Helping Our Hometowns

Richard L. McCormick, President
As published in the Fall 2010 issue of Rutgers Magazine

Seventeen New Brunswick third graders spent the summer creating a neighborhood landscape, which included a pond, organic garden, bluebird trail, and butterfly garden. Along the way, they learned about science and improved their communication skills. They did so with the help of Rutgers faculty and graduate students in a program called Nurture Thru Nature, whose goal is to open pathways to science and health careers. Funded by Johnson & Johnson, the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, this project is the latest way Rutgers is forging connections to its host communities.

As The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers has a unique mission of service and a particular obligation to the towns it calls home. In Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, and Piscat­away, we occupy valuable (and tax-exempt) real estate, and we benefit from the housing, dining, entertainment, and employment found in these towns. In return, we owe them our best.

Our nation’s cities have suffered over the past several decades—factory closures, environmental hazards, failing schools, violent crime, and crumbling infrastructure among the problems. Each of Rutgers’ home cities has faced at least some of these troubles, and each has made mighty efforts at revitalization. Rutgers has been—and continues to be—involved. We are not simply located in these towns; we are invested in their success.

As you will read in the profile of Rutgers–Camden chan­cellor Wendell Pritchett (“Living for the City”), he is committed to making the campus a “national model for a civically engaged university.” Our Camden Campus is already deeply involved: its law students help residents with pro bono support across an array of issues; Rutgers helps to sponsor the successful LEAP Academy University Charter School; and Rutgers is helping exoffenders restart their lives as productive citizens.

Chancellor Pritchett’s enthusiasm for community engagement is equaled by his counterpart in Newark, chan­cellor Steve Diner, who has championed such efforts throughout his tenure. These projects include a College Ambassadors program through which Rutgers undergraduates encourage local high school students to strive for college; the Operation CeaseFire antiviolence initiative; and the Newark Mentoring Coalition, which is coordinating more than 40 organizations to meet the mentoring needs of every child in the area.

Nurture Thru Nature, led by professor Michael Camasso and associate professor Radha Jagannathan, is part of a growing inventory of community efforts on the New Bruns­wick Campus. Last year the Rutgers Against Hunger program (again with Johnson & Johnson, which has its own proud history of community investment) helped launch a farmers market to put healthy, affordable produce on the tables of local families. Another recent project is connecting Rutgers with the local Mexican community.

In each of our host communities, the Rutgers Future Scholars program dares young people to follow their dream of a college education, with the promise of free tuition for those participants who are admitted to Rutgers.

Rutgers is proud of its hometowns—and we need to be involved in making them stronger. We have a vested interest in their futures, just as they take pride in hosting and supporting one of the nation’s top public research universities. A thriving Camden, a prosperous Newark, a vibrant New Brunswick, and a successful Piscataway make Rutgers all the more attractive to prospective students and all the more inviting for alumni returning home.