RU-1st Expands Support for First-Generation, Underserved Students

RU-1st Expands Support for First-Generation, Underserved Students

The Rutgers-New Brunswick initiative, led by Chancellor Richard L. Edwards, aims to help high-need students succeed and graduate

Paul Robeson Leadership Institute
The first 40 students to attend the Paul Robeson Leadership Institute gather during the summer program focused on leadership and college transition. 
Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

'Through RU-1st, Rutgers University-New Brunswick is expanding services that make substantial positive impacts on the graduation and retention rates for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students.'
– Richard L. Edwards, Rutgers-New Brunswick chancellor

Among the RU-1st programs planned for the 2016-17 academic year:
Access Week: The Rutgers community will be engaged in issues of access, equity and race through high-profile guest speakers, a youth summit and community services during the third week of February.
The James Dickson Carr Lecture Series will feature high-profile scholars discussing societal issues. The series is named after Rutgers’ first African-American graduate.
Community of Color Programming will encourage an inclusive environment for Rutgers’ diverse students through retention initiatives, events and mentoring opportunities.
RU-1st Fridays: Events on the first Friday of each month will provide space for students to meet, connect with faculty and staff mentors, build skills and take part in special trips.

As one of 40 students invited to the first Paul Robeson Leadership Institute in the summer, Alexander Guevara began honing his research and writing skills before starting his first semester at Rutgers-New Brunswick. He also took advantage of one-on-one counseling to map out plans to major in aeronautical engineering in a way that meshes well with his Navy ROTC responsibilities.

“We networked every day and learned about everything that’s offered at Rutgers,” said Guevara, 18, of the new leadership and college-transition program. “A lot of freshman students don’t get involved outside the classroom, so I like that we’re getting exposed to everything available at Rutgers.”

The Robeson institute, named after Rutgers’ most notable alumnus, provides students with academic and financial support through graduation. It’s one of several RU-1st programs, an initiative led by Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards. It aims to raise retention and graduation rates among first-generation college students, students from low-income families and historically underrepresented groups attending college.

"Through RU-1st, Rutgers University-New Brunswick is expanding services that make substantial positive impacts on the graduation and retention rates for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students," Edwards said. "Students from these groups face daunting challenges in their pursuit to graduate with a degree and we have a responsibility as an institution to help them meet those challenges."

Nearly 10,000 Rutgers-New Brunswick undergraduate students hail from economic and educational backgrounds that put them at a disadvantage. About 2,000 of them receive financial and academic support through the state-funded Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, which has helped raise graduation rates. Rutgers’ RU-1st seeks to expand similar support to their 8,000 peers through  the following efforts:

  • Advising: Personal, career and academic counseling services are available for first-generation and underrepresented students. Students also can tap into a resource network to help navigate academic and administrative concerns through a hotline (848-932-9988 or 848-445-9988), emailing or visiting
  • Programs: A wide offering of academic, personal-development and community-building programming is available to RU-1st students, including lectures, career planning, research opportunities, skill-building courses, mentoring and graduate school preparations.
  • Coordination: Faculty, staff and administrators are collaborating to improve delivery of services, programming and support for first-generation and underserved students.

Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards and Alexander Guevara, 18, of Plainfield. Guevara is one of 40 Rutgers-New Brunswick first-year students to attend the first Paul Robeson Leadership Institute summer program.
Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
Nationally, three out of five first-generation students leave college within six years without degrees. When comprehensive advising is provided, graduation rates rise. At Rutgers-New Brunswick, 74 percent of EOF students graduate within six years, edging closer to Rutgers’ overall 80-percent student-graduation rate.

“All students have challenges transitioning to college, but for first-generation students the challengers are greater. They often lack knowledge about college culture, have limited access to resources and bear many family responsibilities and the increased pressure of being the first in their families to attend college,” said James H. Whitney III, assistant vice chancellor of Rutgers-New Brunswick Undergraduate Academic Affairs and RU-1st administrator. “When students hit trouble spots with difficult courses, navigating Rutgers resources or preparing for their future, we want them to know we’re here to help.”

Robeson scholars, often first in their families to attend college, attend a summer program, training and leadership workshops, and receive career and post-graduate academic planning guidance. Students also receive a minimum $700 grant each semester and additional resources while at Rutgers toward travel, experiential learning and research opportunities to help them find their niches at Rutgers.

Maryam Muhammad, a Robeson scholar and a premed student, appreciates how the students are encouraged to become leaders and get involved in the Rutgers community as a way to emulate Robeson, an athlete, lawyer, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author and civil rights activist. “He had a lot of talents and skills – academically and athletically – and he used everything he gained at Rutgers in the world,” she said.

Taking a break between sessions during the Robeson summer institute, Malcolm-Christopher Manning, who is interested in environmental science and engineering, called the program a “great gateway into college.”

“When we start new experiences we usually look up to people who’ve already been through them – often our parents,” Manning said. “But this is an experience our parents didn’t have. It’s good to have guidance from people outside of our families.”

Media contact: Dory Devlin,, 973-972-7276.