They haven't even begun their college careers but Thursday was graduation day for more than 100 students who took part in the first ever Newark College Freshman Student Institute.
The intensive four-day workshop at New Jersey Institute of Technology gave 110 college-ready students a glimpse at the real world, offering information on job and internships opportunities, resume writing and obtaining financial aid. The group also toured Newark Liberty International Airport and Port of Newark to learn about careers in each sector.
The students, all of whom are graduates of private, charter, public and magnet high schools in Newark, each applied to the institute through their respective college's Educational Opportunity Fund program.
For Al-Jahaad White, who will study criminal justice at Bloomfield College this fall, said the workshop opened his eyes to how important a college degree is. White, a resident of the West Ward, is the first of his family to go to college.
"Don't set myself up for failure, take advantage of every opportunity," he said, of the best piece of advice he received during the week. "Everything that happens, I'm in control."
Arcelio Aponte, the director of operations of the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development, who conceptualized the program, said the goal is to make the incoming freshmen aware of the opportunities and resources available to them – and to serve as with a networking support system.
"They are not alone in their quest to obtain advanced degrees," he said. "The goal for next summer is to have all of the students have an internship."
To do this, the city has partnered with the Newark Workforce Investment Board and the state Department of Higher Education and will check in with the students at the end of their freshmen year.
At the end of the program, each student received a $300 stipend for college materials, made possible by a Bank of America grant.
Aponte hopes to double the amount of students and perhaps add more tours at corporations in Newark's downtown for next summer's institute.
Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, who congratulated the graduating class during a ceremony Thursday at NJIT, implored the freshmen to pay it forward and share their lessons of success with others.
"I want you never to forget about the place that gave you your first start," he said. "You have to give to this great city so that (it) can truly realize its potential."