It’s an academic boot camp designed to take underprepared high school students, from some of the state’s poorest school districts, and transform them into bright college students, whose intellects will delight in the rigors of physics, calculus and computer science.
The six-week program, run by NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), helps disadvantaged students, mostly blacks and Hispanics, make an easy transition from high school to college. The students in EOP disproportionately attend the more impoverished secondary schools in the state, and have been historically underrepresented in universities, especially in technical universities.
During their stay at NJIT, the 116 students live in the residence halls and adhere to strict rules. There are no visits between the men’s and women’s floors, and there is a midnight curfew. Ten resident assistants monitor the students in the dorms and act as peer counselors. It’s no surprise that the program has been dubbed “boot camp.”
The academic component of the program is equally rigorous. On a typical day, the students are enrolled in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They attend tutoring sessions from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with a short break for dinner. The students take classes in physics, math, management, English, communication and architecture, and are quizzed and tested every week in all subjects. They study late into the evening, until bedtime, and must leave their doors open so resident advisers can see that they are studying, not sleeping.
(Editor’s Note: Reporters are invited to visit the EOP Summer Enrichment Program and stay with the students in their classes and dorms. A list of where the students are from appears at the end of this release.)
“The program is demanding, no doubt about it,” says Laurence Howell, executive director of EOP. “But it gives the students the intensive academic prepping they need to make the transition from high school to a rigorous university such as NJIT. If a student is eager for education and preparation, the summer program is his or her passport into NJIT.”
Although the “boot camp” is tough, the students have plenty of help, Howell said. The support, which continues throughout the student’s undergraduate life at NJIT, includes counseling, tutoring, scholarships and internships. EOP’s close ties with industry helps the students get internships and co-ops with top companies.
Called the Engineering Opportunity Program when it began in 1968, EOP is funded by the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund and by NJIT. It was renamed the Educational Opportunity Program in 1975 to reflect its broader mission of providing access to disciplines at the university, including architecture, science and business.
Howell supervises an EOP staff of 10 professional counselors whose job it is to recruit, educate and graduate these students. With an annual budget of $2.3 million, Howell has increased the graduation rate of EOP students from 31 percent to 54 percent over the past four years.
Earlier this year, Howell was named minority-engineering program director of the year by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Howell, of Wayne, was cited by the society for being a “major contributor to NJIT’s consistently high ranking in graduating black and Hispanic engineers.”
Under Howell’s leadership, NJIT has distinguished itself in the national rankings of colleges that graduate minority engineers. NJIT ranks 15th in the nation for awarding bachelor degrees in engineering to African Americans, and 11th nationally for awarding bachelor degrees in engineering to Hispanics, according to the magazine Black Issues in Higher Education.
“EOP exists to ensure that all people, regardless of circumstances, have the chance to succeed in today’s world,” said Howell. “And the summer program is an investment in young people who, although they weren’t born into rich families and didn’t attend rich high schools, want a college education. “Is there a better investment a college can make?”
Editor’s Note: The students in the program are from the following cities or towns: Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Bayonne, Belleville, Bloomfield, Brick, Carteret, Cliffside Park, Clifton, Dayton, East Brunswick, East Orange, Edison, Elizabeth, Hamilton Twp, Hillside, Irvington, Iselin, Jersey City, Kearny, Laurel, Lincroft, Maplewood, Marlboro, Montclair, Newark, North Arlington, North Bergen, North Brunswick, Orange, Parsippany, Passaic, Paterson, Pennsauken, Perth Amboy, Piscataway, Plainfield, Richland, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, Roselle, Scotch Plains, Somerset, Towaco, Trenton, Union, Union City, West New York and Woodbury.