When Gigio K. Ninan and Kanwar S. Kelley studied at Rutgers Law School in Camden slightly more than a decade ago, the two hungry students frequented the Palace of Asia restaurant in Cherry Hill. It was there that they discussed their medical malpractice litigation class while feasting on tikka masala, palak paneer, and warm garlic naan at the $12 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.
Ninan CLAW’11, a New York attorney who often represents medical practices and pharmacies, and Kelley CLAW’10, a California physician and entrepreneur, didn’t know at the time that these trips to their favorite buffet would be the genesis of a friendship that would span the years. That connection served as the impetus for the Kanwar S. Kelley and Gigio K. Ninan Endowed Graduate Scholarship, awarded to Camden students at Rutgers Law School interested in pursuing a career in health care. “There was some synergy in doing a health care-related scholarship because of the type of companies I represent and the health care tech and medical space that Kanwar works in,” Ninan says.
John T. Vaughan III NLAW’02 also had an impactful experience at Rutgers Law School in Newark. A native of Wyckoff, New Jersey, Vaughan now lives in Los Angeles. Still, he hasn’t forgotten his Garden State roots or the law school that helped him launch a successful career as a corporate legal officer whose work spans technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and the medical device industry. Vaughan and his spouse, Jeffrey Darna, an anesthesiologist and research scientist, established the Vaughan-Darna Health Sciences Scholarship, an endowed scholarship for Newark students at Rutgers Law School who intend to pursue a career in health law. “I did that because Rutgers gave me a great education that led me to a successful career,” Vaughan says. “I want to make sure others have that chance.”
The two endowed scholarships intended for graduates entering the health sciences and health care fields are unique in being established by younger alumni. Alumni often establish endowed scholarships at or near the end of their careers. At 39 and 36, respectively, Kelley and Ninan are among the youngest alums ever to establish an endowed scholarship at Rutgers University–Camden.
Scholarships that Kelley, Ninan, and Vaughan received as law students are a motivating factor in their gifts to the law school. Vaughan received the Austin Scott Scholarship, established in memory of a former head of the Rutgers College Department of Economics. “This is paying that back with interest,” Vaughan says.
Kelley and Ninan both received scholarships offered to Rutgers Law in Camden students. “It meant a lot to me because without that money, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect over buffet with Kanwar,” Ninan says.
A commitment to New Jersey
Vaughan was inspired to establish a scholarship while attending a Rutgers Law reunion. That’s where he bumped into former classmates Kerry Flynn NLAW’03, RBSG’03 and Chris Andrew NLAW ’02, and learned they had established a restricted scholarship in 2015. “That opportunity to reminisce with folks and take stock of how Rutgers has contributed to my success was inspirational,” Vaughan says.
Vaughan sees his scholarship not only as an opportunity to help students financially but also as a way to invest in New Jersey, which is widely known as “the medicine chest of the world” because of its pharmaceutical and health sciences industries. “I’m proud of being born and raised in New Jersey, and I’m proud of my Rutgers education,” he says. “I want to make sure that New Jersey continues to be a life sciences leader and the one way I can do that is to provide this scholarship for health law in the state.”
Friends committed to Rutgers Law
Kelley has established a successful Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also cofounder of Shingle Technologies, which helps physicians start, manage, and grow their private practices, and Side Health, which provides fully integrated, comprehensive care for people with chronic medical conditions. Kelley says he’s proud to make time to support Rutgers Law and encourages fellow alums to do the same. “It’s super important to get involved early and, quite honestly, there’s never a good time to give financially,” Kelley says. “There’s always going to be something competing for your financial interests—whether it’s buying a house, buying a new car, putting your kids through school—but it’s super important at the same time to give back, even if it’s a small dollar amount.”
Ninan, cofounder and partner of Shankar Ninan & Co., a boutique law firm based in New York, also volunteers his time, serving as chancellor of the Rutgers Law School–Camden Alumni Association. Recently he was appointed to the Rutgers Law School Dean Search Committee. Ninan realizes that not all young alumni can afford to endow a scholarship, but he encourages them to volunteer and participate. “Time and alumni engagement are extremely valuable, and volunteering is a surefire way that younger alumni can pay it forward to our future leaders.”
At Newark’s Weequahic High School more than 70 years ago, Sandy Jaffe preferred comic books to homework and graduated near the bottom of his class. But Jaffe, the son of Eastern European immigrants, thrived at Rutgers University–Newark, attending night school and working days, and went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. “I was what they call a ‘late learner,’’’ he says. Jaffe recently teamed up with alumna Linda Stamato to invest in a program that values student potential and life experience over GPAs: the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC), their latest gesture of commitment to Rutgers–Newark.
Jaffe NCAS’54 and Stamato DC’62, GSNB’77 have funded the creation of a research fellowship that could help replicate the HLLC program nationally. It’s based on an intergenerational group of students working together at the new HLLC learning and residential facility at Rutgers-Newark. Although many have been academically successful, others weren’t in a position to realize their potential as students earlier in life. A key admissions factor at HLLC is a commitment to social justice and community building. The program acclimates them to college life and hones their skills to become top scholars. More than half are from the city, and many are children of immigrants and the first in their families to attend college.
“Honors students should be chosen based on grit and promise, not solely on academic standing or test scores,’’ says Stamato. Born in Newark, to which she frequently returned while being raised in Essex County, she earlier demonstrated her dedication to the university during her 12 years serving on the Rutgers Board of Governors. In 1985, the year after completing three years serving as its chair, she gave the commencement address at Rutgers–Newark, a moving experience for her. A year later, Stamato, along with Jaffe, cofounded the Rutgers Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers–Newark, which has since moved to the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, where the two are policy fellows. Her position is one of many prominent ones that she has held since arriving at Rutgers in 1971, among them trustee, dean, and chair of search committees for presidents and deans.
To again assist a Rutgers cause—this time with a gift to HLLC—was a natural for Stamato. As for Jaffe, Rutgers opened the doors to everything for him: “At Rutgers–Newark back then, all that was required was to fill out an application and show up,” he says. “Having the chance to go to school at night nearby enabled me to begin the process of learning how to learn.’’
Story originally appeared in Rutgers Magazine.
When Daniel Schneider, a fun-loving neurologist and psychiatrist, walked into M. Maral Mouradian’s office at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to interview for an early-career professorship, Mouradian recognized him immediately. And it wasn’t just because of his signature long hair tied back in a low ponytail.
A few years earlier, in the middle of a flight home from Buenos Aires, Mouradian and Schneider, who were strangers at the time, both leapt into action when a fellow passenger began to have seizures. Though the plane was filled with physicians returning from the 14th International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, Schneider stood out. “Dan was the one who stayed with the patient the longest,” Mouradian says, “taking genuine interest in providing care to a stranger.”
For that reason and many others, Schneider landed the job.
In his time at Rutgers—first as an assistant professor, then an associate professor in the Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry—Schneider established himself as an outstanding educator, a trusted adviser, and a caring clinician. He won numerous teaching awards and served as director of several neurology clinics.
Even when he became ill with pancreatic cancer in 2019, Schneider continued teaching, learning, and caring for more than a year until his death in February 2021 at age 46.
Now, thanks to three gifts totaling nearly $1 million from his estate, executed by his mother, Penny Moreno, Schneider’s legacy will live on at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and in the students who follow in his footsteps.
“I wanted to give back in his name and to support the department that supported him so much,” Moreno says. “I don’t want him forgotten. He was too young. He had too much potential.”
From a young age, Schneider was fascinated with the human mind. After growing up in upstate New York, Schneider studied psychology in college. During his medical training at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Schneider became interested in movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. That interest spawned a unique six-year medical residency for Schneider, who spent three years in neurology and three in psychiatry. He then completed a fellowship at Columbia University before finding himself in Mouradian’s office.
Many movement disorders have overlapping neurological, cognitive, and psychiatric manifestations, says Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, chair of the Department of Neurology at RWJMS. “[Schneider’s] broad training endowed him with the skills to have a holistic approach to patients with neurodegenerative diseases.”
At the time of Schneider’s death, he was director of Rutgers’ clinics for deep brain stimulation, behavioral neurology, and functional neurologic disorders. “His loss was as impactful to us as to his family,” Dhib-Jalbut says.
A Patient Man
When Schneider’s illness forced him to be at home or hospitalized, often in great pain, he continued to meet with patients via telehealth appointments—a practice he continued until the month before his death. “When he got in front of that screen and he was treating patients, you didn’t know that there was a pain in his body,” says Moreno. “You could tell that was what he loved to do—to treat patients.”
Viewers of the Netflix series Diagnosis caught a glimpse of Schneider’s bedside manner in a 2019 episode. As a leading expert in functional neurological disorders, Schneider met virtually with a 44-year-old patient named Ann, who had unexplained paralysis and said previous doctors had frequently disbelieved her.
“I hear the frustration,” Schneider replied, leaning into the webcam. “I don’t have a vested interest in what the diagnosis is. I have a vested interest in getting people better. That’s really what I enjoy.”
Despite a demanding career, Schneider pursued a host of other interests.
He played several musical instruments and loved to dance, especially tango and swing. In 2013, Schneider was pictured in The New York Times dancing with friend Kiyomi Kubo at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing event.
He held Latin poetry readings at his Manhattan apartment, which was packed with some 1,500 books. “He had every book imaginable,” Moreno says, “and read voraciously.”
The gifts honoring Schneider will serve three distinct purposes, Moreno says.
An endowed early-career professorship in cognitive neurology will recruit and retain early-career scholars to serve as Rutgers faculty, just as Schneider had done.
An endowed lectureship in cognitive neurology will fulfill Schneider’s dream of a lecture series in his name—one that stimulates conversations and collaborations, allowing students and faculty to connect with leaders in the field.
And an endowed scholarship for Rutgers medical students interested in neurology will carry on Schneider’s legacy as an educator—one who won the Department of Neurology’s Teacher of the Year Award several times.
“I hope by the professorship, the scholarship, the lecture series,” Moreno says, “people remember.”
Gloria Nobleza Wise, Catherine Zeller, and Deanna Nobleza see reminders of their parents all around the Rutgers University–New Brunswick campus. The sisters remember the tidy brick house on Duke Street where their mom and dad raised them. They can picture their father, Simon, shooting hoops in Buccleuch Park between shifts as a surgeon in training. They recall their mother, Diana, studying for her nursing exams at Alexander Library and remember how important education was for the young Filipino immigrant couple.
Now the Nobleza sisters are sharing this passion of their late parents with the greater Rutgers community by establishing $50,000 in scholarships to educate a new generation of health care professionals.
“Our parents could have done anything with their good fortune and wealth,” says Wise, a content operations analyst for the legal research firm LexisNexis. “They ended up investing in educating the three of us and setting up educational funds for my nieces and nephews. We thought an educational scholarship in their name for the medical school and the nursing school would be an appropriate way to memorialize them.”
In their blood
Wise, the Noblezas’ eldest daughter, was only six months old in 1965 when the family came to live in the United States. The family settled in New Brunswick amid a physician shortage and felt inspired to help the community. Simon Nobleza, already a licensed obstetrician and gynecologist, pursued a second residency in general surgery at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. He later joined a private surgical group affiliated with Somerset Medical Center.
Over the next decade, Diana Nobleza earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Saint Peter’s Nursing School (now Saint Peter’s University School of Nursing). Like her husband, she also practiced at Somerset Medical Center and, in the 1990s, helped stave off a nurse shortage there by recruiting nurses from the Philippines. In 2006, after Diana retired, she helped found the Pinelands School of Practical Nursing in Toms River Township, New Jersey, and taught there for more than a decade.
Still, for Simon and Diana Nobleza, who died in 2020 and 2021, respectively, perhaps their greatest achievements were their children. The couple sent all three daughters to college. The two who attended Rutgers—Deanna and Catherine—later followed in their parents’ footsteps, becoming a physician and a nurse. “It was in [our] blood,” Zeller NUR’89 says.
Like her father, Deanna Nobleza CC’95, RWJMS’99 pursued dual medical specialties, hers in internal medicine and psychiatry. Now assistant provost of student affairs and clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, she established the Diana and Simon L. Nobleza, MD, Endowed Scholarship to provide financial assistance to students enrolled in Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The fund is open to full-time students “who demonstrate their commitment to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion and…increasing opportunities for all underrepresented minorities at [RWJ] and in the study and practice of medicine.”
According to his daughters, Simon Nobleza experienced racism during his long career as a general surgeon. Once, when he misunderstood the idiom “charley horse,” Nobleza’s patient requested a “proper white doctor.” Simon also faced blowback from colleagues who thought his barong, a Filipino dress shirt, wasn’t formal enough for the office. Deanna Nobleza says she hopes her scholarship will help marginalized students. “Allowing opportunities for others who are underrepresented is important,” she says, “especially when you understand how important diversity and inclusion are.”
A helping heart
In support of the Rutgers nursing community, Wise and Zeller, now a North American clinical trials safety operations manager for the biopharmaceutical company Sanofi, established the Diana and Simon L. Nobleza, MD, Endowed Nursing Scholarship. The fund will provide financial assistance to full-time third- or fourth-year undergraduate or graduate students at Rutgers School of Nursing.
Zeller spent the first 14 years of her nursing career at Somerset Medical Center, where she counted both parents as colleagues. For a time, Zeller’s mother was her supervisor. “If [they] were short-handed, she called me and said, ‘You have to come in,’” Zeller says. “So I got my whites on and I went to work.” Zeller says her mother was adored by the nurses she managed. “She was very much focused on their well-being,” Zeller says. “I always heard, ‘Your mom’s the best because she always worried about us.’”
Once Zeller became head nurse on the surgical floor, she took care of her father’s patients. A promotion to nurse case manager put her in the awkward position of telling her father he had to discharge patients because insurance would no longer cover their hospital stay. “Dad really spent time with his patients,” Zeller says. “He would have the waiting room full of patients, and they would be annoyed that they were waiting. But once they spent time in the office with him, they were so happy.”
Zeller says she and her sisters hope their scholarships will help aspiring health care professionals to focus on school without worry, just like their parents’ support did for them. “If we can do that for other people,” Zeller says, “they can enjoy the success that we’ve all achieved.”
Theresa Ragozine knows that her parents, blue-collar workers who did not attend college, would have done everything they could to make sure she earned a college degree, no matter how difficult it might have been for them.
However, when she received a scholarship from Rutgers, it eased the “heavy lift” her parents would have faced. The financial aid “allowed me to be a student. Albeit one with a part-time job but with much less of a financial burden,” Ragozine RC’80 says. “That created a solid launching pad, and I’ve never forgotten the support.”
Having recently retired after a 36-year career as an executive at Johnson & Johnson, Ragozine wanted to make a difference in the lives of future students who, like her, could use a hand up. In the past, she has given generously to her alma mater, creating a scholarship for Rutgers Future Scholars, a college access program for underresourced, academically promising New Jersey students.
But, she says, “I wanted to make a more permanent commitment” to the university. To that end, she established a charitable remainder trust to support Scarlet Promise Grants. The grants provide financial aid for students who need to bridge the gap between what federal and state aid programs offer and what their families can afford. The grants also address short-term emergency needs.
Contributing to her decision to create the trust in support of Scarlet Promise Grants was Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway’s announcement on his first official day in office in July 2020 that he was launching a campaign to raise $10 million for the grants. (At his inauguration in November, Holloway announced he has expanded that goal, now surpassed, to $50 million, which will support an array of financial aid and access initiatives.)
“He made a very sincere and promising introduction during a difficult time,” Ragozine says. “I was struck by his message, and what I respect most about it was his clear intent to find the right focal point for his attention. He made a personal financial commitment to Scarlet Promise Grants and I thought it was a terrific leadership beginning. It got my attention.”
Providing students with the resources they need to pursue their dreams helps not only them but the rest of society, Ragozine says, because Rutgers graduates will go on to find solutions to challenges facing our state, nation, and world.
Supporting Scarlet Promise Grants “is also an investment in shaping a new generation of philanthropists,” she adds. “This generation that receives assistance can also become a generation that gives it.”
A $2 million grant from the family foundation of alumnus Ernest Mario PHARM’61 will enable students to become highly skilled practitioners in pharmacy and medicine.
The grant commitment will offer scholarships to PharmD/MD dual-degree program students completing their final two years of pharmacy education.
The funds will establish The Mario Family Foundation Endowed PharmD/MD Scholarship to help students in the unique and highly selective program, which is designed to create an elite group of interdisciplinary practitioners who are highly skilled in both pharmacy and medicine.
Launched in 2013, the dual program was the first PharmD/MD program in the United States and is considered a model for preparing expert leaders in health care policy, research, and clinical settings. To date, 45 students have participated in the program.
Graduates of the program enter the workforce trained in a collaborative practice model of patient care and equipped with expert interprofessional knowledge of both pharmacy and medicine for a broad understanding of the health care landscape.
“Rutgers continues to train the finest pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists in the world, with the ultimate goal of improving the human condition through science, research, and application,” said Dr. Mario, a member of Rutgers’ Hall of Distinguished Alumni. “The delivery of quality care to patients continues to become increasingly interdisciplinary. The PharmD/MD program ensures that physicians have peers who are trained in pharmacy to facilitate the best outcomes for all patients.”
Dr. Mario and The Mario Family Foundation have established and supported numerous programs at the pharmacy school, including The Mario Family Foundation Tuition Assistance Fund, established in 2020 to support undergraduate and graduate students who have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a real game changer in that it will provide support to future health care innovators who will use the strengths of both professions and become change agents in pharmacy and medicine,” said Joseph Barone, dean of the school.
Graduates of the program have gone on to residencies at nationally recognized medical institutions such as Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, UCLA Medical Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
These impressive residency placements clearly demonstrate the impact the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences are having on the trajectories of future health care leaders.
Carole Sampson-Landers remembers how she and her parents struggled to afford college when she attended Rutgers. “I had to live at home and my parents worked extra—all they could afford was tuition,” says Sampson-Landers DC’69, GSNB’74. And she understands how much more expensive a college degree is today.
She learned about current students’ difficulties paying for tuition, housing, books, and fees as a member of Rutgers’ Board of Trustees, where she recently started her second term. In 2019, she and her fellow board members, alarmed at the number of students dropping out of school or taking on substantial debt because of financial struggles, pledged to boost the endowment for the Scarlet Promise Grants program by $3 million. The grants fill gaps for students whose financial aid has been depleted or who need emergency assistance.
“When I joined the board,” Sampson-Landers says, “I took seriously my responsibility to make financial donations to the board’s initiatives. I had been helped when I was at Douglass College with scholarship money and work-study opportunities, and I always said I would help other students down the road because I got help.”
When President Jonathan Holloway took office in July 2020, he announced a campaign to raise $10 million to support Scarlet Promise Grants and made a generous gift himself. That sealed the deal for Sampson-Landers and led her to make a $50,000 gift to the grants program. “I wanted to make sure I did something over and above what I’d done before. I thought, ‘I’m a graduate of two Rutgers schools, I should be able to step up and do something a bit more.’”
Sampson-Landers says that her Rutgers degrees prepared her for a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, working for Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Bayer Healthcare. As a researcher, she helped develop antibiotics, pregnancy and cholesterol tests, and a medication to prevent Chagas disease in children.
“I was very fortunate,” she says. “I had a good position in pharma and have enough that I can help others.” She hopes Rutgers alumni and friends of the university will consider a gift to support the Scarlet Promise Grants at a level that works best for them.
“If everybody chips in and gives a little bit, it will make a big difference in a lot of students’ lives,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, just what you can give.”
A Rutgers University alumna was on her deathbed when she made a special request to her family.
“Be charitable,” Alka Dalal GSNB’83 told her husband, Siddhartha, and two children, Preeyel and Nemil, before dying of complications related to ALS in the fall of 2016.
She was 65.
Now, Rutgers is helping to fulfill Alka’s final wish.
Through a generous gift from the Dalal family, the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) is establishing an academic program in Jainism, a faith tradition that emphasizes nonviolence toward all living things. Alka, a devout Jain, exemplified Jain principles throughout her life, whether it was through philanthropy, her artwork, or simple kindness to those around her.
“She would be smiling right now,” Siddhartha said.
The Alka Siddhartha Dalal Endowed Postdoctoral Fellowship in Jainism will place Rutgers among a small but growing number of schools providing in-depth teaching and research on Jainism, which, along with Buddhism and Hinduism, is one of India’s three ancient faiths that are still practiced.
Jainism, which has roughly 5 million followers worldwide, was a major influence on Mahatma Gandhi as he developed the nonviolent resistance practices he employed in South Africa and during India’s independence movement, which later inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
“No religion of the world has explained the principle of nonviolence so deeply and systematically, with its applicability in life as in Jainism,” said Gandhi, who was raised in a Hindu family.
The Rutgers program was officially announced last month during a signing ceremony at the Jain Center of New Jersey, with leaders from SAS and Rutgers University Foundation sharing a stage with Siddhartha, his daughter Preeyel, Jain community leaders, and a representative from the office of Governor Phil Murphy.
“Today is more than a celebration,” SAS executive dean Peter March told the audience of several hundred gathered at the center in Franklin Township. “It is the beginning of an exciting new partnership with Rutgers and the Jain community.”
Kimberly Hopely, the foundation president, declared that a gift such as Siddhartha’s is an expression of love.
“To give a gift in honor of the memory of another—there is no greater gift,” Hopely said. “I want to thank you for your gift of love, and we receive it with the spirit and intent that you meant.”
The Department of Religion plans to hire a postdoctoral scholar in Jain studies, which will add to the department’s strengths in Asian religions. Tao Jiang, the department chair, said the scholar will teach, conduct research, lead campus events, deliver public lectures, and build connections to the Jain community in New Jersey, which is the largest in the United States.
“We will work hard to build on the spirit of this generosity and nurture a long-lasting bond between Rutgers and the great Jain community,” Jiang said.
Siddhartha Dalal thanked the Jain community for its support and acknowledged Rutgers officials who played vital roles in bringing the program to fruition, including James P. Masschaele, SAS executive vice dean; Lytisha Williams, associate vice president for advancement; and Gary Francione, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law.
“This is one of the most joyous days for me, my family, and my community—creating a postdoc fellowship at a great institution like Rutgers on Jainism in memory of my wife,” Dalal said.
Also attending the ceremony were representatives of the Rutgers University Jain Association, a student group that organizes volunteer activities and social events at Rutgers–New Brunswick.
“The Jain community, consisting of over 50 students and growing each day, is proud of this hallmark event and excited for what the future holds,” said Harshita Jain, a senior, who serves as one of three co-presidents of the group. “We are deeply grateful to the Dalal family for making it all possible.”
Alka Dalal was born and raised in India, the granddaughter of a Jain monk. Her father was jailed with Gandhi during the struggle for independence. Living in the United States since she was 20, Alka brought her Jain values to everything she did, whether it was supporting the Jain Center or serving as division governor for Toastmasters’ clubs or president of the Raritan Valley Arts Association. She was also an artist who painted hundreds of oil, acrylic, and mixed-media pieces.
She earned her master’s degree in food science from Rutgers in 1983 and worked as a nutritionist at Jamaica Hospital in Queens. She was also a staff manager at AT&T. In her later years, she worked as a consultant and life coach, seeking to help small businesses and people.
“She built community everywhere she went,” Siddhartha said. “She believed in sharing her life and helping others in any way she could.”
After Alka’s death, Siddhartha went through a period of deep grief followed by a transformation. He meditated at a monastery in India and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. A longtime data scientist and high-level executive in the corporate sector, he yearned to help young people so he became a professor of professional practice in the Department of Statistics at Columbia University.
The idea for the Jain studies program, he notes, took hold at this time as way to honor his wife and support teaching, research, and community engagement that will benefit Jains and non-Jains alike.
He hopes that in time, hundreds of students every year will take courses in Jainism. But in the long run, he hopes the program will have a more profound impact in the world.
“Someday, as a result of what has been done, and what has been taught, I hope the world will get new Gandhis, Mandelas, and Kings,” he said. “They won’t necessarily be Jains, but they’ll understand the principles—the value of all living forms.
“That to me, would be the greatest thing to come from this.”
Story originally appeared in Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.
Rutgers alumna Marlene Brandt, who committed $30 million to help launch the Rutgers Initiative for Youth Behavioral Health and Well-Being, welcomed a new chapter for mental health treatment during the groundbreaking of a transformative project that grew out of her response to the challenges families face when seeking care for their adolescents and young adults.
“This project was inspired by a lifelong connection to mental health challenges,” said Brandt, during the ceremony that marked the advancement of the Brandt Behavioral Health Treatment Center and Residence. “It was emboldened by endless frustrations in seeking curative measures. But, most importantly, it was ignited by personal triumph.”
Shovels meeting dirt not only signaled construction, but the building of hope for so many families struggling to find answers in the Garden State.
“This is a story of a Rutgers alumna’s leadership,” said President Jonathan Holloway. “Marlene had a vision of excellence and the strength and courage to shape that vision into reality.”
More than one in five adolescents experience a serious mental health disorder, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health, with young adults aged 18 to 25 significantly vulnerable.
“New Jersey families need such care and often resort to out-of-state options to receive support,” said New Brunswick Chancellor/Provost Francine Conway. “It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of parents desperately trying to help their children.”
“I would like to give families an easier path to behavioral health and wellness,” said Brandt.
The Brandt Behavioral Health Treatment Center and Residence will be the centerpiece of the Rutgers Initiative for Youth Behavioral Health and Well-Being. The center will establish a gold standard for evidence-based behavioral health care and extend world-class outpatient services to many New Jersey youth and young adults. It will offer a comprehensive array of services, summoning the resources Rutgers has at its disposal- its vast intellectual talent and research capacity- to offer advanced forms of treatment.
“The impact of this is almost incalculable,” said Chancellor of Biomedical and Health Sciences and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Brian Strom. “As we speak, there are young people out there now facing uncertainty and pain who will be able to find solutions here.”
The center will draw upon the most advanced methodologies in psychology and psychiatry, and at the same time it will make use of strategies in social work, education, nutrition and the arts. The approach will be holistic, emphasizing the progress and development of the whole person.
“The center is going to function as a treatment environment, but also as a refuge in the most positive sense of that word,” said Frank A. Ghinassi, President and CEO for Rutgers Health University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC). “It will an enable an immersive community experience, connecting residents with one another to discover common ground and interests.”
Current estimates project the facility to accommodate 220 residential participants per year, with the ability to serve an additional 1,500 young adults on an outpatient basis.
“The creation of the Brandt Center represents nothing less than Rutgers stepping forward into the spotlight of national leadership,” added Holloway. “That is happening not because we do one thing really well, but because we understand that this is all about creating a community, a community of people who excel, who do what they do really well and who know how to apply it in caring, communal and human ways.”
Story originally appeared in Rutgers Today.
For Samuel Okparaeke, education wasn’t simply a personal goal. It was part of a lifelong mission to uplift and empower his loved ones and community. A graduate of the master’s program at Rutgers University–Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) and a former career development teacher at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Okparaeke SPAA’13 dedicated the last 20 years of his life to public service in Essex County, New Jersey. On Christmas Eve 2020, Okparaeke passed away suddenly at the age of 51. In honor of his legacy, a group of fellow Rutgers alumni and friends has launched the Samuel Okparaeke Scholarship Fund to uplift future public servants.
Okparaeke was born in Cameroon and raised in Nigeria. His parents worked hard to move the family to the United States, where Okparaeke earned a bachelor’s degree from Jersey City State University (he would go on to earn his master’s at Rutgers 20 almost years later.) The oldest of seven children, Okparaeke devoted himself to caring for his family. “He helped put all of his siblings through college,” says Amina Bey, a fellow graduate of SPAA’s master’s program and a beloved friend of Okparaeke. “He worked multiple jobs so his parents wouldn’t be overburdened with tuition debt. It was important to him.”
Even as he worked hard to help his family, Okparaeke also committed himself to his community. “He went back to Nigeria all the time,” Bey SPAA’13 says. “Sam and his family helped provide support for medical care for local residents. They assisted with the education of local children and helped those who could not afford school uniforms and things like that. He was very, very connected to his community back home in Nigeria—as well as his community here in New Jersey.”
Bey spent 20 years working alongside Okparaeke in public service—namely social services and economic development—in Essex County. “Sam was my partner in Workforce Development and one of my closest friends,” she says. Okparaeke helped create a variety of community programs that are still in place today, including a job search program and the design of the Essex County One-Stop workforce delivery system, which offers career counseling and vocational training, among other services. At the time of his passing, Okparaeke held three positions simultaneously: Executive Director of the Essex County Workforce Development Board, Essex County One-Stop Operator, and Executive Director of the Essex County Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action. “The fact that Sam literally held three positions when he passed speaks to his level of dedication to Essex County and his employees,” says Dean of Rutgers–Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration Charles E. Menifield. “He personified the sort of work ethic and dedication that we espouse at SPAA, acting as a great role model for all of our students.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Okparaeke worked tirelessly to support individuals and businesses devastated by the crisis. Many small businesses are open and thriving today because of his dedication to supporting those with limited resources.
Now Sam’s friends are carrying the torch to lead a fundraising effort for the Samuel Okparaeke Scholarship Fund. Like Okparaeke himself, the fund will support education, individuals, and the broader community. The scholarship will consist of an annual $25,000 award, to be distributed to SPAA students intent on a career in local government, particularly social/human services, workforce development, or economic development. The Scholarship Committee hopes the funds can support students from disenfranchised neighborhoods who might otherwise have to bury themselves under student loan debt or work several jobs to afford their degrees. “Sam believed that you shouldn’t have to mortgage your future in order to get an education, and we agree,” Bey says.
Joining in this effort are other longtime friends and colleagues of Okparaeke, including several SPAA graduates, who were very close to Sam and had a special relationship with him. The Samuel Okparaeke Scholarship Committee consists of Keisha Flemming, Danny Denise Gonzalez-Bosques SPAA’13, TaQuisha Knight SPAA’13, Art Cifelli, Bhavna Tailor, Arthur Jorge, and Anibal Ramos, Jr. NCAS’97.
The group is devoted to sustaining and growing the fund for years to come. Not only does the committee hope to raise far beyond $25,000 down the road, but they also envision a future in which students who receive support from the fund assist with fundraising down the line. The Samuel Okparaeke Scholarship Fund Committee wants to continue to pay it forward and lead by Sam’s example, hoping that others will follow in his footsteps.