Nearly two decades ago, Sara Rubiano’s family fled their native Quindio in west-central Colombia in search of safe haven. They found it in New Jersey, where the family eventually settled in South Brunswick.
This summer, with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and economics in hand from the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Rubiano – who came to the country as an undocumented immigrant when she was 2 years old – will start working as a private banking analyst at JPMorgan’s International Private Bank.
Walking into a high-level job just out of college is a dream come true in many ways for the South Brunswick High School graduate, the first female in her family to graduate from high school and to attend college.
It’s just one more achievement on a resume that includes being tapped for membership in Rutgers’ elite Cap and Skull honor society – a privilege bestowed annually on only 18 out of 31,500 undergraduates at The State University of New Jersey.
Founded in 1900 and inspired by similar honor societies at Yale and Cornell universities, the organization bases its selection on leadership and character, with an emphasis on service, academics, athletics and the arts.
Rubiano believes the imperative she feels to “give back” – particularly with regard to helping under-represented communities – stems partially from her background as a Dreamer.
The term refers to individuals whose undocumented immigrant parents brought them to this country as children, and who now qualify for certain legal protections under U.S. policy. These include being eligible for a New Jersey driver’s license and qualifying for financial aid for college.
Since the policy known as Deferred Action for Late Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was enacted during the Obama Administration in 2012, it has allowed more than 800,000 Dreamers to remain with their families in the only country many of them have known.
Rubiano calls DACA life-changing.
“My personal experience has led me to believe that the vast majority of people hardly recognize how intimately legal status is tied to nearly every aspect of daily life,” she says.
Her time at Rutgers has been dedicated to making sure that others understand this. Often the only Latina female in her circle with this perspective, she is particularly dedicated to finding ways to empower her peers, particularly through the power of the vote.
Working through the university’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rubiano helped translate voter registration forms into Spanish for New Brunswick residents during the 2020 midterm elections.
“As a Darian Civic Engagement Fellow, I worked to make voter forms digestible through a step-by-step video in Spanish,” the Douglass Residential College student recalls. She went on to work directly with New Brunswick High School students, running Zoom workshops designed to foster active citizenship among future voters.
Rubiano fired questions at the teens: Who is your congressional representative? Are you registered to vote? How does government work?
“Many of them felt disenfranchised, not included in the political scene. Finding meaningful ways to encourage them to care was one of the most challenging things I did as an undergraduate, because I myself understand the feeling of being disenfranchised.
“I shared with my students that my personal calling lay between being undocumented and living as a young woman of color learning to navigate life,” Rubiano says.
Her activism didn’t stop there.
This semester, Rubiano was part of a team sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation bringing nutrition workshops to K-2 students in local low-income elementary schools.
She was assigned to Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Edison, where three times a week she led 45-minute classes on healthy ways to nourish their bodies and to keep physically active.
Service to others runs through the culture of Cap and Skull as well.
Rubiano remembers being woken from a nap toward the end of her junior year by a caller who asked her to sing Rutgers’ alma mater. Puzzled, she did as requested. Only then was she told she’d been chosen as a member of the organization’s 2023 class.
Her Cap and Skull mentor, Juliet Petillo, a sixth-year doctoral student in Rutgers’ pharmaceutical program, introduced Rubiano to the organization’s vast alumni network, encouraging her to become involved in the spirit projects the organization sponsors each semester.
Rubiano experienced the extent of that network when a previous member reached out to her class to raise awareness and relief funds for victims of earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. The impetus for the effort came from Amna Ahmed, a Cap and Skull alumna who received her bachelor of arts degree in political science and human resource management in 2022, and who is now a Fulbright Scholar studying in Turkey.
Rubiano looks forward to reporting to her Manhattan office in July to start her summer analyst training. “It’s a client-facing role that combines my passion for portfolio management, markets -- and helping people achieve their personal goals,” she says.
She singles out the BOLD Center for Leadership, Career and Personal Development at Douglass, as well as its senior director, Stephanie Perez, for giving her the tools she needed to pursue her own goals.
The program helps participants clarify their career objectives and connect with role models in their chosen fields.
“Having this community within Douglass gave me ways to get involved and have access to mentors and personal development programs that allowed me to reach my academic and career objectives,” Rubiano says.