Last summer, 55 students from across the state of New Jersey attended a statewide cybersecurity boot camp run by Senior University Lecturer Osama Eljabiri via Real World Connections (RWC), a STEM education program Eljabiri created over a decade ago.

“It was a huge success,” he recalls. “It was the first time NJIT offered a cybersecurity camp to high school students. The students left in tears because they did not want the program to end.”

Eljabiri’s tireless efforts to catalyze interest in STEM-related fields by providing enrichment opportunities to thousands of New Jersey middle school and high school students has earned him a 2017 New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award.

A joint program run by the Community Foundation of New Jersey, The Star-Ledger and The Governor’s Advisor Council on Volunteerism, the New Jersey State Governor's Jefferson Awards honored local unsung heroes for their demonstrated public service work during an awards ceremony June 19 at the Newark Museum. Recipients of the award demonstrate unique vision, dedication, tenacity of heroic proportion and serve as inspiration for others.

“It is a great honor to receive such a recognition,” says Eljabiri, who is also the director of the Ying Wu College of Computing's capstone program. “Believing in our students and unleashing their full potential makes a difference. We need to bring in more people to experience our programs. The best way to understand what we do is to be a part of it.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stands with Real World Connection coaches Sabrina Lam and Jordanne Davenport (center) as they accept Senior University Lecturer Osama Eljabiri’s medal and certificate during the New Jersey State Governor's Jefferson Awards ceremony.

RWC provides a special approach to teaching and learning, placing students in the driver seat as they become the owners of their own education, the developers of real world solutions to business problems and the teachers of their own school, which they run as executives, project managers, mentors, advisors and coaches.

“RWC has helped many students get into some of the best schools in the country,” he says, “paving the way to permanent, meaningful employment in high-tech fields for individuals from underserved communities.”

The program also provides unique leadership opportunities to NJIT students, who become engaged with the community and continue to boast a demonstrated commitment to civic engagement. 

Earlier this year, Eljabiri held a two-semester RWC program for more than 100 students in Orange, Newark, Elizabeth and Kearny, which included many tracks offered for the first time in partnership with Panasonic, the NJIT Police Department and other industry partners. “The students presented their projects to the public standing shoulder-to-shoulder with college seniors,” he says.

And this summer, he directed the RWC Mayor Ras J. Baraka Coding Institute, introducing over 20 Newark students to the fundamentals of computer coding.

To inspire more people to help uplift those in need, Eljabiri believes, “We must continue to break down barriers to let our kindness shine.” He adds: “We need to continue to build valuable partnerships between academia and industry to bring exceptional opportunities to students and the community. Once we integrate social skills, leadership, community service and multidisciplinary learning into every curriculum, students will become agents of change and use their education to solve community problems.”