Week’s events help to foster student success and reinforce Rutgers as a leader among American Talent Initiative universities

Led by the Division of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, Rutgers University-New Brunswick will host its eighth annual Access Week, Feb. 15-19, to champion educational equity and help unlock pathways for success for current and prospective first-generation, low-income and other underserved students.

As part of the weeklong series of programming, Access Week virtual events will showcase the successes that many students have achieved during the past year amid the pandemic.

Rutgers University Senior Vice President for Equity Enobong “Anna” Branch said, “As the university pursues inclusive excellence born out of our commitment to diversity, Access Week serves as the longstanding New Brunswick expression of that commitment. It provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to build their capacity to meet the needs of underserved students who are first-generation, low-income and/or historically underrepresented and highlights university resources that support their academic aspirations and celebrates the success of their peers. Our aim is to foster a sense of community and belonging that enables all of our students to thrive.”

“As a chancellor and proud alumnus of the state university for New Jersey, I firmly believe it is both our duty and mission to promote access and ensure educational opportunities. The current pandemic has highlighted our shared commitment to educational access; we quickly adapted, redesigned and embraced new teaching and learning methods to meet the needs of our students. I believe that Rutgers can continue to approach access in this way to bridge educational opportunity gaps. In fact, we must, as it is the only way we can truly live up to our university’s values, and support an economy and society committed to improving the human condition for all,” said Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy.

“Access Week reaffirms our commitment to first-generation, low-income, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other student populations that have been underserved,” said Melissa Wooten, senior director of educational equity at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Division of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. “It also provides space to assess where we are currently by evaluating our progress in serving underserved students in some instances, as well as giving us an opportunity to reflect on how we can do better.”

The Student Research Presentations, scheduled for Feb. 17, will feature presentations by scholars in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation programs. The programs are federally funded initiatives designed to help build a pipeline of undergraduate students for doctoral programs and STEM professions. The presenting students “have remained committed to doing research even in the remote environment, and will show what they’ve learned and discuss the role of research in their future academic plans,” Wooten said.

A two-part Student Success Conference is designed to connect students with alumni professionals to help them with career preparedness and equip students with strategies for networking and building their professional profiles in a virtual environment.

Anthony Abraham Jack, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Privileged Poor, will deliver the annual James Dickson Carr Lecture on Feb. 16. The lecture is named after Rutgers’ first Black graduate. Jack will discuss actions that schools can take to level the playing field for academic success.

The week will also include a discussion on Feb. 17, cosponsored by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, with LaTosha Brown, a Harvard Kennedy School fellow and cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, about issues of civic engagement and political empowerment.

“The week will help to normalize the experience of being a first-generation student,” said Wooten. “As we aim to build an inclusive academy, we must reimagine who the typical college student is and how the typical college student moves through and interacts with the university.”

Rutgers is a member of the American Talent Initiative (ATI), a coalition of 120 universities nationwide that have pledged to enroll 50,000 more low-to-moderate income students by 2025. Rutgers has been a top performer among ATI members since its launch during the 2015-2016 academic year. About 30 percent of Rutgers-New Brunswick students receive Pell grants, making Rutgers one of only 45 ATI members to have a Pell grant share at or above 20 percent.

Rutgers’ four-year and six-year graduation rates for all students are 24 percent and 21 percent higher, respectively, than the national average. Rutgers’ gap in graduation rates between Pell grant recipients and students overall is less than 3 percent compared with a 9 percent gap nationwide; and its graduation rate for Black students is 38 percent higher than the national average. Rutgers leads in ensuring that low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented students succeed.

Rutgers fosters the success of underserved students through a range of programs, including Rutgers Future Scholars, Rutgers Upward Bound, Scarlet Promise Grants, the New Jersey Equal Opportunity Fund, Student Support Services and a new partnership with Cooperman College Scholars.