September 19, 2018 | ° F

President's initiative stands 188 'scholars' strong

More than 130 of the 188 eighth graders enrolled in the Rutgers Future Scholars Program set foot on campus last June to greet University President Richard L. McCormick for the program's inaugural event, marking the dawn of a new initiative that challenges the barriers to higher education.

Nearly one year later, 188 program students will continue into ninth grade as scholars, just as a new set of 200 eighth graders are handpicked to participate in the program's second class.

"[The program is] in the process of selecting the new cohort now. It should be announced by the end of April [or] beginning of May, and we are also looking into welcoming the kids on campus possibly in a June event," said Senior Program Coordinator Aramis Gutierrez.

The program identifies academically talented, first-generation middle school students before the start of eighth grade from low-income families from all University communities — New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden — and builds onto its foundation each year. Following program completion, students will have access to full tuition scholarships upon acceptance to the University.

School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Jenny Tatschl, who tutors elementary students at the Lincoln School in New Brunswick, said this initiative offers an opportunity to local students they would not otherwise have.

"It gives people in this area who have seen Rutgers kids around the opportunity to get [the same] education," Tatschl said. "Not only is it giving them the opportunity [to attain an education], it's also giving them the resources to achieve what they need to achieve."

Since it's announcement last June, the program has received a great response, Guiterrez said.

"This hasn't been made official yet but we've accepted nearly $1 million in donations," Gutierrez said. "We've had some corporate and private donators and we want to announce that as part of our welcome ceremony [for the next class] in June."

Despite the program's initial success, Gutierrez said coordinators were met with obstacles.

"For those students who did have some challenges with the rigor of eighth grade, program coordinators, including myself, met with guidance counselors and teachers to develop some ‘victory plans,' as we call them, to get them prepared and motivated to do well for the rest of the year," Gutierrez said. "But some of the students have already expressed that just being identified as a ‘scholar' improved their motivation and focus in school so grades have improved, which is terrific."

School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Elizabeth Percival said she was impressed all 188 students completed the program's first year.

"I think it's an amazing opportunity. Especially in today's economic climate, it's something essential for lower-income families in the area," Percival said. "I think it's something that students should definitely be pushed to take advantage of."

While students in the program must have a B grade average, meet the financial eligibility requirement and be a student at a school within each of the University's communities, Gutierrez said the program will make alterations this year.

"[The June summer program] has been changed [from one] to two weeks in New Brunswick and Piscataway," Gutierrez said. "We are also partnering with the English department on developing a course similar to expository writing right from their high school."

Rising ninth graders will continue with the seminar series that are age and grade-appropriate in terms of high school preparation, Gutierrez said.

"We will get into some PSAT and SAT preparation and choosing the right courses in high school. At the same time, we are going to start connecting them a little more with some of the research and work that's being done at the University," Gutierrez said. "We will be creating some internships and small projects for students to work on, which has already been done, but more on a larger scale this year."

Students may even have the opportunity to attend a University athletic event, similar to last year's women's basketball game.

"For the fall, [although] football tickets are really hard to come by, we're working with [athletics] and we are looking to have our scholars attend one of the fall football events," he said.

Caitlin Mahon

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