A networking event for first-generation students brought them closer to achieving their goals

Alumni, local employers, and a group of enthusiastic Rutgers University–Camden staff gathered to support about 20 first-generation students at a networking event where they could make meaningful connections and be cheered on in achieving their professional and academic goals.

Held in the student center and organized by Student Academic Success and the Career Center, the meetup was by turns fun, serious, elevating, and positive.

Class of 2026 criminal justice major QueenTeja Cooper spoke with Assistant Vice President for Educational Access and Success Aramis Gutierrez about how personal struggles helped focus her career plans on assisting others who are experiencing challenges.

“I don’t know what exactly my career direction will be yet, but I am drawn to professions that help others,” Cooper said. Gutierrez encouraged her to be confident about asking questions that could open doors in a variety of career paths. 

Cooper said she will explore criminal justice careers, but she also believes her ability as a communicator may inspire her to explore other worthwhile directions.

Local area employer Elissa Sierra, a senior talent acquisition specialist and campus recruiter from the Camden-based insurance brokerage firm Conner, Strong & Buckelew, was on hand to talk with students about how internships, networking events, and career fairs can lead to employment opportunities.

“First-generation students can open these doors,” Sierra said. “These kinds of events are great for getting feedback and building confidence.”

Charles Asare
                  Charles Asare, Class of 2024

Class of 2024 computer science student Charles Asare attended the event to practice his interview skills. “This is an effective way to get comfortable talking to employers,” Asare said.

Railyn Pou, a student and family services advocate from the School of Social Work, said she is passionate about assisting first-generation students in navigating the post-college transition. “It is good to show that we are here to support and enhance their experience,” Pou said.

A junior in the health sciences program, Maria Gulshan, wants to pursue a career as a physician assistant following graduation. Gulshan is taking 21 credits per semester so she can achieve her goal.

Maria Gulahan
               Maria Gulshan, Class of 2025

“It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it,” Gulshan said. She added that she finds RutgersCamden a good fit for her. “The size is right for me,” Gulshan said. “It is small, but that works because I always have good access to my teachers.”

About 55 percent of RutgersCamden students are first-generation students. The school has an 80 percent graduation rate among its first-generation students, far higher than the national average of 54 percent.

One of the event organizers, Career Management Specialist Jaime Flagg, said, “Being a first-generation student can feel like a big responsibility. We are here to let them know they are not alone on their journey.”