First in a Three-part Series on Pre-College Programs at NJIT
“Today I am 29 years of age, work for the leading defense contractor in the world —building the most powerful military stealth jet yet built — have a master’s degree and find myself creating a very secure future for my family. Although there are other factors that eventually contributed to my success, I truly believe that without the strong foundation and opportunities provided by Upward Bound, my present situation would not be nearly as favorable,” remarked Edwin Pimentel ’10 about the positive impact the Upward Bound for English Language Learners (UBELL) program has had on his life.
UBELL is among the many offerings provided to high school students by NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP). It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and designed to address the needs of first-generation college and low-income students as they make their way toward admission to higher institutions of learning. In addition to attending academic classes in math and science, UBELL students receive support in achieving competence in English and instruction in goal setting, study skills and time management.
Pimentel, who was born and raised until age 13 in the Dominican Republic, came to the United States with his parents and younger brother and sister. They arrived in Newark, N.J., just days after 9/11. The culture shock, particularly at that time, was compounded by his limited proficiency in English.
“I knew a few words to get by,” he recalled. “Overall, my first year was rough — getting used to the new culture, the cold, and being shy about speaking out loud due to self-consciousness.”
He learned about UBELL from a fellow student and applied to the program during his sophomore year at Barringer High School. Once enrolled, he participated year-round and took advantage of SAT and college prep courses along with guidance in applying to schools. His fondest memory of his UBELL experience was living on-campus at NJIT during the summer months.
“That turned out to be invaluable for me after high school,” Pimentel said. “It helped me improve my people skills, practice [English] more and more, and understand the responsibilities that come with living somewhat alone. It also helped me build lots of relationships within NJIT.”
Through UBELL, Pimentel not only improved his grades and ability to speak English, he also graduated from Barringer among the top five in his class. And while he visited nearly 10 colleges, he ultimately chose to apply to and attend NJIT, his “home away from home,” and studied mechanical engineering as a student in the Educational Opportunity Program. Today, Pimentel is in program management at Lockheed Martin, where he assists in the implementation and delivery of all contracted items (including jets) and ancillary equipment. He lives in Texas and also holds a master’s degree in engineering management with a concentration in systems engineering from University of Texas at Arlington.
“Before joining Upward Bound, I felt lost in this new world and sensed that the ‘land of opportunities’ was not a real thing,” acknowledged Pimentel, a first-generation college student whose siblings also are UBELL alum and whose cousin picked up an NJIT civil-engineering undergraduate-studies diploma at the university’s May 2017 commencement. “Upward Bound became my salvation.”
College Bound, Thanks to UBELL
Charged with enhancing students’ college readiness and success, UBELL also preps parents unfamiliar with the college process through financial aid and enrollment counseling. UBELL services are free, as are books, instructional supplies, field trips, meals and tickets for public transportation. Since its inception at NJIT’s CPCP in 1999, the program has served more than 700 students from targeted Newark high schools, with over 300 pursuing post-secondary education.
One of its recent graduates is Nicole Encalada, who is moving on from East Side High School to study accounting at Kean University this fall. Encalada, too, is a first-generation college student. She is the second of three daughters and has grown up in Newark, supported by her mother, a single parent employed as a hotel housekeeper.
Encalada participated in UBELL from ninth through 11th grade, during both summers and school years. She confesses that her English was poor before the program and her pronunciation unclear — “I really didn’t understand what people were saying to me” — and looked to the program to help her with speaking, reading and writing. The opportunity to visit college campuses and get assistance with college applications through UBELL attracted her as well.
“The program helped me with applications and I learned more about different schools and also the different programs they have,” she said. “[Without UBELL], maybe I wouldn’t have applied to college.”
Having always been interested in mathematics, Encalada wants to become a certified public accountant. For now, she’s thrilled that she’s going to college — and she’s not alone. “My mom is very happy for me to go to college, and have a career and my dream job.”
About the Center for Pre-College Programs
The Center for Pre-College Programs was established in 1979 in order to increase access to scientific and technological fields among traditionally underrepresented populations and to improve the teaching of science and mathematics in secondary and elementary schools. Achievement is reflected in the accomplishments of its many pre-college alumni who become teachers who show the way to youngsters, engineers who create technology that allows astronauts to rendezvous in space, scientists who research new avenues to control and cure diseases, and financiers who strive to keep our economy flourishing. The Center for Pre-College Programs annually serves more than 3,000 elementary and secondary students and their teachers in a variety of programs.