Fourth-Annual Garden State LSAMP Conference Features NCAS Alumni Judges

Lawrence Lerner

Emil Ciruczak (NCAS  ’71, GSN ’74) remembers his days as a chemistry student at Rutgers-Newark. He made the Dean’s List as an undergraduate and certainly felt smart at the time. And he was. He went on to get a masters’s degree in chemistry and become an acclaimed pharmaceutical researcher and consultant who introduced near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to the industry back in 1983.

But as he roamed the room recently at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Cook Campus Center, surveying the scientific research projects on display as part of the fourth-annual conference of the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP), he couldn’t help but be impressed.

“These were undergraduates doing top-notch work—on par with graduate work,” says Ciruczak. “And they appreciate the opportunities they’re getting and are really running with them.”

NCAS Alumni Get Involved

Ciruczak was one of five Rutgers-Newark alumni who judged the conference, held October 5. Many of them traveled long distances to be part of the event. All of them have roots in New Jersey and have gone on to highly successful careers in the sciences. As a result, they were eminently suited to evaluate the student research projects on display.

“We have some pretty incredible alumni, and it speaks volumes about their connection to Rutgers-Newark and NCAS that they shared their time and expertise with these students,” says Brian Agnew, Assistant Dean of Advancement and External Relations. 

Rounding out the five were Julia Pinto-Fryer (NCAS  ’84, GSN ’87 and ’92), a senior chemistry and manufacturing reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Stanley Wanat (NCAS  ’63), a former chemist for Ciba/Geigy Pharmaceutical who now teaches at Union County College; Sheldon Kirsch (NCAS  ’69, GSNB ’72, GSN ’79), a principal scientist for Ethicon, a medical-device company; and Ronald Blandon (NCAS ’72, GSED ’77), a retired middle-school science teacher who was also an adjunct professor at Monmouth University.

Student Projects Impress

The panel of alumni judges surveyed 84 projects at this year’s event, which attracted more than 300 minority students from around the state who are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM fields. It was a prime opportunity for these students to showcase their research—on everything from solar energy to language-processing to electrical signal transmission—to the judges and the general public. Twenty-four of the student presenters were from Rutgers-Newark and NCAS.

Dr. Alexander Gates, who is project director for the GS-LSAMP as well as vice chancellor for research at Rutgers-Newark, says that this year’s conference was the largest so far.

“More than 360 people attended the conference,” says Gates. “The judges—all distinguished alumni from Rutgers-Newark—were true professionals, and it says a lot that they were so impressed with the student presentations that they had a hard time choosing the best ones.”

GS-LAMP Makes Inroads

The Garden State-LSAMP was launched in fall 2009 with a $5 million National Science Foundation grant. Part of a nationwide effort, the program aims to substantially increase the number of under-represented minority college students graduating, and eventually pursuing careers, in STEM fields.

Nearly 2,000 minority students from 10 college campuses participate in New Jersey’s LSAMP program. Rutgers-Newark leads this consortium, which also includes Kean University, New Jersey City University, Essex County College, Bloomfield College, Montclair State University, Farleigh Dickinson University/Teaneck, William Paterson University and Rutgers-New Brunswick.

GS-LSAMP provides academic support programs, including tutoring and peer-led team learning sessions in which upperclassmen help younger students through difficult STEM classes that have traditionally been a barrier to success and retention. It also offers opportunities for undergraduates to conduct hands-on laboratory research with faculty members. Other activities include community service, visits to local high schools for recruitment, and internships.

“The LSAMP program is one of the best things Rutgers-Newark is involved in,” says Ciruczak. “When you bring all these students together who are really bright, articulate and hard-working—and who appreciate what they’re doing—they lift each other up. I truly think we’re going to find the next Thomas Edison in this group. I really do. It was a privilege to work with them. I can’t wait to do it again.”