High School Students Explore Engineering Fields During Rutgers Summer Session

High School Students Explore Engineering Fields During Rutgers Summer Session

Embracing the opportunity to attend a Rutgers Pre-College Summer Academy, Andre Williams reaches for success

Andre Williams reaches for success
Andre Williams achieves academic success. 

Andre Williams, 17, is a rising junior at Seton Hall Prep. He’s also a rising star.

The East Orange teenager landed a coveted spot in one of Rutgers’ Pre-College Summer Academies, where he participated in a one-week, on-campus engineering program this July.

Designed for top high school students – applicants need a 3.0 GPA, a strong letter of recommendation, and submit an essay – the Summer Session programs, through Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies, offer intensive, immersive experiences in a variety of studies.

The challenges, and rewards, are tailor-made for focused teens like Andre.

“It’s for go-getters,” says Krystal Ladao, Senior Program Coordinator at the university’s Office of Summer and Winter Sessions. “The kids who get accepted are self-motivated, self-directed students.”

That not only describes Andre, it’s at the core of his success.

“I went out and researched the program myself, went on all the websites for New Jersey’s top colleges,” Andre explains. “I chose the Rutgers program over others because it’s one of my top choices for college. It has so much to offer its students.”

Andre is used to recognizing opportunities.

As an 8th-grader, he joined the Scholars Program at New Jersey SEEDS, a Newark non-profit, which helped him apply at Seton Hall Prep. Once there, he became involved in the prep’s Griffin Bridges program, which offers support – financial and personal – to students from underserved communities.

“Andre is a great kid and terrific student who always goes beyond what’s expected,” says LaQuan Ford, head of the program. “Although he appears to be shy and quiet, he is engaged. He’s hardworking, he’s competitive, and he gets it done.”

During Summer Sessions, students spend a full week on the Rutgers campus, living in the dorms, going to class, and eating in the cafeteria. There are field trips, guest speakers, screenings and other activities, with full access to the library and other Rutgers resources.

The cost is $2,239 for the week, with room and board, but needs-based scholarships are available.

“That made a significant difference,” Andre says frankly. “In the end, the tuition was split up among three parties – my parents paid the fee, Rutgers offered $1000 in aid, and Griffin Bridges at my school paid the rest. I would not have been able to attend without financial aid.”

Apart from the educational benefits, the programs are designed to give high-school students a sneak peek at what campus life can be like. Also, what a prospective major might entail.

“There are many different disciplines in engineering,” Ladao points out. “Are you more interested in electrical engineering? Mechanical engineering? Students get a chance to learn the differences.”

“I want to explore all the fields there,” Andre says. “Civil, chemical, biomedical … I think it’s great to have a chance to do that.”

Andre credits his focus and determination to his parents. His dad is a math teacher; his mother works for the Department of Labor. Both his sisters are already in college. “We were all motivated to excel,” he says.

Polite and reserved, with a fondness for chess, Andre definitely fits the usual image of a careful, methodical engineer. But he’s hardly a drone. A dedicated athlete, he’s the captain of his school’s track team and enjoys playing basketball with his friends.

Still, he was excited to be back in a classroom this summer, even for a week, and advance his education, this time with the help of Rutgers faculty.

Typically, he already has his goals neatly listed.

“One, I’m really interested in learning more about software engineering,” he says. “Two, I want to get a head start on the college process; I’m in the beginning phases now, but I think this program will be a key factor in that. And last but not least, I think it’s a great networking opportunity. I think it will help me make the kind of connections I’ll need to move forward.”

Of course, that’s a direction he’s been headed in for years.

“I’ve recommended students before for this program,” says Seton Hall Prep teacher Keri Cerami. “I’ve also told kids when I didn’t think it was a good fit. Andre is the sort of student who is going to thrive. It’s a great opportunity but you need to be doing it from your own heart, your own passion.”

Andre’s own advice for other students is simple.

“Find the thing that you enjoy the most,” he says. “Then go out and find something that will help you succeed.”