Rutgers Future Scholars Program Fosters High Hopes
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 • 7:31pm
In seventh grade, DréQuan Reed was not performing well in school and hadn’t even considered the possibility of college.
But after being accepted into the Rutgers Future Scholars Program later that year, his plans changed.
Reed, now a first year student at the New Brunswick Health and Sciences Technology High School, spoke at the Friday, June 10, induction ceremony for the program.
The Rutgers Future Scholars Program, now in its fourth year, selects 200 promising students every year from Rutgers University’s host cities, New Brunswick, Piscataway, Camden and Newark, and gives them the chance to earn a full scholarship, said Future Scholars Director Aramis Gutierrez.
“This program is awesome,” Reed said to a room filled with this year’s scholars, parents and program donors. “When I was in seventh grade like you guys, before I got accepted, I was not doing good, but I started doing my work and getting better. This program changed me and now I can have a future.”
The need for the program was made clear when, after 10 years of enrollment trend analysis, Rutgers researchers realized that the university’s home communities not producing enough students prepared for a college education, Gutierrez said.
Princess Tidwell, a grade seven student at Veterans Memorial Middle School in Camden and new inductee into the program, wants to study Pediatrics and feels that the Rutgers Future Scholars Program is her ticket.
“I feel good,” she said. “Some people can’t get into college and this is an opportunity for me to go into college for free.
“Especially for people in areas like (Philadelphia) and Camden, they’re actually giving us an opportunity to do things and show who we are and what we can do.”
To be considered for the program students must be in good academic standing, meet financial-need guidelines, be a first-generation college prospect in their family, be willing to complete several summer enrichment programs and receive high recommendations from their teachers and administrators.
The program itself has no academic requirements and only requires that students maintain a 90 percent attendance rate.
However, because it is not a special admissions program, each student must be admitted to Rutgers through the regular admissions process, said Program Coordinator Tamyra Hunt.
The pre-college enrollment programs vary depending on the grade-level of each student, Hunt said.
“Eighth graders are going to be transitioning into high school, they’re taking the NJ ASK, and so the academics are focused on getting them prepared for state testing,” she said.
“That changes in ninth grade when they’re preparing for PSAT’s and for the HSPA and the SATs.
“We have a summer program that’s very rigorous that focuses on the areas that students typically are not doing well in — math, science, reading and writing,” Hunt said.
The students are presented with an opportunity they may not otherwise have, given access to role models and mentors, and given and the belief that they can go to college, said Rutgers University President Richard McCormick.
“We promise them that we will support them and mentor them and council them and do everything we can to get them ready to go to college five years from now,” McCormick said. “And if they’re admitted to Rutgers, which we will try very hard to ensure that they are, they’ll go for free.”
The funding for the program comes from federal and state grants, student aid, scholarships, as well as private and public donors.
“Our promise to them is that there will be no loans,” Gutierrez said. “So any of the unmet needs they have will be met by private funds,” describing the funding as “a combination of our corporations and private donors.”
The largest donors to the program are Merck Pharmaceuticals, AT&T and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Gutierrez said.
“Whenever there’s a program like this, you can’t be, or at least I can’t be, partially in,” said Steve Colson, one of the private donors who was brought to tears during the ceremony.
“Either I’m in or I’m not in. I heard the bad things about Newark, Piscataway and Camden, but when you meet these kids, you walk away saying, ‘there is so much talent in these cities.’”
In its four-year existence, the program has had a 99.8 percent retention rate and now consists of 800 students, Gutierrez said.
“Our commitment to them is simple,” he said. “Once a scholar, always a scholar.”