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Down on the (Urban) Farm for a Day of Service

Deep Master, a first-year volunteer, found a special spud on his Day of Service.

For the vast majority of NJIT’s incoming Class of 2018, college life began not in a lecture hall or classroom, but on a ride through the city of Newark to an elementary school, senior center, food bank, urban farm or park.

About 800 first year students took part Friday in the university’s second annual Day of Service, an urban expedition to new places and experiences that is fast becoming a cherished NJIT tradition. They collected trash, planted gardens, painted walls, removed graffiti, and entertained both the young and old at about 40 different sites around the city.

Deep Master, a mechanical engineering major from Clifton, was both pleased and somewhat surprised to find himself washing potatoes and sampling raspberries at a farm run by the Greater Newark Conservancy on Hawthorne Ave.

“I saw fruits and vegetables I’d never seen in the supermarket. I had no idea they have this in Newark,” he said, adding that the chance to get to know new classmates on a journey off-campus rather than in a hushed lecture room was also “really interesting.”

Natalia Wilk, an architecture student from Monroe, spent time playing games and gabbing with elderly residents of the Job Haines Home, an assisted living and long-term care facility.

“Watching them enjoy themselves and seeing the smiles on their faces was really great,” she recounted. “For the students, I think this was a really good thing to do.”

Mehtab Singh Sidhu, a computer engineering major from India, painted a townhouse for the AIDS Resource Foundation, an organization that provides housing and services to people with HIV/AIDS and their families.

“It seems like a good foundation,” he said, adding that the work was actually fun. “This was the first time I ever painted something. It was a new experience for me.”

The trip leaders, Jose Belen ‘16, an electrical engineering major from Phillipsburg, and Wilbur Vale ‘15, an electrical engineer from Nutley, noted that the family planned to move in next week. “What they did will have an immediate impact,” Belen commented.

“It gave me the chance to see Newark,” said Samuel Strutinskiy, a computer science major from West New York who picked up trash at Riverfront Park, which is run by the Ironbound Community Corporation. “We had a beautiful view.”

Celia M. King, the executive director of Leadership Newark, a non-profit policy and training group for emerging community leaders, readied the volunteers that morning for their forays into the community with a brief talk about the many dimensions of civic service.

“You will get to know the community. These agencies really have the pulse of it. And getting to know the fabric and foundation is the beginning of starting something big,” she said, adding, “This is good professional experience, too. It can open doors. You never know what lies ahead. You will begin networking today.”

Vivian Lanzot, the acting director of civic engagement for NJIT’s Career Development Services, called the service day a hallmark event for first-year students.

“This gives our students the chance to have an impact on the community where they will live for the next four years,” she noted. “It also gives them leadership skills, helps them build relationships with their peers, and teaches them to work in teams.”

Agency partners and schools include La Casa de Don Pedro, Newark Symphony Hall, the Greater Newark Conservancy, Apostles House, Chancellor Avenue School, and the Roberto Clemente School, among many others.

Civic engagement is one of NJIT’s four mission pillars. Last year, NJIT students contributed over 35,000 hours of service to the community.