Published October 6, 2021
By Scott Fogdall (Photo courtesy of Howard Marchitello)
Rutgers University–Camden dean Howard Marchitello and a panel of advisers help strengthen Scarlet Promise Grants.
In 2007, when Howard Marchitello left Texas A&M University to join the English faculty at Rutgers University–Camden, it felt to him like a homecoming. He hails from upstate New York—not far away in the grand scheme of things—and in the richly varied experiences of his students, he often saw something of his own blue-collar background.
In Rutgers itself he recognized, as he puts it, “the power of a liberal arts education to change lives.” A respected scholar of 16th- and 17th-century literature, Marchitello also embraced the challenge of new administrative opportunities at Rutgers, and as he learned more about the diverse communities in which the university is rooted, his vision for what could be accomplished in Camden grew.
Much of that vision focused on support systems. Although Rutgers has channels through which students can communicate financial concerns, Marchitello makes it a practice to be accessible and listen to students directly. As a result, he is no stranger to stories of hardship in which tuition, rent, textbooks, and even high-speed internet are beyond reach. “It’s a kind of gut punch,” says Marchitello, “when you confront that inequality of resources.”
In 2019, Marchitello was appointed dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. More determined than ever to safeguard student pathways to graduation, he established the Dean’s Leadership Council, a brain trust made up of alumni, donors, and other friends of the university. The council’s involvement soon proved invaluable on a wide range of student-related issues. On a pivotal day in July 2020, Marchitello called upon it again.
President Jonathan Holloway had just issued a challenge to the university community: to raise $10 million for Scarlet Promise Grants, which have helped thousands of hard-working students begin or continue their Rutgers education. If met, that ambitious dollar amount would go a long way toward boosting college access in the wake of COVID-19. And it would give the grant program momentum to assist future students.
Assembling his Leadership Council, Marchitello told members he would echo the president’s gesture of personal philanthropy and donate $5,000 to the Scarlet Promise Grants initiative. He then expressed hope that they would consider making their own contributions. “It didn’t take long before people signed on,” says Marchitello. “The response was, ‘Let’s do something in the same spirit.’”
The council’s collective generosity coalesced into a $50,000 gift toward the president’s initiative, which reached its goal by June 30, 2021. “I’m really pleased that a seed gift from me translated into something 10 times its amount,” says Marchitello, “and in the span of a couple of weeks.” But he is quick to emphasize that the story isn’t over; supporting Scarlet Promise Grants is still crucial.
“This is an ongoing project for the Leadership Council,” says Marchitello. “The next phase is outreach from the council, not just among it.” He wants to keep the grant program firmly in the public consciousness so students can keep benefitting from it.
“Can you imagine an institution, confronted with a student’s appeal for help, saying, ‘Maybe you should just take some time off’?” Marchitello asks rhetorically. He pulls no punches in answering. “That would be reprehensible. The need is out there, and when you see it, you have to do something about it.”