, Tan was accepted into UPenn’s seven-year bio-dental program, but as a sophomore, she discovered a passion for neuroscience.
Tan became interested in taking a class called Perception. The course delves into the scientific basis behind senses.
“Ever since I was a little, I was interested in visual arts,” said Tan. “I combined my interest in a unique way and that allowed me to look at things differently.”
Tan also enjoyed her course in Neuroscience and Society.
“We talked about popular topics in the sciences and the biological reasoning behind them,” explained Tan. “We learned about gender differences in the brain and biological sciences behind racial profiling.”
Picking up electives in anthropology and psychology, she loved learning about human behavior.
“I still enjoy looking at the science behind things,” added Tan.
She feels that dentistry combines many of her passions in life. Tan likes how people in the field form a human connection with patients to provide pain relief or help them get the smile they’ve always wanted.
“I always found the human face to be fascinating and how your smile is part of how you perceive yourself,” explained Tan.
Growing up, she enjoyed being a job shadow for people like her mother Jin Jiang, who works as a endodontist. Through those experiences, Tan is intrigued about how dentistry connects to the human body.
“Dentists often see patients twice a year, so they can check out people more than some doctors,” said Tan. “I want to make sure that people are good health, starting with their face.”
At UPenn, she found that college offers more freedom than in high school.
“In college, the learning is more on your own and you need to figure out your schedule,” explained Tan. “I had to decide how much time I wanted to spend between class and extracurricular activities.”
To see life outside of health care, Tan got involved in a lot of student organizations.
“I did a lot of product design and did some internships later on to experience the tech industry,” recalled Tan.
She also participated in a tutoring program in west Philadelphia.
“I didn’t have those kind of experiences growing up in Cheshire,” said Tan. “I also learned how to use public transportation instead of relying on a car.”
Tan believes that managing school and swimming while at CHS helped her develop time management.
“Handling a busier schedule in high school showed me that I thrive when I have a lot going on,” reflected Tan. “I don’t swim anymore, but being able to exercise, like going to the gym, and participating in student organizations has helped me to be more productive and organized in my life.”
Tan felt that her first couple of semesters flew by at UPenn, but when the pandemic came to Pennsylvania, she had to adjust to change like countless other people. In 2020, Tan came home to Cheshire to take virtual courses throughout the spring.
For the fall semester, she also finished studying online.
“After that, I had enough credits to graduate early,” recalled Tan. “For the following spring (2021), I took a gap semester because I thought that the online teaching wasn’t the same as in-person learning.”
She was happy to attend classes again last fall. While the pandemic has created challenges for education, she feels that some positive aspects have stuck around.
Since a lot of lectures are now taped at UPenn, Tan believes that it allows more flexibility for students.
“If people were sick in the past, they would still want to go to class to not miss anything, but now a lot of [classes] are recorded and they can stay home,” explained Tan. “There is more online information available, too.”
While she graduated from CHS in 2018, Tan was proud to return for this year’s ceremony to see her younger brother Tyler follow in her footsteps as the school’s valedictorian.
“When I heard the news, I wasn’t too surprised. He has always been a good student,” reflected Tan. “I don’t think I deserve so much credit for coming first. I was glad that he achieved the same accomplishment in his own way.”
With Tyler choosing to attend Yale University, he will join his sister in the Ivy League this fall. Jessica has tried to give him general advice, including being open to new experiences.
“I know that I was very focused on doing dentistry right out of high school, but trying different things has made me into the person I am today,” explained Tan. “I want him to explore as much as he can, because he isn’t in a program set for him.”
Next month, Tan will be starting her second year of dental school. She plans to graduate in 2025.
“I’m planning on studying for a dental residency after graduation,” stated Tan. “I’m interested in periodontics and endodontics.”