NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — When Rutgers University pivoted to fully online courses for the fall semester of 2020, SEBS Academic Programs staff realized that this might be the perfect opportunity for former students who were missing a few courses to graduate. Too often, students leave college without completing their degree and then find that the complications of life with a job and family make it difficult to return to classes on campus.
Penny Carlson and Julie Traxler, deans in SEBS’ Office of Academic Services, reviewed lists of students who were scheduled to graduate in the Classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and identified those who were close to finishing but had left without completing their last requirements. Because student contact information is quickly outdated, they sent emails, mailed letters, and then received the support of the Cook Community Alumni Association to reach out to former students.
Student reenrollments increased for the fall semester, with some students completing their final courses for graduation in January 2021! These are the stories of two of those students in their own words. Congratulations SEBS Class of 2021!
Alejandro Santana, Exercise Science (SEBS’21)
The Fall of 2012 marked my first undergraduate semester at Rutgers University majoring in Exercise Science and Sports Studies (now just Exercise Science). The first week consisted of getting situated at my new work-study job at the Douglas Campus Center (now Douglas Student Center) and accustomed to living on campus.
Unlike many other first-year students, I chose to live in a small, almost unknown, cooperative living residence hall called Helyar House. Google “Helyar House” and the SEBS page gives you a good gist of what it is. The three years that I lived at Heylar made a big impact on my college as I made some lifelong friends and unforgettable memories.
By senior year I was an Apartment Assistant for the Newell Apartments with my eyes set on graduation. My cumulative GPA was projected to be above 3.2 with all my difficult classes behind me. With cords and a stole to accompany my cap and gown, I had the privilege of attending commencement in-person with the sitting president, Barack Obama, providing a memorable speech. Everything was great and I was ready to challenge the world.
Oh wait, did I mention that I had one more class to take? I missed the opportunity to take an internship course in the Spring, but I was registered to take it in the Summer of 2016. Spoiler alert: although I had an internship, I didn’t have the motivation to complete assignments and got a F. Yikes; I didn’t think I would be a graduate who didn’t graduate.
Fast forward a few years (almost five) and I decided to tackle this last obstacle. After an email to my former dean during the midst of the pandemic, I began enrollment and strategizing how to start and finally finish that internship course (virtually, of course). With the motivation I was lacking before, I passed with an A and officially graduated from Rutgers in January of 2021. My diploma arrived the following month, and with it proudly hanging on my wall, I took a picture to surprise my family. It was not the typical undergraduate journey and took a little longer than others, but I did it!
Kristen Mendoza, Communication, (SEBS ’21)
I can still smell the aroma of fresh cut grass and hear the sound of the whimpering horses from my morning runs through Cook Campus. I am 36 now and often reminisce about all the fond memories I have from my journey at Rutgers. Although I am a bit older, I just recently received my degree, and what a ride it has been to get there.
I began my journey in 2003 when I had just graduated high school. I started as a pre-vet major, requiring tons of biology classes. I had such a vigor for anatomy and found the labs truly intriguing, but soon found that dissection and the darker side of medicine just wasn’t for me. Subsequently, I changed my major to Communication knowing that this realm was something I had a great propensity for. I found myself immersed in the subject matter and loving everything from speeches to essays.
Unfortunately, soon after, my grandmother passed away and I found out my mother had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I had to pause my schooling and work several jobs to make ends meet. I knew I would return one day and the Rutgers team would be there to support me—just as they did when I first began.
Additionally, I was battling severe illnesses for several years that impeded me from returning to my coursework. I periodically completed classes here and there as I balanced work and familial priorities, but the Rutgers staff was always there to help—in particular, Professor Clark at Cook College and Dean Penny Carlson, who helped me tremendously to stay on target.
When COVID hit and classes were available online, I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the ring and finish my degree, as I only had one class left to finally receive my diploma. The class was challenging, in the sense that I wasn’t physically there to receive instruction or aid from my professor, but the professor was insanely thorough with her responses to inquiries and was always there to help.
Finally here we are—2021 and I have my degree. I celebrated with a great big confetti cake and a day of pampering. I am proud of my degree and the institution from which it came.
I had many rewarding experiences at Rutgers. There are so many to choose from because I found my WHOLE experience at this establishment advantageous and gratifying. I would have to say, though, my relationship with Professor Clark and overcoming the obstacle of returning to school after so many years off just to get my degree, was beyond words the most valuable piece that I will take away from this experience.
Professor Clark had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself, and helped me to get through a tough time as well as pushed me to complete my classes so I could get my degree.
So…what’s next you say? The possibilities are endless! With the knowledge I have obtained at Rutgers, I have opened new doors that were once closed. I finally have a FULL education and something I can be proud of and put on paper. I intend to use my skills to perhaps become a writer, possibly in the food industry since I also have a passion for food. Like I said, there are no bounds.
What I do know is, this girl is forever grateful for what she has received through her experiences at Rutgers: the people, the classes, the crazy football games, the fun times in the dorms, etc. So if you do find me, for sure you’ll see me in my red, white and black and hear me chanting, HOORAH, HOORAH, RUTGERS RAH!