Former CHS valedictorian combining her passions for science, dentistry at UPenn

CHESHIRE — 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.”

Tan earned an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at UPenn in three years and recently completed her first year of dental school.

“A lot has happened since I attended high school,” said Tan. “It has been a long and winding journey.”

While at Cheshire High School, 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.”

She feels 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.”

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,” said Tan.

Tan believes that managing school and swimming in high school 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.”

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,” said 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.”

In an interview just before graduation, Tyler Tan recalled watching his sister being recognized as valedictorian during her graduation ceremony in 2018.

“When she made the speech, I wanted to carry on the legacy and hopefully be up there one day,” Tyler Tan said.

He also recalled his sister’s advice on how to navigate high school.

“She told me to manage my time well and don’t leave things to the last minute,” Tyler Tan said.”She also suggested to try not to pick up too many clubs and things that you can’t handle.”

With her brother choosing to attend Yale University, he will join his sister in the Ivy League this fall. Jessica Tan 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,” said Tan. “I want him to explore as much as he can, because he isn’t in a program set for him.”


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