Published November 8, 2021

By Elizabeth Sudit (Photo by John O'Boyle)

A Rutgers Future Scholar and recipient of a Scarlet Promise Grant shares intel on how Rutgers helped him close in on achieving his career dreams.

It’s intelligence that helped David Zhu get into Rutgers—and it’s Rutgers that Zhu hopes will get him into a career in intelligence when he graduates in 2022, preferably with the CIA or the FBI in computer or national security.

A course in critical intelligence studies sealed his interest in such a career when a guest speaker talked to the class: “They had stopped a bombing and it made me want to contribute to protecting people from future attacks,” Zhu says.

Background check

Before coming to Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences, Zhu, a Camden, New Jersey, native, was selected for the Rutgers Future Scholars program. Each year since 2008, the program has offered a pathway to college for first-generation, academically promising middle school students from New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, Camden, and Rahway. Through mentorships, workshops, summer programs, and more, the program helped him acclimate to campus before he had even graduated high school.

“I met many of my closest friends though Rutgers Future Scholars and was exposed to interesting topics and discussions,” he says. “Program coordinator Brian Phillips helped me to believe in myself and to always give back to others.”

Zhu says that the most powerful part of the program is that it helps participants learn how to dream big. “These programs give hope to people in areas who don’t view college as a possible route,” Zhu says. In fact, he adds, it points them in the direction of higher education. “Being a Rutgers Future Scholar and having student-mentors there makes you feel comfortable thinking about [college] life,” Zhu says. (It didn’t hurt that his older brother, Tian Yu Zhu ENG’19, had studied computer engineering at Rutgers and has gone on to work in information technology.)

Technical support

Zhu is grateful for the monetary support he has received since enrolling at Rutgers, including a Scarlet Promise Grant. The grants, funded through donations and the university, provide assistance with tuition, books, meal plans, housing, and emergency needs.

Since starting at Rutgers, Zhu has grown stronger both physically and mentally. Not only has he made the Dean’s List, he also joined the Weightlifting Club and was recently elected its president. Zhu credits the scarlet friendships he has developed at Rutgers—both as a young teen and today—with helping him face the challenges of being a student during a pandemic, too.

“During my time at Rutgers, I have had to adapt many, many times,” he says. “No matter how many setbacks there were, I just had to keep pushing through. As long as I don’t quit, I can overcome any challenge life will throw at me.”

About Rutgers Future Scholars: To learn more about Rutgers Future Scholars or make a gift, visit the program’s website at Rutgers Future Scholars. You can also share this information with prospective scholars and their families or with current Rutgers students who want to volunteer as mentors.

About Scarlet Promise Grants: In 2020, 9,189 students received Scarlet Promise Grants, including $17.2 million in need-based financial aid and $12 million in short-term emergency assistance. To learn more about Scarlet Promise Grants, go to You can find additional details and student stories in the Scarlet Promise Grants 2020–2021 Impact Report.

Support Students

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