Taking to Heart Our Service Mission

Richard L. McCormick, President
As published in the Fall 2009 issue of Rutgers Magazine

This summer, doctoral student Stephanie Clare taught expository writing to rising ninth-grade students participating in the Rutgers Future Scholars program (see “The Opportunity of a Lifetime”). She sent me an email immediately after the two-week session to share her impressions. “The students,” she wrote, “were fantastic: interested, energetic, and creative. At our closing ceremony, one teacher told the group how these two weeks have changed her life, giving her direction and purpose. I, too, feel changed by the experience.”

Although Stephanie’s note was deeply gratifying, her enthusiastic reaction was not surprising. Spend even a day with the bright young women and men in the program—almost all of whom are from families of very modest means—and you’ll come away inspired.

I felt that way at the welcoming reception for the second cohort of Rutgers Future Scholars, a group of rising eighth graders from our host communities of New Brunswick, Newark, Camden, and Piscataway. Each boy and girl was wearing a Rutgers T-shirt with “Class of 2018” emblazoned on the back. All were excited by the opportunity to spend time at Rutgers and to begin the journey toward a college education. That morning, they heard testimonials from students a year ahead of them in the program who spoke movingly about what it means to them to be a Rutgers Future Scholar. Then benefactor Steve Colson, who had already given $100,000 to support our Future Scholars, surprised us by announcing that he would double his gift. It was one of the most uplifting hours I have spent at Rutgers.

The Future Scholars initiative is one of the freshest examples of Rutgers’ commitment to a strong engagement with our home state. In our service as well as in our teaching and research, Rutgers takes to heart its obligations as The State University of New Jersey.

A recent Rutgers report showed that for every dollar that the state invests in Rutgers, the university generates more than six dollars in direct and indirect economic activity—a total of $3.8 billion in 2008. We point with pride to this dollar impact, but even more proudly to the good that Rutgers does for people, communities, and businesses. For example, families call on Rutgers Cooperative Extension for research-based information on topics ranging from healthy gardens to proper nutrition to water conservation. Rutgers law students provide pro bono legal services to indigent residents. Our center on urban entrepreneurship is helping new businesses take root in Newark. The university is assisting in North Camden’s plan to add parks and gardens and make the neighborhood safer. Our faculty’s research on topics such as autism, cochlear implants, renewable energy, and an HIV vaccine has enormous potential to change or even save lives. And in a truly universitywide effort that has included alumni, we have donated more than 20 tons of food to local pantries across the state in the Rutgers Against Hunger program’s first eight months alone.

Rutgers’ mission of service has always been important both to the institution and to New Jersey. In economic hard times, it is more critical than ever. These efforts are meeting needs and creating opportunity for better lives. I appreciate your support and welcome your involvement. Stephanie Clare said of her time teaching our Future Scholars, “Although I have already spent four years at Rutgers as a Ph.D. student, I have never felt more proud to be part of the Rutgers community.” I know just how she feels.