CELS sophomore has sights set on medicine—and glamour

Jessica Marfeo posed in Washington, D.C. recently and next spring will be posing in the Miss Rhode island pageant. Eventually she wants to become a physician's assistant.

A serious childhood disease can be a devastating experience for parents and their child but in the case of Jessica Marfeo it also can lead to a determination to pursue a medical career.

Jessica, 19, is a sophomore majoring in biology and elementary education at URI and while she is just starting out on her academic life, she has a clear-cut vision of what she wants to do for the rest of her life including, she hopes, a chance to reach the epitome of the glamour world –the Miss America Pageant.

The world did not look so optimistic for Jessica’s parents, Michael and Mary Marfeo of Exeter, 14 years ago when Jessica, 5, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, one of the four most common pediatric cancers. The cancer was removed from behind her left lung and she then started a regimen to combat the reoccurrence. Her parents chose a natural regimen rather than the usual chemotherapy approach after having lost a son, younger than Jessica, to brain cancer.

The regimen worked so well that at age 13, Jessica was officially declared in remission so far as her cancer was concerned and checkups since then have shown all is well.

Jessica received a considerable amount of publicity recently when she was chosen as one of 700 collegiate students to attend the Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference held over five days during President Obama’s inaugural.

The conference started with the inauguration in 2000 and since then has been a highlight for thousands of participants.

Jessica was chosen to attend because her mentors at Prout High School remembered her scholarly achievements when she was in the National Youth Leadership Forum in Medicine. They nominated her to attend and she was accepted last summer.

For five days, she and 700 other college-age students—from around the world—were exposed to conferences and discussion groups on a host of topics from gun control to foreign policy issues. The students were divided into groups of 30 and had a rigorous schedule around Washington D.C. including a fair amount of sightseeing—for Jessica, it was her first trip to Washington.

Jessica Marfeo (middle tan coat) and other college students watching President Obama"s Inauguration.

One inauguration day, the students were ushered into the Smithsonian at 5 a.m., given a tour and then mustered to a special viewing section along the inauguration route.

The discussions and conferences were the most interesting, says Jessica. “It was a huge networking opportunity,” she says, adding that hearing speakers such as Jesse Jackson was “unbelievable.”  Most of the programs took place at a hotel where they stayed.

Their final night there was at a gala held in the Air and Space Museum.

The venture was almost fully paid—Jessica received a small scholarship to help with the flight tab down there.

Back on campus, Jessica is once again focused on her career path—she wants to become a physician’s assistant because she wants to be in medicine and wants to be able to educate youngsters and their parents in medicine—an experience she herself underwent in the years of therapy she had. Her sights are set on attending physician assistant school at Johnson & Wales after URI.

A self-professed “biology nerd,” Jessica says her favorite course right now is physiology. On campus she is also on the Community Emergency Response Team and she was on flood watch during Tropical Storm Sandy.

But she has other interests too. Last summer she was a camp counselor and helped out in her family’s business but a good amount of her time was in preparation for another lofty goal—competing in the Miss Rhode Island contest in June which would be the first step toward the Miss America Pageant.

Already a veteran of pageants (she was in the Miss America Coed contest) she knows the amount of work involved such as developing her platform. She admits she’s pretty busy but says “I always have to have a project ahead of me.”