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Mary S. Calliste '15
Mentorship Propels Mary S. Calliste ’15 from First-Gen Student to V.P. at Morgan Stanley

Degree: B.A. in Political Science and Government
Programs: Honors Program
Hometown: St Patrick, Grenada
Mentor: Dr. Maxwell Mak
Internships and Fellowships: New York State Unified Court System, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Morgan Stanley, America Needs You 
Current Role: Vice President, Regulatory Relations, Morgan Stanley

“I was the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. As a first-generation college graduate, I know the transformative power an education and a great mentor can have on a student. Because of my time at John Jay, I’ve been able to thrive in my career and I’m driven to help the next generation of first-gen student leaders reach their full potential.”

What was life like before John Jay?
I was born and raised in St Patrick, Grenada, and had a turbulent childhood—my mom died when I was three and I moved 14 times before I was 20 years old. Early on, I knew the only way to break the cycle of trauma was through education. So, I threw myself into my schoolwork. I loved reading and writing and strived to do well. To me, education felt like progress. In 2009, I moved to the United States. Before enrolling at John Jay, I worked at a law firm in Brooklyn and learned about the College through an acquaintance. To me, John Jay meant endless opportunities.

How did your mentor at John Jay help put you on the path to success?
Dr. Maxwell Mak is my hero and the ultimate mentor. He took me under his wing during my sophomore year. We met when I took his law and society class; it was a six-credit course with a judicial internship. When I had a conflict with my schedule, he offered to meet with me during office hours and review the course material. That one-on-one support was so beneficial. My writing improved, I learned how to articulate my point clearly, and I saw my belief in myself strengthen. Professor Mak was patient, compassionate, and tough, challenging me to always strive for more. I knew he wanted me to do well. As a first-generation student coming to college, I thought, I’m going to work really hard, and I’ll be fine. But I soon realized that determination can only get you so far. What Professor Mak taught me was that mentorship was integral to success.

Were there any programs that were pivotal in furthering your career aspirations?
Being part of the Honors Program really prepared me for life after John Jay. Each class was themed around the common good. So, as a student, I was made to constantly think critically about the world outside of John Jay, my contribution to society, and my place in the world. Honors classes force you as a student to understand your values and define what the common good means to you. The program also provided me with a real sense of community. I worked full-time the first two years I was at John Jay, and when you’re balancing full-time work and schoolwork, you don’t get a chance to join student groups and build community. Honors became my anchor. Even today, some of my closest friends are people I met in the Honors Program.

What do you do at Morgan Stanley and how did John Jay prepare you for the role?
I’m the Vice President of Regulatory Relations. My role is to help the firm manage its relationship with prudential regulators, like the Federal Reserve Bank, making sure that the line of communication is open, cooperative, and in good standing on a regulatory front.

I gained so many skills at John Jay that have been pivotal to my success and helped me throughout my career—learning how to think critically and analytically, not being afraid to ask questions, and being open to new experiences. But it’s the soft skills fostered at the College that have enabled me to succeed in my career and climb up the ladder at Morgan Stanley—skills like really listening to others, being present, writing well, and managing my time effectively. My IQ got me in the door, but my emotional intelligence has enabled me to work well in different spaces within the organization and find solutions to any challenges.

What would you say to alumni who are considering sharing their time and resources with the College and its students?
As alumni, we need to make it our business to invest in the leaders of tomorrow. We have a responsibility to give back. We have a responsibility to each other. Find a cause within the education realm of John Jay and be its champion. If you’re into sports, you can create a sports scholarship. If you are passionate about ensuring students have meals, support the food pantry. There are many ways to support John Jay students; find what works best for you and do it.

For me, mentorship is so important. I’m passionate about educating and supporting first-generation students. So, I make it a point to participate in info sessions at John Jay, meet with students, and answer their questions because I know what their journey looks like and how lonely it can be.

At Morgan Stanley, I’m also a peer senior mentor and one of my mentees is a John Jay alumna, Michelle Nairne ’21. She told me during our first meeting at Morgan Stanley, “We’ve actually met before. I heard you speak at John Jay about your role at Morgan Stanley, and your talk led me to apply for an internship.” You never know what seed you are planting when sharing your journey. Seeing Michelle’s growth within the company and how great she’s doing makes me so happy.