June 17, 2019 | 78° F

Steve Adubato discusses leadership and community engagement at Rutgers

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Calling on people to talk about their volunteering experience, Steve Adubato set the stage for discussions regarding leadership and community engagement on campus. Adubato spoke on the need for students to burst from the bubble that separates Rutgers from the New Brunswick community.

“Great leaders learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Rutgers alum Steve Adubato said to a crowd of students and community members.

On Thursday, Adubato facilitated "Leading Together," a panel joining New Brunswick community leaders, Rutgers students and faculty in a discussion on leadership and community engagement.

The event was hosted by the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service.

Aside from being a facilitator, Adubato was a special guest of the panel, which took place in Hegeman Hall in the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. A distinguished broadcaster and motivational speaker, Adubato discussed community engagement and engaged the audience by calling on people to talk about their volunteering experiences.

“ ... I’ve taught here in the past, I care about this place deeply and my sense is that our students care as well,” Adubato said in an interview. “ ... The idea that this initiative is encouraging and actually getting students to help those who need a helping hand is just so reassuring and inspiring to me, and it makes me proud of Rutgers University.”

The panel featured Ron Quincy, a professor of Professional Practice in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Eshan Kaul, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior and president and founder of A2E — Rutgers Student Mentoring Organization, Marie Callahan, a Rutgers alumna and founder of Rutgers Global Citizens and Jaymie Santiago, president and CEO of New Brunswick Tomorrow. 

Santiago said New Brunswick Tomorrow is a nonprofit and has been serving the New Brunswick community for more than 40 years. They work to improve the quality of life for all residents and do this by focusing on matching the needs of the community with the resources available.

Santiago said he wanted to bring things back to the community, discussing leadership throughout his speech. 

“We can talk about leadership in the sense of 'big L’ leadership — making a difference, we can talk about leadership in ‘little l’ leadership — how you’re serving others,” Santiago said. “But the main takeaway I think that I’d like the room to leave with is that whether you’re a student at the University, a commuter at the University or a faculty or staff member at the University, you are part of a big picture.”

He said that leadership is something that somebody grows into, and recalled times in his life where he sought leadership and other times when those roles found him. He hopes people at the panel were able to take away the idea that everybody is a part of this community and that leadership ultimately falls on the individual.

Kaul said A2E is a tutoring program for first, second and third graders in New Brunswick, which he started after volunteering at Youth Empowerment Services (YES), a nonprofit in New Brunswick.

“(Out of) 40,000 Rutgers students, we can’t help a few hundred kids?” Kaul said.

He said he heard that line while volunteering and still comes back to it. As a student he was looking forward to learning from the wide-range of experiences that the other panelists brought to the table.

A question on how they define civic involvement and engagement kicked off the Q&A segment of the event, and highlighted the diverse points of view among the panelists. Getting people into the "choir" of civic engagement, meeting people where they are at and whether civic engagement is human nature were some of the talking points to follow.

Amy Michael, associate director of the Center, said the panel is the kickoff event for RU-CARES: Community, Action, Respect, Engagement and Service. RU-CARES is a series of events throughout the year that bring together community members, faculty, students and staff to work toward the common good.

She said the Center strives to build long-term, sustainable partnerships where students can contribute to an effort happening over time. The center is academic-based and provides opportunities for community engagement through different courses.

“The English Department offers a course on how to write a grant proposal, so we will support that course by finding organizations who need help with grant writing,” she said as an example. “Other times it's through our own programs … We run a partnership with work study called the Rutgers Bonner Leader program.”

Maurice Elias, academic director at the Center, said their mission is to help students become more civically engaged, but also to help them feel empowered and that their ideas are worth pursuing.

Elias said an example of their students' work is the Conversation Tree Campaign. In the program students help New Brunswick residents who do not speak English well or confidently, to improve their language skills and feelings of citizenship.

He also said students from the Center have been involved in helping New Brunswick public schools get national recognition as being “schools of character.”

“Rutgers is a major force in New Brunswick but a lot of time students are just staying within the 'walls of Rutgers’ … Our goal is to burst that Rutgers bubble and to get students off of the E(E) bus and get students into the community where they do amazing things,” Michael said.

Adubato said that the stories that the panelists and audience have to share are what motivates him and are what he was looking forward to the most. He wanted to hear about the work that others have done to make a difference.

He said that his current work at PBS allows him to focus on making a difference through their programming on a range of social issues and a variety of people.

“To do programming on homelessness and hunger — and those who are older and ignored —
and the babies and infants who don’t get the care they need … to do that kind of programming is the gift ... to be able to try to make a difference,” Adubato said. 

Ryan Stiesi

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