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Three Newark students selected to attend NJIT on full scholarships

Kiaja Jones and twins Samantha and Samara Augustin were named the first Mayor's Honors Scholars at NJIT on Friday.
Devna Bose/Chalkbeat

Three Newark students are receiving new, full-ride scholarships to one of the state’s premier universities — and expectations for what they’ll accomplish there are high.

“You’re going to solve the problems in this country,” said Mario Santos, an assistant superintendent of the Newark school district, at a ceremony Friday at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “And the solutions are here at NJIT.”

Kiaja Jones of Technology High School and twins Samantha and Samara Augustin of Science Park High School were named the first recipients of the scholarship, which was created in February through a partnership with NJIT, the Newark Board of Education, and the city of Newark.

Jones is a soprano singer and trombonist who was part of her school’s math club and previously received a Sadie Nash Leadership Project fellowship to work on issues related to gender and social justice, according to information provided by the city. Samantha Augustin participated in her school’s robotics and environmental science clubs, while also running track and leading her school’s National Honor Society chapter. Samara was also a member of several clubs and the National Honor Society, as well as the track team.

Newark’s Chief Operations Officer Natasha Rogers, who represented Mayor Ras Baraka, said the selection of three young black women as Mayor’s Honors Scholars struck a personal chord for her.

“It’s important in a way that representation matters,” she said.

The full scholarship includes the cost of on-campus housing for four years and admission to the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT. The graduates were selected based on financial need, academic and service accomplishments, and recommendations from Newark Superintendent Roger León.

Originally, one of the scholarship recipients was supposed to be a Malcolm X Shabazz High School student, but due to the competitive application pool, NJIT Chief External Affairs Officer Angela Garretson said all applications were considered regardless of school.

“These three young ladies… we really couldn’t ignore their academic backgrounds, their after-school activities, and their commitment to Newark,” she said.

Jones, who plans to major in computer science, found out she was a recipient of the award last week.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get real-world experience in the field and meet people who are already in the places I want to go,” she said.

The scholarship also awarded the three students 10-week paid internships with the city, which start July 8.

The program was created through a partnership launched earlier this year to increase enrollment of Newark students at NJIT. Only 200 of the university’s estimated 11,400 students, less than 2%, hail from Newark. One of the program’s goals is to enroll at least 600 Newark students.

Financial and academic barriers, including annual in-state tuition of $16,430, prevent Newark students from attending, officials said. Through this initiative, NJIT plans to spend $1 million on financial aid for Newark students.

Many Newark students also struggle with math skills, with only 23% meeting or exceeding expectations in math on last year’s state tests. León announced in February that Newark schools would offer more advanced courses like calculus.

The partnership includes the “Math Success Initiative,” which kicked off Monday. A group of rising seniors from Central High School, Shabazz High School, Science Park High School, and Technology High School are studying math for seven weeks at NJIT, and their teachers are receiving training from NJIT faculty. These students will continue to take math classes at NJIT during the school year and receive mentoring, while 24 teachers will meet monthly with NJIT faculty.

On Friday, the three scholarship recipients received a warm welcome to their new school.

“Welcome to NJIT,” university President Joel S. Bloom said. “We’re all very privileged and proud to have you here.”

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