Published May 17, 2022

Already a strong supporter of university programs, alumnus John Adams is helping build the Rutgers Summer Service Internship Initiative.

By Sean Downey

John Adams believes Rutgers students have a vital role to play in the world. And he is committed to helping them fulfill that role.

Adams RC’65, who turned to academia after a career in law and finance, understands the value of preparation and payoff. “I see what I am doing as an investment in the students,” he says, “and, collectively, in the future of our larger community.”

He began making that investment some 12 years ago when he funded and helped develop the prestigious and competitive Lloyd C. Gardner Fellowship, which enables School of Arts and Sciences juniors to study global issues.

Now Adams has stepped up to support a major new initiative that seeks to foster a student commitment to public service and civic engagement. The Rutgers Summer Service Internship (RSSI) Initiative will place Rutgers undergraduates as paid summer interns at non-profit and public service organizations.

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway unveiled the initiative during his inauguration last November as the University’s 21st president, saying, “Through this initiative, we will be giving Rutgers students the chance to support critical social services, to contribute to solutions for our most complex problems, to understand life in America from a different perspective, and to explore how they can strengthen our democracy.”

Getting students involved

The program is now preparing its first cohort of approximately 100 students who will complete a 200-hour internship at organizations ranging from small non-profits to noted agencies like the American Red Cross and American Friends Service Committee.

Adams likes the initiative’s reciprocal benefits: students get experience in working in professional settings while organizations get support to accomplish their missions.

But the key, he says, is the way the program gets students involved in the vital issues of the community.

That depth of involvement has been a constant theme in his own life. Adams was a lawyer and then president of a New York-based investment firm before, at the age of 60, starting a bold third act as an academic deeply engaged with contemporary issues.

In 2005, he founded a think tank affiliated with Oxford University that brings together top policymakers, academics, and other professionals to study the role of law in society. He also started teaching an undergraduate political science seminar at Rutgers on the role of courts in a democratic society. He established the Gardner Fellowship in 2011.

In discussing the RSSI Initiative, Adams says he believes that public service can have an enduring impact on students’ lives while also helping repair a deeply polarized society. He cites his own experience as a veteran of the United States Air Force, where he served as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

“The military took me out of my routine and exposed me to people and areas of the country I would not have otherwise been exposed to,” he says. “I think having some form of universal community service can enhance an individual’s life, while at the same time contribute to the idea of participatory citizenship necessary for a healthy democracy.”

Engaging with community

Adams grew up in a family involved in the civic life of their Morris County community of Lincoln Park. His mother was a PTA president, his father was president of the local Lions Club, and his sisters and daughter became teachers. “There was a family sense of engagement with the community,” he says. “It was part of our culture.”

As a Rutgers undergraduate in the early 1960s, he was influenced by history professor Lloyd Gardner, who challenged students to rigorously examine issues of the day, including the Vietnam War, which Adams came to oppose. In naming the SAS fellowship after Gardner, he sought to challenge students to live up to the history professor’s expectations.

Adams was motivated to support Rutgers students in part by his experience serving on a Rhodes Scholar committee. He saw that Rutgers students, given the opportunity, could compete at the very highest levels and against students of elite private colleges. Programs such as the Gardner Fellowship, he reasoned, would help prepare them for such challenges. And he feels the same about newer initiatives like RSSI.

Deeply aware that students will one day be called upon “to address issues that our country is dealing with,” Adams notes that public universities must give those students the experience necessary to become involved and productive citizens. “I believe that the Rutgers Summer Service Internship Initiative will go a long way to accomplishing this goal,” he says.

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