Service-Learning Program Sparks NCAS Student’s Love of Medicine

During the 2013-’14 winter break, while most students were relaxing with family and friends, NCAS sophomore Jeetanjali Sawh helped install a solar panel at a municipal-hospital’s maternity clinic in rural Rio Blanco, Nicaragua.

“The hospital’s electricity had gone down that week, but the doctors had used candles to deliver three babies during that time,” says Sawh. “So, when the lights started working after we installed the solar panel, it was amazing to know we had brought light to them. It was a life-changing experience for us.”

Sawh, who is part of the Honors College, was one of five female undergraduates from Rutgers-Newark who traveled to the Central American country as part of a service-learning project sponsored by the campus’ Office of Service Learning and Student Development.

The trip was one of many valuable experiences that she’s had during her short time at NCAS. “I’ve loved my time here so far,” says Sawh. “The next two years should be even better.”

Sawh never imagined it would be this way. Rutgers-Newark was not at the top of the Jersey City, N.J., native’s list when applying to colleges. But the school offered her the most scholarship money, letting her and her family avoid burdensome loans.

She got to know the campus and quickly fell in love with it, throwing herself into all that Rutgers-Newark has to offer her: the Honors College curriculum, on-campus jobs as a peer advisor, and research and internship opportunities, not to mention the service-learning project in Nicaragua.

“The level of support here has been amazing,” says Sawh. “The support from deans who have given me individual guidance, from other students from urban environments, from the professors, it’s all been great.”

Sawh is one of two children of parents born in Guyana who emigrated to the U.S. as teens. Her mother is a dental assistant, her father a maintenance supervisor at a high school in Jersey City. Both went to trade school. Sawh’s older brother and she are the first generation from her family to attend college.

She entered Rutgers-Newark as a biology major, then realized she’s also good at math and added that as a second major. Both majors require a total of four computer-science courses. She needed only two more for a minor. So, she’s added that to the mix.

Sawh works 10 hours per week as a peer-advisor coordinator for the Office of Academic Services, managing a staff of advisors helping first-year students transition to college life at Rutgers-Newark. She has also been a peer mentor for the Office of International Student and Scholars, helping international students adjust to their new environment. And she works 15 hours per week at a retail clothing store for extra money to help with expenses—this in addition to a full Honors College course load.

“This way I don’t have to rely on my parents,” says Sawh. “And if I make enough, I can perhaps even provide them with some money.”

Sawh looks forward to doing an internship that lets her take her mathematics skills into a business environment, perhaps culminating in training as a business analyst, an area in which her older brother works and where she’ll be able to put her computer-science minor to use.

She’s also looking for an undergraduate research opportunity in the lab of either a biology or psychology professor on campus.

Ultimately, she hopes to get into medical school after she graduates from NCAS and become a doctor, an aspiration further fueled by her trip to Nicaragua. If that doesn’t work out, her backup plan is to go into business.

Either way, Sawh is sanguine about the future and grateful for her college experience.

“Rutgers-Newark gives opportunities to students with a lot a stake at home,” she says. “This is a very special place.”