Feature Stories

The Largest Freshman Class in NJIT History: Why Did They Choose NJIT?

Freshmen Carol Mendez and Yusuf Rimawi

When he was a senior in high school, Jonathan Gustafson was looking for a university that would offer him four things: a biomedical engineering major, his academic interest; a volleyball team, his athletic interest, a scholarship and a city.  He grew up in a suburb just south of Chicago, learned to love cities, and wanted an urban campus. 

A college close to his home -- the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, had everything he wanted in a college except the main thing he wanted: his major. The school did not offer biomedical engineering.  So it was out.

Luckily, one day Gustafson’s volleyball coach told him about NJIT.  It had a great volleyball team, said the coach.  It was located in one city -- Newark -- that was 10 miles away from another, New York City.  Jonathan searched NJIT and saw that it had a first-rate biomedical engineering program.  He later learned that NJIT had an Honors College that offered merit scholarships. Gustafson was a straight A student.     

So one day during his spring break, he, along with his mother, drove all the way from Illinois to Newark to visit NJIT.

“It was a beautiful campus in the heart of Newark and it reminded me a little of Chicago,” recalled Gustafson, now a freshman at NJIT majoring in biomedical engineering.  “NJIT had the major I wanted, had a great volleyball team and the Honors College offered me a very, very nice scholarship.   I’ve been here now four weeks and I’ve already visited New York City twice with my new friends.  There’s no doubt that I made the right decision.” 

In picking NJIT as his university of choice, Gustafson helped make a bit of history – NJIT-wise.  The incoming freshman class that he is part of is the largest in the history of the university. With 922 students, the class is 12 percent larger than last fall’s freshman class.  They picked NJIT, most freshmen said, because of its strong academic programs and its vaunted ability to prepare them for great careers.  Other reasons cited by freshmen for selecting NJIT were that it was a small close-knit campus; it was a good value -- many received scholarships -- it offered the major they wanted; it was in a good location and they felt like they would fit in here.

The top major selected by incoming freshmen was architecture, followed by mechanical engineering, information technology, business management and civil engineering.  Nationally, the class is comprised of students from 23 states. Though most students come from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, other students, like Gustafson, come from far away states such as Alaska, Hawaii and California. The class also has 56 international students from China, India, Brazil, Canada, Spain and Germany.

NJIT increased the size of the freshman class while maintaining high academic standards, said Steve Eck, director of university admissions.  More than 25 percent of them ranked in the top tenth of their high school class; 18 were either valedictorian or salutatorians and four were national merit scholars.  Students are attracted to NJIT, said Eck, due to its solid academic reputation, noting that for the third year in a row NJIT was named a top-tier research university by US News and World Report.

And that strong reputation is precisely why Carol Mendez, a freshman from Union City, chose NJIT.

“I came here because I thought NJIT has a strong engineering program that’s built on a solid foundation in mathematics,” Mendez, said,

When she was in high school in Union City, Mendez took college-level NJIT classes offered by Center for Pre-College Programs.  She thus got to know the campus; she liked the small classes here and how much personal time professors gave students.    NJIT was also near enough to Union City for her to commute to classes. That saves money, which is important to Mendez, a first-generation college student who was born in Guatemala.  She also won a scholarship, which made it possible for her to afford tuition.   

“I had considered Rutgers in New Brunswick but I didn’t want to commute there and didn’t want to dorm there,” she said.  “I’m glad I came here.  I have great teachers, such as Math Professor Martin Katzen, who make classes enjoyable”

Like Mendez, Jimmy Rodriguez is an in-state freshman from Belleville.  A few of his friends who graduated from Bellville High School before him enrolled at NJIT. They suggested Rodriguez apply.  He did, and now, after three weeks of school, he’s loving it.  He has a lot of friends; he has a short commute from Belleville; tuition is affordable and his engineering major holds the promise of a good career.  He, too, like Mendez, is a first-generation college student (his parents are from Ecuador).  He considered attending Steven’s Institute, in Hoboken.  But in the end Steven’s, a private school, was too expensive and farther away.  And perhaps most important, to him, NJIT is also known for getting its graduates good jobs.

“My friend’s sister graduated from NJIT with a degree in chemical engineering,” he added, “and she has a great job working for Johnson & Johnson. NJIT has ties with all the big companies in this area.  And after I graduate I think I’ll be able to get a great job working for good company.”  

Yusuf Rimawi, a freshman from Clifton, picked NJIT because it offered his two main academic interests: engineering and environmental studies.  

Rimawi attended Al Ghazaly High School in Teaneck, a rigorous school that each year sends some of its top graduates to NJIT.  Some of those graduates strongly recommended that Rimawi apply to NJIT.  So one day at the end of his senior year, he visited the campus.

“My impression of NJIT was that it was a strong engineering school that was advancing and improving,” he said. “I also thought Newark was improving as a city.” 

Rimawi fits in well at NJIT. So much so that he was recently elected President of the freshman class.  The class, he said, is filled with bright and serious students of varied intellectual interests -- engineering, computing architecture, management -- who represent the future of America.

“Our country is facing serious problems, environmentally and financially,” said Rimawi.  “The planet is threatened by global warming and pollution and our financial system is failing.  The students in this large and talented freshman class will one day be the employees who’ll engineer solutions that will make America an environmentally cleaner and financially secure country.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)