Published October 28, 2020

By Amy Vames (Photo by John O’Boyle)

Daniel Van Abs sees how students grapple with affording a college education and wanted to help ease their burden.

Daniel Van Abs, a Cook College graduate and Rutgers professor, has been making modest gifts to the university for more than 20 years. But he felt he needed to do more because of what he is witnessing in his classes.

“More and more students are really struggling because they’re working, some of them full time, and going to class full time,” says Van Abs CC’77, an associate professor of professional practice at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS). “They have no energy, no ability to get involved in extracurricular activities. It’s very difficult for them to get an internship. I have students who just crash and burn. It’s really hard to watch them go through that.”

Van Abs has made a $25,000 gift to the Scarlet Promise Grants program, a universitywide financial aid and emergency support program for Rutgers undergraduates. The grants provide relief to thousands of students each year, making up the difference between federal and state sources of aid and what families can afford. Ranging from $500 to $5,000, the grants were awarded to more than 10,000 students in 2019.

On July 1—his first official day in office—Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway announced a campaign to raise $10 million for the grants. Holloway has called the program “the best vehicle we have to address the financial needs of our most economically at-risk students.”

Also driving Van Abs’s gift was the knowledge that no matter how bright and hard-working students may be, many of them, especially first-generation students, often don’t have the support and resources they need to stay in school. “If they have the capacity to get their degree and they don’t because of financial problems, that’s just not acceptable,” Van Abs says.

He adds that the nation’s reckoning on inclusion and equity also prompted him to give generously. “As much as I try to increase the number of people of color in the environmental field, I needed to give more broadly” than supporting only SEBS scholarships, as he has in the past. “I don’t care what major they are,” he says. “If they are at Rutgers and they need the help, that’s fine with me.”

Van Abs hopes other Rutgers faculty members and alumni will consider making gifts to Scarlet Promise Grants, noting that gifts of all amounts have an impact. “It isn’t just the big gifts that make things happen,” he says. “I want to be a piece of a puzzle. I’m not expecting enormous things from what I can give but it’s enough money to be substantial, and if we get another 50 who can give $25,000, then that’s equivalent to the mega-donors.”

“Philanthropy has never been more important, and it plays an increasingly critical role in our students’ success,” says Nevin Kessler, president of Rutgers University Foundation and executive vice president for development and alumni engagement. “Scarlet Promise Grants give some really smart, talented students a leg up. It’s hard to think of a more direct way to make our world better. All of us at Rutgers are grateful for Professor Van Abs’s generous gift, and I know the students who benefit are grateful, too.”

Crismeldy Jimenez, a sophomore at Rutgers University–Newark majoring in English, is one of the many undergraduates who have received Scarlet Promise Grants. She says she was shocked but delighted to see the grant on her term bill her first semester at Rutgers.

“I was living in a dorm the first year,” Jimenez says. “That’s really expensive and the grant helped pay for that and my meal plan.”

Like Van Abs, she sees students having a hard time holding down jobs and going to school full time. “There are a lot of students here who are going through the same struggles I am and even worse,” she says. “I think the grants are a perfect way to give everybody an opportunity to get an education and do what they want to do in life.”

Support Students

Scarlet Promise Grants provide essential aid to students for whom a Rutgers education otherwise would be impossible.