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Three first-generation students smile at a Rutgers University first-gen event with a photo-booth frame

Rutgers University spotlights first-generation student success with the Educational Equity and Excellence Collaborative, launched this past fall.

Rutgers University

Rutgers University launched a new collaborative in fall 2022 aimed at increasing access and student success among diverse student groups.

The Educational Equity and Excellence Collaborative (E3C) is the first universitywide initiative to create unity in resources, best practices and research support across the institution to increase outcomes among first-generation, historically underrepresented minority and low-income students.

The background: As a university, Rutgers is dedicated to academic excellence and improving social mobility among learners, particularly among first-generation students or those from limited means, says Aramis Gutierrez, executive director of E3C and assistant vice president for educational access and success.

The collaborative, announced by Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway and conceptualized by Anna Branch, senior vice president for equity at Rutgers, was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education.

“Our intent is that the E3C becomes a resource for first-generation college-bound high school students, their families and current Rutgers undergraduates,” Gutierrez says. “We want them to know that we’re here to walk alongside them on this extraordinary path to and through college and help them understand the tremendous significance it holds.”

What’s the aim: The collaborative has three goals:

  • Strengthen community, by building an institutional strategy across the student lifetime through collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  • Drive innovation, by highlighting, recognizing and rewarding faculty- and staff-led initiatives using the Educational Equity Innovation Fund to increase access and success for marginalized or underrepresented students.
  • Amplify excellence, by establishing a platform to share institutional achievements related to student success with prospective partners in education and philanthropy.

“We know there are many incredible programs and opportunities for students, but as many have indicated, finding information about them can be challenging,” Gutierrez explains. “The clearinghouse, convenings and varying forms of outreach will connect students with curated resources to propel them forward.”

In his role, Gutierrez takes a “macro view” of the university, he explains, making connections within and across campuses. Gutierrez is joined by Tania Tabora, the E3C community and project manager, and Divine Tabios, senior director of development for the Rutgers foundation.

Each campus offers its own partners and advisers from different programs and departments leaders as well as student groups.

Growing up: This year, the E3C received 50 proposals requesting nearly $1 million in support for fall 2023 and spring 2024 efforts, Gutierrez says. This summer, five pilot projects have been selected to serve over 100 students, including those still in high school and in Rutgers’s undergraduate cohort.

The two projects for undergraduates are sponsored by the Office of Global Initiatives and Experiential Learning and the School of Engineering and the Educational Opportunity Fund Program.

The Office of Global Initiatives and Experiential Learning will offer paid internships for first-generation undergraduates, partnering with community-based organizations on subjects like food insecurity, green energy, gender equality, immigration and asylum, and sustainable business practices, among others.

With their funding, the School of Engineering and the Educational Opportunity Fund Program will expand summer academic programs and support services. As part of the program, staff will also collect data to understand gaps in infrastructural support for these students and how to close them.

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