“What we learned from other universities that have gone through a major anniversary is you can never start too soon,’’ said Matt Weismantel, a senior director within the Department of University Relations who has been assigned to manage the 250th anniversary celebration. “We are trying very hard to do it the right way.’’
The anniversary is three years away in 2016, but organizers have already started to lay the groundwork for a commemoration to celebrate Rutgers past, build pride in the present and excitement for the future.
The planning committee – led by Jorge Reina Schement, dean of the School of Communication and Information – recently held a kickoff meeting and received a charge from President Robert L. Barchi. The president called the 250th anniversary milestone a chance to remind New Jersey of its deep connection to Rutgers, while also highlighting the university’s role as a driver of economic development, cultural engagement and social change.
Schement has been making presentations to university groups as the committee seeks ideas to highlight 250 years of accomplishments. Suggestions have ranged from the breeding of a 250th anniversary Rutgers tomato by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station to a conference on college and university campus planning at the Bloustein School. Barchi suggested the committee look into creating a public outdoor space on campus to commemorate the anniversary.
Committee members are working to develop a list of events, such as a garden party concert or other large-scale celebration to mark the anniversary. Members are also considering how to weave the milestone into Rutgers Day, the many county fairs organized by the agricultural experiment station and other yearly activities.Also on the committee’s to-do list is developing a special mark for the anniversary year along with a website that will debut as the event draws closer. Meanwhile, the committee has contracted with a publisher for the university’s first comprehensive illustrated history, Rutgers – A 250th Anniversary Portrait, and is working collaboratively with Rutgers University Press in an update of Rutgers: A Bicentennial History by Richard P. McCormick, to be authored by Paul Clemens, SAS professor of history in the School of Arts and Sciences.
“I am a believer that you build pride through facts,’’ Schement said. “It gives people something to grab onto as meaningful, and it is part of what will raise our visibility, as well as build our reputation and respect.’’
The celebration is slated for the calendar year 2016, 250 years after British monarch King George III issued a charter that established the university – then called Queens College – to educate ministers in the Dutch community.
Schement said he is surprised that undergraduates don’t know more about Rutgers history, something the celebration will work to rectify. Some students are aware that the first college football game was played at Rutgers, but many don’t know that The Daily Targum is the second oldest student newspaper in the country or about the of accomplishments of alumni like Simeon DeWitt, who helped design the New York City street grid, Schement said.
He said the committee will work to tell the story of all the schools, colleges and other units that have become part of Rutgers over the years, including Douglass Residential College, the Camden and Newark campuses and the approaching integration with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
“We are not only telling the history of Rutgers as a university,’’ Schement said. “We are also telling the history of a number of other colleges that became part of us. Their history is also our history.’’
Schement stressed that the 250th anniversary will not only be a look back, but will also look toward the future.
“We are in a place where we can see in both directions and what we see we are quite proud of,’’ Schement said.
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