August 18, 2019 | 81° F

ODASIS celebrates 30 years of assisting Rutgers students

Photo by Nikita Biryukov |

Dr. Kamal Khan, directer of the Office of Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences, delivers an address at the organization's 30th anniversary banquet. During its existence, ODASIS has helped hundreds of students from disadvantaged backgrounds break into medicine, dentistry and other professional fields.

A division of Rutgers has been helping disadvantaged students succeed in the most demanding of fields for decades.

Heralded by Director Kamal Khan as a “pipeline without any leaks,” the Office of Diversity Academic Success in the Sciences (ODASIS) celebrated its 30th anniversary in April, marking a milestone rarely reached by similar programs.

“From the time a student comes in and joins ODASIS, we support them in all their academics, from English to math, but more in terms of the sciences,” Khan said. “What it is that we do is actively teaching them how to develop skills to help them become competitive with other students.”

Through rigorous one-on-one tutoring and exam preparation courses, ODASIS helps to guarantee that students make it through college and into medical school — or wherever else they may be headed — by providing them the study skills needed to flourish in the future.

Between 1990 and 2014, the program sent more than 400 students into the medical field. In 2016, more than 30 ODASIS graduates were accepted into medical school, often into multiple schools.

Though the program may be rigorous and time consuming, Matt Sawaged, a recent Rutgers graduate and ODASIS alumnus, said the program was worth the sacrifice.

“They were always there supporting me, and it was really good when you had a lot of hard classes,” he said. “Every single weekend is gone. Vacation is gone, just gotta study study, and get the grade that you’re going in for … (but) it definitely paid off.”

Part of the program’s success comes from the continued support of ODASIS alumni, who often come back to help the next generation succeed, either through motivation and tutoring, or through the donations that help keep the program running, said Jonathan Langowski, an assistant director at ODASIS.

“These are the kind of people we want in medical school because they go back they serve their communities … those who are climbing and thriving and doing well for themselves but reaching back to others coming along,” said Marc Nivet, chief diversity officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit that works to improve healthcare by working with medical schools nationwide.

ODASIS even extends its hand to students not yet enrolled in college.

High school students in the New Brunswick area can take advantage of four ODASIS programs that aim to make more students attain a higher education while providing them with opportunities to get college credits while still in school, all while building pathways to future employment.

“We wanted to get these kids exposure to medical topics early on to see if it would increase their chances of being interested in medicine at an earlier age," said Wylie Lopez, an ODASIS alumnus. “We've done this for three years now. The first batch of students we started with from 11th grade, all 25 of them got into college. They got over $1 million in scholarships.”

ODASIS has many parallel programs nationwide, but maintaining these programs is becoming more and more difficult, largely due to financial constraints, Nivet said. Alumni support helps immensely, but further outside support would help to relieve strain.

“It is extremely unique to have a program last as long as this has with the results— because there are programs that have been around for 30, 40, 50 years — but not with the kind of results that ODASIS has. So there's some secret sauce there,” Nivet said. “I think it's up to those of us from the outside to better understand what that secret sauce is.”

Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.

Nikita Biryukov

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