With my degree, I have the chance to become economically mobile and garner real change.
Amber Haynes ENG’21, from Newark, NJ, entered the School of Engineering through the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program in 2017 and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering with a minor in mathematics. During her time at Rutgers, she conducted machine learning and data science IoT research with electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Jorge Ortiz in his Cyber-Physical Intelligence Lab and co-authored a paper that was accepted to an international conference. She also participated in the Minority Engineering Educational Task (M.E.E.T.) student organization.
Just before graduating, Amber shared her thoughts and reflections from her time at Rutgers Engineering and as a member of the EOF family.
How SOE/EOF Impacts Success
I had no idea how much I would come to depend on the EOF program and especially my advisor, assistant dean and EOF/EOP director Michael Brown. As a first-generation college student living in the projects, I did not realize how sheltered I was from the professional world and I also did not realize at the time how many obstacles I would have to manage just to continue pursuing my degree.
A big change I underwent in my first two years, was learning how to be my best professional self. Pitching to recruiters, speaking passionately about my interests, interviewing, and even standing my ground and managing conflicts are all things I would not have known how to do if it were not for my EOF advisors. Yet just as I began growing as a student, unexpected turns in my life that caused me to struggle with my academics.
Surmounting Personal Challenges
Though I had always had to balance taking care of my mom, who has several chronic illnesses, with doing my best in school, this especially picked up steam in my sophomore year. My mother suffered from an injury that caused her to be bedridden for seven months straight. We had no resources to help take care of her, so I was tasked with catching the train nearly every day to take care of her while trying to manage my engineering classes and labs.
While I love my mom dearly, this was extremely daunting and stretched me very thin. I doubted myself immensely and did not know if I would be able to finish school. I tried to remain strong in front of her, but on the train rides back to New Brunswick I would break down. There was increasing pressure from my classes and professors that year, and if I did not have Dean Brown to lean on, for consolation, mentorship, and advocacy, I would not have been able to continue my college career. He helped me stay motivated to do what I could to catch up in my classes.
By May, I had maintained a 3.4 GPA despite my challenges with my home life. By the start of my junior year, I had won an outstanding research award from Rutgers LSAMP for Computational Neuroscience I had done over the summer and I had already received an offer for an internship in my junior year summer. I had been on the Dean’s List numerous times.
I then had to manage the change none of us were expecting late in my junior year: the COVID-19 pandemic. As someone who already suffers from anxiety, especially surrounding the well-being of my mother, I found it difficult to find the energy to continue school once again. I struggled to keep up with classes again. Despite how much I wanted my degree and loved academia, it was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I came close to not passing certain classes, and if it were not for Dean Brown’s encouragement to push through, I would not be graduating this May.
I am graduating with a 3.2 GPA. I am extremely grateful to the SOE-EOF program at Rutgers for keeping me motivated to push for change for my family.
Facing a Bright Future
With my degree, I have the chance to become economically mobile and garner real change. The first thing I am going to do when I start working is move. I want to move out of the apartment my mother and I are in as fast as the money will let me. She deserves so much better.
In the future, I eventually hope to pursue a higher degree in mathematics and/or engineering because research and teaching are interests of mine as well. As for my immediate plans after graduation, I am currently managing a job search that I hope will lead me into the industry as a software engineer. I am eager to see how my ideas can make direct change for the world, in what I hope will be an immensely positive way.