Eyes on the Prize: Rutgers Future Scholars Introduced to Promise and Opportunities of College Education

For as long as she can remember, Adianna Vadell has dreamt of working in the medical field. But she never knew that her dream was within reach – that is, until the rising 11th-grader from North Camden met Dana Jarow, her mentor in the Rutgers Future Scholars program. Jarow shared her experiences working as a registered nurse, enabling Vadell to see the possibility. “I thought, ‘She did it,’ so it must be attainable,” says Vadell, a student at the LEAP Academy in Camden.

Her fellow Rutgers Future Scholar, Jonathan Burgos, plans to enter a career in law enforcement. The North Camden resident credits the program for opening his eyes to the many agencies in his chosen field, as well as to the necessary preparation. “I plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science, which will help me move forward in that direction,” says Burgos, a rising 11th-grader at Camden County Technical School’s Gloucester Township campus.

While Vadell and Burgos are entering their junior years, their words brim with the poise and confidence of seasoned college students who have mapped out their futures and, just as importantly, know the commitment needed to get there. But perhaps the greatest signs of their impending successes are evident in the words that they don’t say. You see, Future Scholars don’t know the meaning of “if.” It’s only a matter of “when.”

Since its inception in 2007, the Rutgers Future Scholars program has introduced nearly 1,000 first-generation college-bound, low-income and academically talented middle school students from Rutgers’ four home communities – New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, and Camden – to the promise and opportunities of a college education. The program has multiple-year components, with each building on the foundation of the previous year.

Every summer, 50 new scholars enter the program at Rutgers–Camden prior to beginning their eighth-grade year. The scholars quickly become immersed in a unique pre-college culture of university programming, events, support, and mentoring relationships that continue through 12th grade. Scholars who successfully complete the pre-college initiative and are admitted to Rutgers receive a full-tuition, four-year scholarship.

Throughout the academic year, the scholars participate in a series of monthly workshops and quarterly community-service projects, explains Traun Brodhead, coordinator of the Rutgers Future Scholars program at Rutgers–Camden. In addition, eighth-graders attend tutoring sessions twice a week, led by Rutgers Future Scholars Ambassadors; tutoring services are also available for scholars in the remaining grades.

During their 11th-grade year, the scholars begin to explore their college prospects. Led by coordinator Jardaine Brown, a team of Future Scholars College Access Ambassadors hosts a series of preparatory workshops, and helps the scholars to build a college portfolio. As Brodhead explains, this assistance helps them to focus on their interests, and on the colleges that specialize in these disciplines.

When the summer rolls around, it’s anything but a break. Scholars in all five grade levels attend core classes in writing and mathematics on the Rutgers–Camden campus. Rising eighth- and ninth-graders round out their studies with elective courses in the arts and sciences. In addition, ninth-graders conclude their summer program by attending a three-day camp, fostering teambuilding and leadership skills, at Princeton-Blairstown Center.

Rising 10th-graders participate in a unique law program, wherein they learn the American judicial system and participate in a mock trial. The following year, they serve civic-based internships. During their final summer, the scholars are invited to live on campus in the residence halls, fully engrossing them in the college experience.

This summer, Vadell has been busy helping students with their studies as part of her internship with the North Camden Community Partnership at Rutgers–Camden. She notes that the experience has reinforced her interests in giving back to the community, as well as working with children.

Meanwhile, Burgos has been assisting Chris Countryman, program coordinator with Rutgers–Camden’s Office of Civic Engagement, and is benefitting from watching Countryman network with personnel from various programs both on and off campus. “I see how Chris builds relationships with others,” says Burgos, adding that the internship has improved his management and organizational skills.

In addition to their academic pursuits, the scholars attend a series of group excursions, such as sporting events and plays, throughout the year. “As we are trying to develop them academically and personally, we want to expose them to things that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience,” says Brodhead.

Looking back now, Vadell says that she thought the program was going to be nothing but “boring studying.” Before long, however, she discovered that she was learning, but having a lot of fun along the way. “You build off of that,” she says. “Even though you have to do it, you want to do it.”

Burgos acknowledged enrolling in the program “out of curiosity, and wanted to see how it would play out.” He wouldn’t be disappointed. “My first impressions were amazing,” says Burgos. “It kept me wanting more.”

For all of the program’s success, Brodhead maintains that it would not be possible without the team effort made by the scholars, their parents, and their teachers – a point that is emphasized to everyone involved. “We tell the scholars that their biggest commitment is to work hard in school,” says Brodhead, a former high-school teacher. “The teachers need to be prepared, and the parents need to give their support. As we build that alliance, the scholars know there is a home that is willing to help them.  They just need to have that initiative.”

Now entering their fifth year as Rutgers Future Scholars, Vadell and Burgos proclaim that their experience has been nothing short of life-changing. Others have begun to take note; Vadell’s brother, Luis, is now enrolled in the program as a rising eighth-grader, while Burgos says that his brother is now interested in attending college as well. He hopes to have a similar influence on his younger cousins and nephews.

The first cohort of scholars graduated from the program in May. Of the original 46 scholars accepted into the first class, 38 remained with the program for the entire five years. Of those students, 22 were accepted to Rutgers University – 16 students who will be attending Rutgers–Camden, and six students who will be attending Rutgers in New Brunswick or Newark. Two other students will be attending other universities, while nine students will be attending community college.

Brodhead says that he now invariably hears a familiar word from the program’s alumni: “family.” “Across the board, that is what they tell me,” he says. “It was more than just monthly workshops and tutoring. It was a time that they had developed personally and academically, but most of all, they became part of this family.”

Tom McLaughlin

(856) 225-6545

thomas.mclaughlin@camden.rutgers.edu

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