When the Honors College opened its doors in the fall of 2015, its staff and leaders told their first class that they would play a major role in defining its mission, as captured in the motto “Curiosity. Knowledge. Purpose.” The story of A2E (Asset Based Community Driven Education, or Access to Education) exemplifies how fully the students embraced that mission and their long-lasting impact on the community. The A2E program has grown from a group of students determined to build bridges with the community to a full-fledged tutoring and mentoring partnership with the city of New Brunswick.
Overcoming significant challenges and some skepticism about their commitment and their idealism, the students created strong ties with the Roosevelt Elementary School and the New Brunswick School District, providing opportunities for students to make meaningful connections with members of the community and truly make a difference in the lives of New Brunswick children.
The brainchild of seven first-year Honors College students—Eshan Kaul, Nick Pellitta, Riley Link, Kyle Bright, Steven Chen, Sharon Liu, and Ansley Kunnath—A2E worked with the community-based non-profit Youth Empowerment Services (Y.E.S.) to create an afterschool tutoring program for elementary school students in New Brunswick. Inspired by the Honors College commitment to community service and guided by the Honors College deans, the students partnered with Barry Smith, the founder and director of Y.E.S., to navigate.
Over the course of their first year (2015-2016), the students drew on Mr. Smith’s connections and insights and the support of the Honors College staff as they met with and won over community partners in New Brunswick. After extensive groundwork, they received permission from the New Brunswick school board to pilot a program at Roosevelt, a school in central New Brunswick, less than two miles from the Honors College. The majority of Roosevelt’s students come from lower-income households, and in many, Spanish is the primary language. The Honors College students devoted much of their time in their first year and over the summer researching best practices, developing lesson plans, and recruiting volunteer tutors from the Honors College and the larger Rutgers community, setting the program in motion in the fall of 2016.
For their work, A2E was recognized with the first Honor College Changemaker Award, and Eshan (above, left) and Nick (right) were invited to join 1,200 other innovative student leaders in April 2016 at the ninth annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) meeting at University of California, Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hosted by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, the purpose of the meeting was for students to make Commitments to Action in five key areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.
More important was the impact that A2E has had. By focusing on connecting with the community first and foremost, the students, their parents, and teachers, A2E has grown from its pilot program to help hundreds of first, second, and third grade students over the past 5 years. The program draws extensively from students in the Honors College and through the Rutgers organization Youth Empowerment Club brings in students from across Rutgers. During the school year, the Rutgers students work with the Roosevelt students one-on-one from 3-5pm, providing tutoring, mentoring, and life skills activities such as staying safe, counting money, reading an analog clock, getting comfortable speaking English, and much more. Within years, the tutoring program became the largest of its kind in the New Brunswick area.
Now, nearly six years since they first formulated their ideas, A2E’s founders have graduated from Rutgers and the Honors College. But
they have left a lasting legacy behind, while their experience has also shaped them,
as they have moved on to win Rutgers’ first Schwarzman Scholarship, to pursue studies in law and medicine at some of the top schools in the country, to careers in high-tech, and to serve as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow and work at the US Department of Agriculture supporting programs for families to access healthy food.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, A2E’s in-person tutoring program had to go into hiatus, but in the fall of 2021 the next generation of Honors College and Rutgers students will continue to build on the foundation established by these students, contributing to the New Brunswick community Rutgers shares with the city’s full-time residents.