Rutgers program has helped 1,800 1st generation students attend college
Across the world, millions of children do not have access to an education due to marginalization and inequality, according to humanium.org.
In 2007, Rutgers launched the Rutgers Future Scholars Program (RFS) to allow financially struggling, academically exceptional kids to become the first in their family to attend college.
Each year, the University chooses 200 first generation, low-income and academically outstanding middle school students from New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, Camden and Rahway to receive the full scholarship.
Throughout their high school and college years, these students gain access to summer courses, team building seminars, academic tutoring, mentoring and other unique opportunities that foster their academic, social and personal growth for post-graduation success.
Aramis Gutierrez, the director of RFS, shared why he thought the program is so special.
“We believe it to be more than just a scholarship program. Our scholars would describe RFS as a family. And this was purposeful. We wanted to create a system of support to meet as many of their personal and academic needs, cultivates their talents, empower and embrace them for who they are and where they want to go," he said.
Gutierrez said the program seeks to help students answer key questions for themselves when considering colleges. This includes whether the school is affordable and if it is academically and culturally suitable.
So far 1,800 scholars have graduated with the help of the program, according to the program's website.
In an interview with the University, Rutgers alumna Cecilia Salazar said RFS was a transformative experience.
Salazar said she knew early on that she wanted to earn her college degree, but her family's finances were limited.
Her acceptance into RFS provided her access to scholarship programs which helped her realize her goal of one day attending college, she said.
"It lifted the burden of tuition off my parents’ shoulders and helped me become a first-generation college student," she said. "This is the reason Rutgers Future Scholars is the best thing to ever happen to my family."
According to the website, several of the scholar graduates later become ambassadors for the program to pay it forward and continue the legacy of uplifting smart, low income students.
RFS ensures that students are not only brilliant, but also diverse. The program emphasizes that a varied student body is a vital part of a wholesome college experience. Forty-five percent of student scholars are Latino or Hispanic, 36 percent are Black and 8 percent are multiracial, according to their site.
“A student’s appreciation and understanding of cultural and ethnic traditions is essential. The more enriched and diverse backgrounds are, the greater their chances of developing social and professional networks and opportunities," according to the RFS website.
Gutierrez said he hopes to make Rutgers an even more welcoming campus.
“We can continue to explore how Rutgers can be an even more inclusive space and introduce newer ways to engage our neighbors in more meaningful ways," he said.
RFS is a good example of how it is possible to bridge the gaps in access and transform lives, he said. He added that the students enrolled in the program are more than capable of being successful in higher education.
"There is no achievement gap, but an information gap," he said.
He said that initiatives like these have the power "to create opportunities, uplift families and in turn, strengthen communities." RFS gives students who might otherwise be unable to attend college, which he called an “incredible untapped pool of talent,” more than just an education that lasts four years.
“A higher education can be transformative. I also believe the impact on scholars goes beyond the education they received ...They have expanded their belief in what is possible," Gutierrez said.