More than 1,000 first-year students took part in the university’s third annual Day of Service, an urban expedition that took them to elementary schools, senior centers, food banks, parks and city landmarks to tend gardens, build bookshelves, pack kits for the homeless, and enliven the day for young and old residents.
“I didn’t know about the community service day before I arrived, but I’m glad I did it,” said Nicholas Tinebra, a computer science major from Holmdel who painted studios and hallways at Newark Symphony Hall, the city’s grand, nearly century-old arts building on Broad St. “I also didn’t know a lot about Newark and I’m going to be spending a lot of time here. It was really interesting to see its history, including this old theater, and great to be able to help bring it back to life.”
For students who tended gardens for the Greater Newark Conservancy on Prince St., the day offered new perspectives and a different set of surprises, including an unexpected meeting with a large, seemingly unflappable frog who gazed at them serenely from a tiny pond on the grounds.
“I didn’t know there were gardens like this in the city and I may be looking for volunteering opportunities. I’m interested in the environmental aspect of urban gardens,” said Shanee Halevi, an engineering science major fromStaten Island, N.Y.
“I love the feel and touch of plants and my parents are passionate about gardening,” said Maliha Mathew, a biology major from Edgewater, who said she looked forward to showing off her new knowledge. Anna Vallejo, also a biology major, from Bergenfield, added, “I’m originally from Kansas and I love nature. I feel like I’ve been more connected to it recently through literature like Thoreau’s Walden.”
More surprisingly still, Lyna Lam, a biology major from Leesburg, Va., found herself moved by an unexpected connection to one of the towering figures of the 20th century, who lived nearly 8,000 miles away and also happened to be a passionate urban gardener.
“My favorite part of the day was spending time in the Nelson Mandela garden and learning about how he worked with plants in prison,” Lam said.
Some NJIT students find the day so inspiring they return year after year.
“We got to see kids with smiles on their faces as we brought in their new books,” said Juan Polanco ‘16, a computer engineering major from North Brunswick and team leader for a crew prepping classrooms at Brick Avon Academy. “I really like doing community work. I volunteer on alternative spring breaks as well. I also like to help new students ease into NJIT and get to know what opportunities are out there.”
Maykela Cabalar ‘17, an electrical engineering major from Lincoln Park and team leader for a crew packing toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion and soap into toiletry kits for the homeless at Newark Emergency Services for Families on Broad St. (below, right), said she was thrilled by the response from the game and friendly crew she supervised.
“I think the day had a big impact. It really hit them hard to learn that there are people who get to take a shower once a week,” Cabalar said.
Tonya Bryan, the service agency’s executive director, described the day as mutually beneficial.
“It’s important for students to become immersed in their community and we want them to know about the work we do,” Bryan said. “Volunteering like this gives them an opportunity to experience it first-hand.”
Dax-Devlon Ross, executive director of the Newark and New York City chapters of After-School All-Stars, an organization that provides academic support, digital literacy training, fitness classes and career preparation, among other services, to students at seven public schools in the region, welcomed the incoming freshmen in the morning before they set out and urged them to “enjoy your day.”
But he also asked them to “think about what happens after today” and to consider “the broader impact the expertise you’re gaining at this university” could have on a community thirsty for knowledge and skills. Pointing to the glaring education gap between Newark and the country as a whole – only 17 percent of Newark residents hold a college degree, as compared to about a third of Americans nationally – he noted, “One of the ways we try to close that gap is through partnerships with universities like NJIT.”
“So keep in mind giving back. It will also give you perspective when you need it,” Ross said, noting that three NJIT students volunteered over the summer at the group’s week-long STEM camp held on the university’s campus.
Last year, NJIT students contributed more than 40,000 hours of community service, said Vivian Lanzot, acting director of civic engagement for NJIT’s Career Development Services.
“Volunteering offers the perfect opportunity to connect with classmates outside of the usual classroom setting, and provides first-year students with a chance to learn more about their peers and the community,” Lanzot said. “They learn to work on teams and network with community partners, while exploring a new environment and having an impact on people they’ve never met. How rewarding is that!"
Community partners include Newark Symphony Hall, Boys & Girls Club of Newark, Newark Emergency Services for Families, Brick Avon Academy, and 13th Avenue School, among many others.
One of the nation’s leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT’s multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com.
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