Jennifer Dorn, a senior at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), began life never dreaming she would one day graduate with distinction, and a host of awards, from a top engineering school.
Her mother was ill and couldn’t work. Sometimes, when her mother was hospitalized for long periods, Jennifer moved around a lot, living in many homes. She attended schools that didn’t prepare her for the rigors of a demanding engineering school such as NJIT.
Nonetheless, Jennifer, of New Brunswick, graduated from NJIT at the top of her class. She has a double major - math and computer science – and a cumulative grade point average of 3.862. She was recently named Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award by the College of Science and Liberal Arts, and received an Outstanding Academic Achievement Award from the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at NJIT. She belongs to the university’s Albert Dorman Honors College, she has made the dean's list every semester of her four years at NJIT, and she is a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar.
How did she achieve so much academically, coming from such humble and disadvantaged roots?
“I decided at a young age that education was the way to a career and a better life,” Dorn said. “I worked hard for what I accomplished at NJIT, but a lot of people helped me, so I always wanted to work extra hard to give back to them.”
The one person at NJIT who helped her most was Laurence Howell, the executive director of EOP, a state and university funded program that offers academic and counseling support to poor, underrepresented students whose high schools do not prepare them for college. Howell, who EOP students commonly refer to, with reverence, as a “father figure,” saw that Dorn needed a fatherly touch.
“When she reached out to me, though gingerly,” Howell said, “it was for confirmation. Jennifer knew what she wanted, but wasn’t sure how to get it done, which established the base for our ‘father-daughter’ relationship.” She had so many diversions in her life; it was tremendously hard for her. She handled it all with a calm intensity. That is how we became close.”
The EOP staff acts as in loco parentis for its students, Howell said. He and his staff help students navigate their way through NJIT. In the end, they become the students’ confidant. “If we do that well,” he said, “the students succeed way beyond their capabilities. Jennifer just flowered at NJIT. She found a nurturing environment that was safe yet challenging and very comforting.”
The summer before her freshman year at NJIT, Jennifer attended the six-week long academic “boot camp” run by Howell. The boot camp helped her catch up academically and Jennifer credits EOP, and Howell, as the key to her success at NJIT. “Tony Howell,” she said, “he’s just such been such an inspiration. “He uses his title and his authority to help students.”
Jennifer’s mother helped her, too, as much as she could, given her illness. And Jennifer is grateful to her. “Although my mother could not physically care for me,” Dorn said, “she always tried to support and encourage me, which is one of the best things a mother could do.”
Another woman, unconnected to NJIT, took Dorn under her motherly wing. Dorn has one older biological sister, Tonia, 25. But when Jennifer was 9, she acquired a second big sister, Patricia Sulzer. It was a heavenly match, from the beginning - a match that sparked in Dorn the stability, drive and confidence she needed to succeed.
One day, when Jennifer was a senior, Sulzer went with her to school to attend a college fair. There, Jennifer met another person who would change her life. Carlo Ontaneda, assistant director for NJIT’s EOP, came to New Brunswick High School to recruit students. He met Jennifer. He saw that she had academic promise and invited her to join EOP.
“I took Jennifer to see the NJIT,” said Sulzer. “It was in city, which she was used to, yet it had beautiful buildings, a great library and lovely dorms. She saw the diversity of the students and immediately felt comfortable at NJIT. We visited other colleges and she didn’t feel that way. She decided to join the EOP program and to attend NJIT.”
Sulzer suspected Jennifer would do well at NJIT, but even she is taken back by what Jennifer accomplished at NJIT.
“Jennifer amazes me with the grades she gets,” Sulzer said. “Jennifer sees she can excel, that she can make it, and she wants to prove herself, maybe to me or to her family or to herself. She is so determined to excel in everything. She puts herself under enormous pressures, but is always successful in what she sets out to do.”
Jennifer is equally found of, and devoted to, Sulzer.
“Patricia was a big sister, a best friend and a mom all in one. She was my role model. Ever since I was 9, I wanted my own house. She showed me her townhouse, told me all about her job. She worked with computers, which is why I majored in computer science. When I met Patricia, I had visions of what I wanted to do, but she showed me how to do it and told me that I can do it.”
That can-do spirit has served Jennifer well at NJIT. She not only excelled academically, but in every aspect of college life. NJIT has given Jennifer awards for student leadership, community service, engineering, computer science and athletics.
(Editors: Below is a full list of Dorn’s honors, achievements and associations.)
She feels so at home at NJIT now that come fall, she will pursue a master’s degree at NJIT in engineering management. She wants to couple her interest in math and computers with an interest in business management.
Her future shines so brilliantly before her now, that her childhood dream – to own her own house – seems like child play. “As a child, that is what I was working and saving for: a house of my own. Now, I see a house is just the beginning. Now, I see my life is just starting out. A house is just one thing. I can go as far as I want.”
· NJIT Scholar Athlete Award
· Listed in Who’s Who among American College Students
· Inductee,the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, a society for college freshmen
· The NJIT Dean of Student Services Leadership Award
· NJIT Excellence in Community Service Award
· Arthur Ashe Award (a national award that honors community-minded student athletes)
· The NJIT Outstanding Female in Computer Science Award
· NJIT Resident Assistant of the Year Award
· NJIT Highlander Award (for highest GPA on varsity cross country and swim
· Inductee, Pi Mu Epsilon National Mathematics Honor Society
· Elected freshman class president of student government; photography editor of the student yearbook; and board member of the student government senior committee
· Vice President, Society of Woman Engineers
· Member, National Society of Black Engineers
· Co-captain of NJIT's cross country team, soccer and the swim team
· Member of the Passaic River Clean Up Crew
· Recruiter for the American Heart Association
· Team Captain for the INROADS/Kids Olympics
· Team Leader for the Breast Cancer Walk
· Organized Toy Donations to Children's Hospital in Newark