Ricky C. Jackson leans back to answer a question, raising his quiet-but-confident voice over the noises of a bustling crowd gathering during a late morning in the Rutgers–Camden Campus Center.
“You can do so much in life, but it’s up to you to take the initiative,” he says, cracking a smile.
Initiative isn’t something Jackson is lacking. Just a month into his freshman year at Rutgers–Camden, the Burlington City resident is already involved in no less than seven clubs and organizations. He even wants to go out for the track team in the spring, despite having never played team sports in high school. His mentality: why not give it a try?
Jackson’s real passion, though, isn’t in the number of clubs he joins or sports he plays. It’s the number of people he helps, and he’s placing that goal above everything else.
“I once lived in Camden,” says Jackson, a graduate of the Burlington County Institute of Technology’s Westampton campus. “I’ve lived in bad areas, so I understand how and why people struggle. I don’t want anyone to have to suffer; that’s important to me. We have the power to make a difference and I want to be able to make a difference for other people.”
When he’s not fulfilling his coursework obligations or taking part in a campus activity, Jackson works at the Hill Family Center for College Access at Rutgers–Camden. The center offers college and career guidance to Camden residents and their families with workshops on test preparation, conflict resolution, time management, writing, and organizational skills. Twin brothers and Rutgers–Camden alumni Washington and George Hill provided funding for the center.
“It’s all about lending people my ear and giving them my time to help them discover their goals and achieve them,” Jackson says. “I feel like I’m pretty good at that.”
Civic engagement opportunities are only one reason Jackson chose to attend Rutgers–Camden. His maternal grandparents, Charles and Judith Hillman, are Rutgers–Camden alumni, and he spent the summer before his freshman year enrolled in Rutgers–Camden’s state-supported Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, which provides access to higher education, and financial assistance for highly-motivated New Jersey students.
“It was my first college experience and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Jackson says. “It gave me a chance to get my feet wet with the college life and meet new people. It put me in the mindset to be involved in campus life and in the community as much as possible.”
Prior to his EOF experience, Jackson participated in the BizEd program for high school students at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, which he says gave him insight into how to be a successful business professional. Although finance was his first academic interest, Jackson is pursuing his engineering degree through Rutgers–Camden’s pre-engineering program.
“I have that business mindset, but math and science are what I really love,” he says. “I feel like you can do anything with science. I love breaking things down into their elemental components and seeing how things work.”
Ultimately, Jackson wants to one day own a sustainable farm so that he can provide food to people in need, a goal that fits his selfless style.
“I like the idea of helping the environment and providing food to people who need it most,” he says. “I know that’s a big goal, but why not reach for it? There are so many opportunities here and I want to take advantage of all of them. I’m striving for that."