Rutgers–New Brunswick hosts talks, workshops and an alumni mixer to highlight university programs supporting underserved students
Whether at Rutgers or in his hometown of South Plainfield, Divon Pender tries to take advantage of opportunities in his community – along with finding ways to give back through advocacy.
Pender, a first-generation and two-time transfer student who graduated from Rutgers University–New Brunswick in 2023, found the support he needed to succeed at Rutgers through Thrive Student Support Services, a federally funded program operated by Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Division of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE).
“Coming in as a transfer student, I wanted to get involved as much as I could,” said Pender, a McNair Scholar who transferred from The University of Scranton to Middlesex College before coming to Rutgers, where he earned a degree in human resource management from the School of Management and Labor Relations. “I got involved. I took advantage of those resources.”
Pender is the keynote speaker of the Alumni Mixer and McNair Research Symposium set for the evening of Thursday, Feb. 22, at the Zimmerli Art Museum. The mixer is one of several events being held for Rutgers-New Brunswick’s annual Access Week, a series of talks, workshops and other activities highlighting programs and initiatives the university provides to help first-generation, low-income and other underserved students succeed at college.
Access Week kicks off Monday, Feb. 19, with a college fair and youth summit and concludes Friday, Feb. 23, with an inaugural event called Day of Engagement.
Thrive, also known as Thrive SSS, is one of the programs Access Week will showcase. The program provides tutoring, workshops and career coaching to first-generation and low-income students.
Appreciative of the support he received through DICE, Pender joined Thrive SSS as a peer mentor to help fellow students. It’s just one example of his community service.
During the summer of 2021, when Pender was transferring to Rutgers, he took on another challenge: campaigning for a seat on the board of the South Plainfield School District. Then a junior, Pender was elected to the school board that November, becoming the group’s youngest member.
“I felt like there was a need to support my community a little bit more because I was always community oriented,” said the 22-year-old, whose older brother Dion also graduated from Rutgers–New Brunswick.
Unlocking pathways to success is one of the goals of Access Week, which isn’t just for students, said Tiffiny Butler, the associate vice chancellor for educational equity at DICE.
Everyone has a space to be able to contribute and participate in unlocking pathways to success for students.
associate vice chancellor for educational equity at DICE
“There is something for everyone,” said Butler, adding that this year's activities feature a new, community-oriented event called Access Week Day of Engagement. “As we seek to broaden the impact of the equity and inclusion work that happens all around Rutgers–New Brunswick, we wanted to make sure that everyone had space to learn, grow and participate as a part of the larger community of Rutgers-New Brunswick. Everyone has a space to be able to contribute and participate in unlocking pathways to success for students.”
“As the nation’s No. 15 top public university, Rutgers–New Brunswick upholds student success as one of our pillars of excellence,” said Rutgers–New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway. “We are committed to providing a world-class, rigorous education – and making that education accessible and affordable to all students who qualify amid their diverse backgrounds and needs.”
This year’s Access Week features several events:
I Am College Bound:
College Fair and Youth Summit
8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19, College Avenue Student Center, 126 College Ave., New Brunswick
The fair and summit, intended for Pre-College Outreach and Upward Bound Math-Science high school participants and friends, will feature workshops, speakers and training led by Rutgers undergraduates to aid in preparing high school students for college. The summit will include a college fair inclusive of 20 institutions, interactive workshops led by community partners and Rutgers student organizations and departments. Students also may participate in an interactive TRIO/advocacy workshop and hear from TRIO undergrad and graduate students about how advocacy and exposure enhanced their college experience and overall success. Register here.
Student Success Forum
12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, College Avenue Student Center
Presented by DICE and Undergraduate Education, this forum will bring together faculty and staff who engage in student support programming for an equity data walk illustrating the outcomes of first-generation, limited income and underrepresented students. This year’s forum will highlight students' success metrics and their relationship to postgraduate outcomes. There will be a response panel from graduate and undergraduate students discussing their reflections from the data walk. Following the walk, staff and faculty are encouraged to connect with fellow student-support colleagues for networking and community building. Register here.
Thrive SSS: Empowerment Hour
5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, College Avenue Student Center
Hosted by the Thrive Student Support Services team, this one-hour interactive workshop is focused on empowering students identifying and demonstrating how everyday actions and participation in federal outreach and student services (TRIO) programs are a form of advocacy. Register here.
James Dickson Carr Lecture Series:
3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, College Avenue Student Center
Micere Keels, an associate professor in comparative human development at the University of Chicago, is the featured speaker of this lecture named in honor of James Dickson Carr, the first African American graduate of Rutgers University. This year’s lecture title is “The Opposite of Othering is Not Sameing: How Fostering Counterspaces Facilitates Campus Integration in Service of Student Success.” Attendees will learn about best practices and student success strategies through the use of campus counterpaces. Register here.
Equity Mindset Workshop
12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, College Avenue Student Center
This workshop is aimed at helping faculty and staff to move toward an equity mindset approach in student learning and development. Brian Kurisky, executive director of the Collaborative Center for Community Engagement, will be giving a talk entitled “Best Practices in Community Engagement.” Register here.
Alumni Mixer With McNair Research Symposium
6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick
Students and alumni are invited to attend this free event presented by DICE, the Office of Career Exploration and Success, the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Program and the Zimmerli Art Museum. Divon Pender, class of 2023, will deliver the keynote speech on his experience of advocacy, serving as an elected official and thriving post graduation. Following the keynote, officials from Career Exploration and Success will host a workshop with Marshall Jones III on networking with research presentations of McNair Scholars and Alumni Spotlight Awards in the Connection Corner. Register here.
Access Week Day of Engagement
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, College Avenue Student Center
Participants of this new event, hosted by the Collaborative Center for Community Engagement, will be engaging with members of the New Brunswick community at the College Avenue Community Church, New Brunswick Free Public Library and the Urban Health Collaborative between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Participants also may engage in the Translate-a-Thon at the Language Bank from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Register here.