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College Aces

Community college students experience Ivy League life through Princeton University’s Transfer Scholars Initiative.

Rowan College of South Jersey students, along with students from six other New Jersey community colleges, learned the ins and outs of the transfer process through Princeton University’s Transfer Scholars Initiative. Rachel Kustera, kneeling far left, Elenna Bernard standing far left, Grace Sacco, standing next to Bernard, and Angelina Bruner, standing fourth from left, represented RCSJ in the program.

Several Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) students had a unique opportunity to experience life at Princeton University this past summer. Rachel Kustera, Grace Sacco, Angelina Bruner, and Elenna Bernard were selected to participate in the Ivy League school’s pilot Transfer Scholars Initiative (TSI).

The RCSJ students were among 40 scholars from seven New Jersey community colleges who participated in the program that took place from June 26 to August 18. A few of the other higher educational institutions that took part in the initiative included Camden County, Raritan Valley, and Mercer County community colleges.

According to Emily Aronson, office of communications, Princeton University, “The Transfer Scholars Initiative is a new partnership between the University and New Jersey community colleges that aims to extend Princeton’s academic outreach and strengthen the outcomes for promising students considering transfer to selective four-year programs.”

TSI, Aronson added, consisted of “an intensive, eight-week program offering classes, college counseling and transfer success programming, co-curricular workshops, and mentorship from Princeton faculty, staff, and undergraduates.”

The transfer process can be challenging for students who want to further their education at a four-year institution. Bruner, Sacco, and Kustera shared a few thoughts about their time in the program.

“I had heard so many wonderful things about Princeton University,” said Sacco, sophomore, biology major. “It honestly was a beautiful experience.”

“Taking classes at Princeton was one of the best academic experiences I have ever had,” said Bruner, a sophomore who majors in environmental science. “I had never even considered any prestigious universities in my future plans, but this program opened my eyes to a broader list of possibilities.”

The RCSJ students noted how they were able to glean copious amounts of information regarding the college transfer process through TSI.

“The biggest outcome was learning about transferring and what it means to be a transfer student,” said Kustera, sophomore, chemistry: pre-pharmacy major. “I had to research about [schools I may want to apply to], the social life, acceptance rates, cost, financial aid. I thought it was a good eye-opener.”

“The most important thing I learned was how the transfer process worked,” said Bruner. “I am a first-gen student, so I had no idea how to navigate through any application process that had to do with universities.”

“We were required to attend transfer success workshops that gave us an inside look of what colleges are expecting and that prepared us for the application process,” said Sacco. “I have used many of the skills I learned at these workshops throughout my time at Princeton and then continued to use them through the fall semester at RCSJ.”

Each student in the initiative was required to commute to the university throughout the course of the program. The classes offered were a writing seminar and a “laboratory-based class” taught by Princeton professors.

“Taking those two classes, they’re definitely accelerated,” said Kustera. “You really had to put a lot of effort and work into it. You can’t procrastinate because they’re very serious about deadlines.”

“I took a research and argumentative writing course. I was surrounded by a diverse group of beautiful minds,” said Sacco. “I also took a molecular biology lab course. We worked with a few strains of E. coli and studied the effects of transformation and cloning.”

“We were able to work with high-end laboratory equipment,” Bruner said. “The professors in our quant labs and writing course were all so welcoming and eager to help us, which made the program a lot less stressful than it could have been.”

In addition to learning about the transfer process and acquiring credits at the Ivy League school, the TSI students also gained new perspectives about themselves.

“I think what I learned about myself is pushing myself to do better,” said Kustera. “Stop procrastinating, time management. I had to learn to stop overthinking, stop worrying about everything.

“I got lost one time on campus. That wasn’t fun,” she added. “I had to learn to let it flow, let it go. If something happens, just accept it. You have to keep on moving.”

“One thing I learned about myself is how much I like political science,” Bruner said. “This interest is leading me to research environmental policy where I would be able to make, hopefully, influential impacts on the environmental policies that govern our approach to climate change and how we work toward a greener and healthier future.”

“Being at Princeton made me realize that I can strive for more, I can aim higher,” said Sacco. “I can do anything I put my mind to.”

RCSJ’s TSI scholars noted that the program did allow for them to take breaks from their studies. “They planned activities for us to unwind, relax, hang out, get to know each other,” said Kustera.

Some of the activities included touring the campus, mixing and mingling with fellow cohorts and Princeton students, enjoying an ice cream social, taking off-campus trips to visit local attractions, ax throwing contests, and more.

“My favorite part of the program was the people I got to meet. All of the students within the program were extremely welcoming and supportive of each other,” Bruner said. “They were the main reason I was able to make it through the whole two months with commuting every day, and all of the work. I can say for a fact that there was never a dull moment.”

Christina Nase, associate professor, chemistry, RCSJ-Gloucester, selected the students to participate in the initiative. The scholars, according to Nase, were chosen because they demonstrated “a good work ethic, determination, and a desire to succeed in their field.”

The students who participated in the program came back with so much more confidence in their abilities,” said Nase, who has been at the college for 13 years. “They are such a positive force in our Women in STEM Academy. Together, they are helping to create a culture of inclusivity on campus.”

The main purpose of the program is to de-mystify the transfer process and help students get to where they want to go. I think these students are now thinking much bigger than their original plans. I don’t think any of them will stop at a bachelor’s degree. They are planning on pursuing advanced degrees in STEM.”

The Princeton University TSI program, said Nase, “is open to all majors and disciplines.” Any RCSJ student thinking about transferring to a four-year college/university can apply.

“It was a privilege to be in TSI,” said Kustera. “I will always be thankful for being in the first cohort. I think that you should take the risk to do it—it’s life-changing.”

Sacco said. “I made new friends, explored new places. I totally fell in love with Princeton. Before TSI, I didn’t even consider Princeton. Now, I am inspired to set my sights a little higher. I am currently working on my transfer application to apply at Princeton for the Fall 2024 semester.”

For more about Princeton University’s Transfer Scholars Initiative, visit tsi-ebcao.princeton.edu. For details about the RCSJ STEM program, visit RCSJ.edu/STEM.

School Spirit

While the TSI scholars are preparing for the future, they are enjoying the atmosphere at RCSJ, as well.

“I am grateful for my time at RCSJ,” said Sacco, who works at a Salad Society Food Truck. “RCSJ reintroduced me to chemistry and I just fell in love with it.”

“I love the campus,” added Kustera, who enjoys the music of Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, and Doja Cat. “Every [professor] I have had has been so helpful. Christina Nase—I love chemistry because of her.”

“Going to RCSJ has allowed me and many others to explore multiple different areas of study or interests which I think is one of the main bonuses of starting off at a community college,” said Bruner. “It is always smart to learn about your interests before you waste any time or money and attending RCSJ was a great way for me to do that.”