Students petition to keep Ramona Wilson as advisor
Senior News Reporter
About five months ago a group of students filed a petition to the Department of Biological Sciences on Change.org, a website for starting campaigns and mobilizing support. The petition’s goal is to keep both Ramona Wilson and Barret Michalec in their former positions at the Health Professions Evaluation Committee (HPEC), a university organization that helps students with their applications for medical school.
Wilson was previously an academic advisor in the Department of Biological Sciences. One of her jobs was to organize the schedules of the other biology advisors, but students primarily went to her for pre-medical advice. Barret Michalec is currently an associate sociology professor, but was the director of HPEC.
The organizers’ primary concerns are the future of pre-medical and other pre-health advisement at the university. They want any student — current or past— to submit experiences they had working with both Wilson and Michalec.
Ankita Prasad, a sophomore neuroscience major, was one of the many people that commented support on the petition.
“Everybody told me Ramona Wilson is the person you need to go to,” Prasad said. “She came across as a woman that knew what she was doing.”
Prasad said that nobody that met with Wilson left without having their questions answered even if the line was out the door.
The pre-medical track at the university is open to all students regardless of major. The idea is that the track allows students to prepare to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam. Usually this entails taking certain classes such as introductory biology, organic chemistry and physiology on top of whatever major the student has.
“You can be a music major, but most people choose [biology] or neuroscience because there’s a lot of overlap between them,” Prasad said.
She was told about the situation when Michalec visited the Phi Delta Epsilon medical fraternity.
“Everybody was in shock,” Prasad said. “I think Michalec said that he would step down out of solidarity.”
Brett Kamen, a sophomore neuroscience major, had a close relationship with Wilson and was one of the people who sent out the petition to the university’s community. It wasn’t until August 2019 that he found out about Wilson’s departure.
Kamen first met Wilson during the summer before his freshman year. He was part of the university’s Get Ahead program in which incoming freshmen can take classes early and get situated with the university before the regular flood of students arrives.
When Kamen found out about the situation with Wilson, he wanted to help with the petition. The petition had already been going around, but his job was to send out emails and the petition to the university community.
Kamen never met Michalec in person, but corresponded with him over email.
“[Michalec] told me to talk to the deans of the colleges that have pre-med [Arts and Sciences, Health Sciences, Engineering, etc.] and a lot of them were really receptive,” Kamen said.
Prasad is part of the Medical Scholars program, in which students are put on an eight-year dual track at both the university and either Thomas Jefferson University or Temple University depending on depending on whether they’re on a pre-medical or pre-dental track.
Kamen said that although Medical Scholars is a great program, it is not without its faults. The program is supposed to help students get into medical school and while many students do get in, Wilson told Kamen the truth about the program.
Medical Scholars does not guarantee a place at Thomas Jefferson, it only guarantees an interview. Sometimes the university overshoots how many places are held, but the problem is that any students on the program are not allowed to apply to any other medical schools. They are locked into Thomas Jefferson.
The original intention was to have a postdoctoral student in Wilson’s position and rotate them every two-to-three years— the argument being that the postdoctoral student had been through the same situation and can sympathize with the students. However, the issue that arises is that students seeking advisement will build up a relationship with them and then during their junior or senior year the postdoctoral student will be gone.
“A postdoc wouldn’t have been much better because they have their own things to do and who knows what they know about medicine,” Kamen said.
Although the students were able to convince the deans to scrap the postdoctoral student idea, it was not enough to convince them to reinstate Wilson.
“Ramona thinks the situation was a power play,” Kamen said. “That’s why they wanted to hire the postdoc because they could do her job for way less.”
Kamen agrees with Wilson’s assessment, especially since HPEC and Medical Scholars are now both based in Pearson Hall and in adjacent offices. HPEC was formerly in Wolf Hall, but now that Pawlowski is in charge it moved offices.
“When I talked to Dr. [David A.] Barlow [an associate professor of behavioral health and nutrition and the current director of Health Professions Studies] he told me how many students got into Jefferson through Med Scholars, but never mentioned how many students got in through HPEC,” Kamen said. “So I already know where his priority is at.”
Wilson assured her students that they would still be able to contact her through her university email. The Review tried to reach out to Ramona Wilson for comment, but only received an automated message stating she had retired.
“Maybe the university could’ve canceled it, which would make things harder,” Kamen said. “If the email isn’t actually active I can always go to Dr. Michalec because he probably has her personal email or even a phone number.”
Neither Kamen nor Prasad received such a message, but were told that Pawlowski would be the interim advisor and that Donald Lehman, an associate professor of medical and molecular sciences, would be the new director.
As of now, the petition remains open with a little more than half of the necessary signatures.
A previous version of this story stated that Kamen was a part of the Medical Scholars program. This has since been corrected.