Ester Calderon recently spent several weeks anxiously waiting to hear about her application for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s (NJBIA) 2017-2018 Rising Star Award. “I was praying a lot for the word that I got chosen!” said Calderon, well spoken, vibrant and thrilled to be studying at NJIT, where she is an applied mathematics senior, an Educational Opportunity Program student and an Albert Dorman Honors College scholar.

So when her best friend texted her that “the word” was indeed out, Calderon immediately checked her email to confirm the news and learned she had won, selected from among every candidate vying throughout the Garden State. She called her mom who initially misunderstood, thinking that Calderon was the recipient just for NJIT, but later on at home all was clarified.

“It was even better, because I was right in front of her and she was so excited for me!” Calderon remembered.

The NJBIA recognition, which welcomes applicants from every higher education institution in the state, based on faculty recommendations, “identifies future business leaders currently completing their undergraduate education who have demonstrated leadership, a passion for their anticipated field, and a commitment to volunteering/community involvement.” NJIT’s Continuing Professional Education, an NJBIA member that provides workforce development and helps women students access opportunities beyond the classroom, facilitated the university’s seven recommendations.

“Ester is deeply committed to lifting up her community no matter where she finds it, whether it is at NJIT where she has founded and led popular volunteer campaigns, or serving the community in Newark,” said Dean Louis Hamilton, Albert Dorman Honors College, which proposed Calderon for the award. “She is a talented mathematician pursuing her own research agenda and is a leader with a clear set of values. We are all very proud of Ester.” 

Ester Calderon, an Honors College senior studying applied mathematics, received NJBIA's Rising Star Award.

Fully Engaged at School

Since joining the NJIT community, Calderon has been actively involved both on- and off-campus. She is an Honors ambassador, a campus tour guide, a member of the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society and part of the Knit n’ Crochet Club, which crafts hats and blankets for those in need. She also sits on the Student Advisory Committee of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, a financial aid and grant-giving entity, and continues to contribute to her church’s youth service.

Calderon has participated in undergraduate research as well, as part of a four-person team studying how to detect a submarine in shallow water. Eliza Michalopoulou, an associate professor in NJIT’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, is a co-principal investigator of the project, called EXTREEMS-QED.

“We worked with coding and statistics to be able to find out how to detect, identify and locate a submarine in shallow water,” explained Calderon. “Submarines are getting smaller and quieter, which makes them incredibly difficult to find, especially in shallower water where there are so many white [interfering] noises.”

Her Road to NJIT
A first-generation college student, Calderon grew up in Elizabeth with her parents and younger sister, a junior at Seton Hall University. Her father sells roses and her mother, an alumnus of NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs, is a paraprofessional for children with special needs. Calderon attended Union County Vocational Technical High School, earning a 3.9 GPA.

“I always loved school. I was that person who people called ‘nerd’,” she laughed.

She also has had a passion for mathematics as far back as she can recall, and may very well become a high school math teacher. When she checked out NJIT at the suggestion of her physics instructor, a graduate of Newark College of Engineering along with his two daughters, she was pleased to find that the university offered an applied mathematics degree program. Then, during a visit to campus, she met Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Bruce Bukiet, whose motto “math is power” struck a chord with her.

“I originally wanted to do pure math, but then looking into it, I really love business and I do like engineering, and applied math is sort of a mixture of all three,” she shared.

She was accepted early action by NJIT and has flourished in the university’s STEM environment. “I’ve never felt in any way where I had to try really hard in a sense to be noticed or that…I was being disrespected,” she said. “If anything, I feel like we have an advantage here at NJIT as women, because they’re always trying to make sure we feel comfortable.”

The same can be said of her experience at the NJBIA Women Business Leaders Forum, where Calderon accepted her Rising Star Award this past September and networked with many of the more than 300 attendees, both women and men. “I took notes!” she exclaimed.

The event was especially memorable for another reason: Calderon’s guest. She brought her mother as her plus-one.

“My mom’s support has been a big thing,” emphasized Calderon. “My mom is always supporting me.”

NJIT student Ester Calderon (right) enjoyed the NJBIA Women Business Leaders Forum with (from left) her mother Jeannette and Sally Glick, principal and chief growth strategist, Sobel and Co.