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Why is Mikaya Hamilton coming to NJIT this fall all the way from Mesa, Arizona? For one thing, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student wants to study architecture and play college-level tennis, both of which she will do at the university. For another, she looks to beat the heat of her hometown — “It’s just too hot,” she laughed.

“Honestly, my dad was helping me research schools…and we just came across [NJIT] and I liked what the school stood for,” she added. “I thought that it was a good fit for me.”

She learned about EOP while attending an NJIT Open House with her family in November 2016. There she met EOP Executive Director Tony Howell, emailing him two days later to express her interest in the program.

“From there, it all fell into place,” said Hamilton, who spent six weeks this past summer in EOP’s mandatory residential summer experience, designed to enhance participants’ college readiness. “I’m very happy that I was able to be a part of it, because I met so many cool people, so many nice people. It’s really a family…I feel confident going into the fall.”

Incoming EOP freshman Mikaya Hamilton spent six weeks at NJIT this summer.

As for her own family, Hamilton is the second youngest of five daughters and one son. Her father is a senior software engineer and her mother, a two-time cancer survivor, is a former aircraft mechanic now integrally involved with Impact One, a nonprofit that helps women with breast cancer. Reflecting on her childhood days playing with Barbies®, and using her father’s shoeboxes to build housing and furniture for her dolls, she remarked, “I was very creative. I loved to make little art pieces, and I think that that’s what pushed me to go into architecture.”

She got a taste of the field during the EOP summer program when she took a couple of drawing classes, an opportunity that allowed her to “see inside my major.” The six weeks at NJIT marked her first extended stay away from home, but she thrived, enjoyed her coursework and even had the chance to play tennis with a member of the NJIT tennis team. She also received abundant support from the EOP staff and tutors.

“I felt overwhelmed and anxious,” admitted her mother, Brenda, about Hamilton’s decision to study so far out of state. “But once we came here and met everyone, this community gave me so much comfort. It’s an extended family like I’ve never experienced before.”

Hamilton will be rooming with another EOP student in Cypress Hall her first year at NJIT. Apart from adapting to the cooler weather — “I definitely am going to have to do a lot of shopping as far as winter clothes go” — her greatest adjustment will be being away from her family. Fortunately, EOP has helped prepare her.

“It’s a major change. You have to be self-reliant,” she shared. “I know I can do it. I’m pretty independent.”