It's the Brightest Freshman Class in the History of the Honors College

Kimberley Gokberk, an architecture major, is one of 53 Honors College freshmen to earn a 4.0 GPA.

Fifty-three students in the Honors College freshman class ended the fall 2013 semester with 4.0 grade-point averages.

Another 33 freshmen finished with GPAs of 3.8 or higher. With a total of 183 students, it’s the highest-achieving freshman class in the history of the Albert Dorman Honors College. Many of the students are high-school valedictorians, salutatorians and National Honor Society members. About 80 percent of them arrived with advanced placement credits and their average SAT score in reading and math topped 1,340.

The Honors College continues to attract students of this intellectual caliber.  After they graduate, they routinely attend top professional or graduate schools and are recruited by major international companies.  Members of this year’s senior class, for instance, have been accepted at Yale, Columbia and Princeton and been offered high-paying jobs at companies such as Merck, Cisco and Exxon.   

But they all start off as freshmen, like Briana Manciendo. Her parents were born in the Philippines and as a first-generation student she’s driven to excel -- and her parents expect nothing less of her. She attended Clifton High School, where she took Advanced Placement classes. In her senior year, she won a scholarship to the Honors College, where she now majors in biology.  She wants to attend medical school so she must get good grades, knowing that as she progresses through the years her classes will only get harder.

“Medical school is so competitive so I wanted to have a high GPA the first semester,” she says.” And now that I have a 4.0, I’ll work hard to maintain it.”

Briana lives in the new Honors Residence Hall, which she says helped her concentrate. The hall has computer labs and five study lounges on each floor, where she can relax and work.  And her dorm room is a three-minute walk to her classes.

“I love the new residence hall so much,” says Briana. “The rooms are brand new and my classes are right across the street on the quad.  Being so well-situated and happy really helped me get good grades.”

Rex Macmillan, another 4.0 freshman, also took AP classes in high school. He went to Rutherford High School and graduated with a 4.1 GPA. He won a scholarship to the Honors College, where he majors in computer science. He also plays on the Men’s Division 1 Baseball Team. He likes his major and his sport and is grateful for the scholarship.  

He, too, didn’t set out to achieve a 4.0, and was surprised when he earned it.  Athletes have mandatory study hours, though, and his teammates encourage each other to study.  It’s challenging for Rex to balance class work and baseball practice so he uses a scheduling app on his phone to keep him on track. 

Like Briana, he lives in the new Honors Resident Hall. And he too says that living there eased his transition to college. The computer labs and the study lounges on each floor made it easy for him to study.  And he doesn’t have far to go for baseball practice – it’s a baseball throw away from his room.

“I can see the field from my dorm window,” he says. “Most of my classes are in Tiernan Hall, which I can also see from my window.”

Rex sees himself not as innately intelligent but rather as conscientious and persevering. He even has a semi-jocular mantra that sums his approach to academic success: “The first half of doing well in college is getting your work in on time,” he says. “The other half is getting it right.”

Katia Passerini, the interim dean of the Honors College, says the college does all it can to attract, support and encourage students like Rex and Briana.  The college has a team of advisers who help students define their interests and adjust their class schedules. The honors classes are also taught by engaging professors who challenge the students, she says.  First-year students also attend a Freshman Seminar class, whose intent is to help them successfully navigate their way through NJIT.

This fall, the college also has a brand-new building, which includes not only the dormitories the students love but also high-tech classrooms, studio space and shared study rooms. Students from various majors and colleges at NJIT use those rooms to form study groups and learning communities. The groups often forge close bonds and sometimes stay together for four years.   

Kimberley Gokberk, another 4.0 freshman, also lives in the new honors building. She graduated from High Technology High School, in Lincroft, which is ranked first in the nation for STEM, according to U.S. News.

As an architecture major, she spends many nights in her studio classroom.

She came to the Honors College well prepared. All of her high school classes were rigorous and she had the chance to take architecture courses and to compete in state and national architecture contests. She won four of those contests.  Nonetheless, architecture is a demanding major and Kimberley says her roommate jokes that she spends more time in studio class than in her dorm room. But since she loves her major, all that time in studio doesn’t feel like work – it feels like brainy fun. 

“My studio classes are fun because I’m surrounded by fellow students who also love architecture,” she says. “And our professors are awesome.”

She also didn’t set out to earn a 4.0. But now that she has it, she’ll be happy to keep it with her through her four years.    

“People say it gets harder and harder as you go through college,” says Kimberley. “But I was really happy to get a 4.0 and I hope to maintain it.” 

(Robert Florida)