NJIT launches program with federal funds to help Asian, Pacific Islander students

A new program at New Jersey Institute of Technology will utilize $1.94 million in federal funding to help Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander students navigate the transition to college, the Newark-based school announced Friday.

The initiative, called ISOTOPE — standing for Improving AANAPI Student Outcomes Through Opportunities for Engagement — begins next summer with an academic and experiential orientation for 175 first-year AANAPI students.

NJIT has become an AANAPI-serving institution, with 21% of its first-year class being Asian American or Native American Pacific Islander — exceeding the 10% threshold for the federal distinction.

The new program will be modeled after NJIT’s longstanding Educational Opportunity Program, which supports students with limited financial means. It is one of many NJIT programs aimed to raise retention and graduation rates.

“We pitched the idea that we have longstanding, extremely successful programs that are currently not available to this target population,” Ashish Borgaonkar, co-project director and summer experiential learning coordinator of ISOTOPE and an assistant professor of engineering, said in a prepared statement. “In other words, we know how to do this; we just don’t have funds to separately do this for that population. That was our central message.”

The money will be allocated over five years, and the goal is to directly help approximately 875 students as they become part of the 2,000-strong AANAPI community at NJIT.

The program will help students in four ways:

  • Preparation: A five-week summer orientation will focus on developing skills in math and experiential learning;
  • Belonging: A living-learning community will feature faculty in residence, peer mentors and summer group projects in NJIT’s Makerspace;
  • Accessibility: Cost will not be a barrier, as the grant will help pay for instructional materials, supplies, food and housing for the summer orientation;
  • Support: Participants will have dedicated advisers and access to psychological counselors.

“It’s a holistic approach to a support network for students,” Project Director Laurent Simon, a vice provost for undergraduate studies, said in a statement. “We’ll not only look at advising, but also, how are they doing? And we’ll track them, mentor them and identify where they are not successful, and provide them with support on the spot.”