Members of the Class of 2024 are starting the school year during an unprecedented time, but are bringing a belief in better days, a dedication to learning and a determination to get the most out of their time at Rutgers, even from afar.
They are starting their undergraduate education with most classes being delivered remotely and limited in-person instruction as a result of the global pandemic. But many incoming students have already conducted research with Rutgers faculty, participated in university programs to give them a boost in their education and demonstrated their dedication to helping others in difficult times.
Even though many can’t physically be on campus, as of this week Rutgers is welcoming 9,269 first-year students and a record 4,831 transfer students into the university community this fall. Members of the incoming class come from all over New Jersey, 37 states and 60 countries.
Many are trailblazers in their families – the first to come to college and bring a diversity of accomplishments and experiences. Rutgers University-Newark is welcoming the largest class in its history, while at Rutgers University-Camden and universitywide the Class of 2024 is the second largest to enroll.
“Truth be told, I am already in awe of you and all that you will do to make Rutgers, this state, this nation and this world better,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said in his convocation message to incoming students, noting they are part of a generation willing to think in new ways about a society and planet starving for solutions.
“As you do this work, it is my hope that you will not hide behind the veil of contrived innocence, that you will grant others the grace that is owed to them as they start to discover experiences and views that are new, and that you will seize the opportunity in this incredibly difficult time to do everything you can to learn, to grow and to imagine,” Holloway said. “This is hard work, but I choose to believe that it is the work that you came to Rutgers to do. I cannot wait to see what you accomplish.”
Class of 2024 by the Numbers
An Optimistic Mindset
Ayoko Kessouagni never thought of herself as a “business” person. But after she realized her passion in life is fashion, and that she wants a career in the fashion industry, a business degree started to make sense.
“I was trying to integrate having a set goal in terms of a career path, but also following my passion for what I want to do with my life,” said Kessouagni, a member of the Honors Living-Learning Community at Rutgers University-Newark who is enrolled in Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick. “I found out I could integrate being a marketing student with having a concentration in the business of fashion.”
Kessouagni’s business school experience got started earlier in the summer through the B-STAR program, which brings a select group of business students together ahead of the fall semester. Through her growing network and guidance from the group, she has already landed an internship opportunity with a local fashion brand.
When asked if she could describe her outlook as she starts her Rutgers experience, Kessouagni said if she could use one word, it would be “hopeful.”
“These days I try to keep an optimistic mindset, and so all I can feel is hopeful for the next coming years that I do well in school, meet more people, and delve into my career choice even more, and that somehow the world works its way into understanding Black Lives Matter and the issues people of color face,” Kessouagni said.
An Unwavering Commitment to Nursing
Jaisuan Martinez could always be found in the nurse’s room at school, even if he wasn’t sick. By his senior year of high school, the Plainfield native was shadowing nurses at JFK Medical Center.
“That made me realize that nurses are so important in the health care field, because they have such a good connection with patients. They are advocating for everyone,” he said. “Nurses are always there for their patients and can create bonds and create change in a lot of situations in hospitals for patients.”
Martinez, who is enrolled in the School of Nursing, part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, said he’s excited to work hard and become the first person in his family to get a college degree, with a long-term goal of practicing nursing abroad in a developing country.
After graduating high school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, family members and teachers asked him if he was sure he still wanted to go into nursing. He didn’t hesitate at all with his answer.
“It makes me want to do nursing even more. We’re in need of more nurses. Any help that hospitals can get with anything is very important,” he said. “Since nursing is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, I would never second guess it. It’s part of the job description. That’s what I’m signing up for and I want to make a difference.”
A Head Start on Research
John Crespo is taking full advantage of the research opportunities provided to Rutgers undergraduate students. The aspiring medical researcher, who came to New Jersey from Puerto Rico in 2010, participated in a nine-week summer virtual research project run by professor Nathan Fried at Rutgers University-Camden. Crespo – who also participated in the Rutgers Future Scholars program for first-generation and economically disadvantaged students – received a “lab in a box” to set up a research station at home to study the common fruit fly to gain a better understanding of chronic pain, cancer and the coronavirus.
“It’s been a blessing to take a research program like this,” he said. “I get to come up with my own hypothesis and find my own results. Being able to do this before entering my first year is honestly amazing.” He said the program has helped him refine his ability to think critically and get a better understanding of the research path he may take in the future.
Crespo, a biochemistry major enrolled in the Camden College of Arts and Sciences, is entering his first semester with 35 academic credits under his belt. He’s off to a head start, and said he wants to start researching cancer because he has lost several family members to the disease.
Working from the makeshift lab at his home in Willingboro was Crespo’s first experience with medical research. He said the experience makes him excited to keep on researching and he’s hopeful that Rutgers will give him the opportunities and the personal and professional networks to reach his goal of earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry and becoming a research scientist.
Exploring Identity Through Art
Deena Jahama, born in America, raised in Jordan and living in New Jersey since 2011, is joining Mason Gross School of Arts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. An expressive paint handler who uses visual art to explore identity and myths, Jahama’s passion is making art that tells the stories of Middle Eastern women and other underrepresented groups.
“Finding myths from different stories helps me connect my narrative with stories of the past and prove to myself and to other people through my art that women are not confined by the mainstream,’’ Jahama said. “There are stories out there that work to add a dialogue about the things that are not talked about for Middle Eastern women, or women of any kind.”
Jahama said she’s disappointed that she won’t be able to be on campus and in the studio to start the semester, but after it’s safe to return to campus she’s looking forward to living, learning and creating with a community of artists.
“I’m hoping to test my boundaries and also the boundaries of art and how far it can go,” she said.
Class of 2024 Fast Facts
Total New First-Year Student Enrollment:
- Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences: 6,962
- Rutgers University–Newark: 1,316
- Rutgers University–Camden: 802
Honors College Enrollment:
- Honors College New Brunswick: 332
- Honors College at Rutgers–Newark: 23
- Honors Living-Learning Community in Newark: 80
- Honors College at Rutgers–Camden: 107
Demographic Breakdown Universitywide:
- In-state students: 7,807
- Out-of-state students: 594
- International Students: 868
- Number of countries represented: 60
- Top represented home countries: China, India, South Korea
- African-American, Asian, or Latino students: 53.6%
- Rutgers legacy students: 1,393
- First-generation college students: 2,696
Most Popular Majors Chosen on Admission Applications:
- Computer Science
- Biological Sciences