Three days before classes began this fall, nearly 1,000 freshmen fanned out across their new city for NJIT’s annual First-Year Day of Service – sweeping the cobwebs from cultural landmarks such as Newark Symphony Hall, harvesting herbs and vegetables from late-summer urban gardens and readying empty classrooms at city schools for the rush of incoming students.
For many, the foray into Newark’s diverse neighborhoods offered an eye-opening window on the city’s magical places: the Sussex Avenue School, where exuberant student-designed, artist-assisted murals (below) cover internal and external walls, and the Greater Newark Conservancy's 2.5-acre Hawthorne Ave. Farm, where 60 rows of eggplant, kale, tomatoes and other vegetables flourish free of pesticides alongside an orchard of fruit trees, to name just two.
Madison Kovach ’21, a business major from Franklin Lakes who was pushing a wheelbarrow stacked with weeds that day, said she had no idea there were farms in Newark. “It was a really nice feeling to give back – to help out any way I could,” she said of the outing.
For others, the experience struck a chord that will resonate throughout their time at NJIT: the call to community service.
“At the end of the last academic year, approximately 3375 NJIT students contributed more than 59,000 hours of service to 283 non-profit agencies,” said Vivian Lanzot, director of civic engagement for NJIT's Career Development Services. “We anticipate that through our many initiatives students will continue to give back and these numbers will soar.”
A few weeks into the year, 29 local non-profits, government agencies, educational programs and community organizations gathered on campus for a non-profit expo to present opportunities for doing just that: upcoming projects and events. Lanzot called the expo “another step in NJIT’s move toward greater community engagement.”
Here is a sampling of this year's projects:
NJIT’s Civic Engagement Computer Center, where students work on website development and IT projects for non-profits, is routinely flooded with requests for help. Their projects include SAMS 2.0, a competition management application for Paralympic competitions for athletes with disabilities. Working with non-profits Adaptive Sports USA and Adaptive Track and Field USA, the students are designing a multi-functional app that can be used to enter registration information, to create heat sheets, to store competition results and event records and to generate other competition-related reports.
On a different project at the center, Shruti Warrier, a sophomore from South Brunswick, is redesigning a web site for the East Orange-based animal rescue service, Miss Pat’s Cats.
“I like making a difference – helping a non-profit get the message out - and I like web design. Putting the two together is ideal,” says Warrier (below), who is designing the site to be “more modern, nice to look at and more functional.”
More than 30 students are currently earning their federal work-study allocation by tutoring Newark children and assisting local non-profits such as the Goodwill Rescue Mission. “For educational, career-preparation and community service internships, this is a virtually untapped resource for support of NJIT’s academic and civic goals,” Lanzot notes.
In 2013, NJIT created an alternative spring break program to help devastated New Jersey communities clean up, rebuild and preserve their heritage following Hurricane Sandy. Leading the charge in the metropolitan region, NJIT assembled a crew that spring of nearly 570 student volunteers who assessed damages, swept beaches and parks and demolished and reconstructed wrecked homes and buildings, such as the 60-year-old SurfLight Theater in Beach Haven. Since then, nearly 1,000 students, staff and alumni have taken part in the ongoing recovery. Twenty students volunteered this past March, for example, for a non-profit housing group that assists vulnerable residents, from the elderly to war veterans, in repairing their homes. They are also preparing communities for the future. A student group of architects affiliated with the American Institute of Architect’s Freedom By Design program recently designed a DIY handbook for a local sustainable development organization on adapting to climate change in coastal regions.
“NJIT continues to be at the forefront of post-Sandy rebuilding efforts by providing volunteers who share their time and expertise to assist New Jersey communities continue to live a life with normalcy five years after the superstorm," Lanzot says. "In the wake of recent disasters, domestic and beyond, our Alternative Spring Break will continue to engage our students in impactful service that will allow them to not only learn through experience, but to take a lesson in citizenship.”