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FIGS Success Stories

Sophie's Story
Peer Instructor

At the end of each fall semester, our Peer Instructors develop final projects that showcase their experiences with the FIGS program. Sophie Mannaerts taught “Exploring Careers in the Sciences” and decided to create a short film explaining what FIGS meant to her. Sophie’s students were involved in one of RU’s living-learning communities and hoped to pursue STEM-related careers. In the FIGS classroom, she taught them to develop self-confidence, make short- and long-term goals, and think about big-picture issues. For Sophie, self-awareness began with curiosity and openness. “Take time to listen to other people’s stories,” she said. “There’s such a wealth of people—especially at a university like Rutgers—that it would be a shame not to get involved and connected with your peers.” Learn more about the living-learning communities at Rutgers here.

Kayla's Story
Undergraduate Student Program Intern

An essential part of the FIGS team is our undergraduate student intern team, which takes on many large-scale projects while also addressing the day-to-day needs of the program. We are thrilled to recognize our own Kayla Broyles, whose work as a New Student Programs intern in 2015-2016 was acknowledged with a Chancellor’s Student Staff Excellence Award in April. The Rutgers Chancellor’s Student Leadership Awards recognize exceptional leadership, commitment, and Rutgers pride. The Student Staff Excellence Award, in particular, recognizes student staff members who exceed job expectations and demonstrate exemplary initiative, commitment, and service in their roles as student employees. In her time as an intern for the Office of New Student Programs, Kayla has gone above and beyond to help the FIGS program expand and reorganize in many effective ways. She has assisted with department-wide research and assessment that allowed the FIGS team to present exciting new information on student leadership at the National Resource Center for the First Year Experience’s conference this past February. Additionally, Kayla’s expertise in data analysis was crucial to helping to evaluate student feedback and improve the FIGS experience this year. As a Supply Chain Management major in the Rutgers Business School, she used skills acquired in classes in the workplace. “I have knowledge from class, but actually getting to use it, discover other things on Excel, and to put [that knowledge] into practice so … I have real world experience with it are some of the benefits of working here,” Kayla said. She also introduced new ideas for presenting the Peer Instructor role to her peers in the Rutgers Business School, allowing us to generate interest in the FIGS teaching position with almost 500 students. Kayla was very excited to be recognized for her efforts. “Winning a Student Staff Excellence Award showed me that all of my hard work is paying off and everyone appreciates what I am doing,” she said. “It shows that everyone cares…and that the University recognizes student work.” We are so grateful to Kayla all of the work she has done and are proud of her efforts to make the FIGS program and Rutgers a better place.

Luis' Story
FIGS Alumnus 

One of the goals of the FIGS program is develop strong leaders that will go on to contribute to the academic community at Rutgers and beyond. We are delighted to recognize one of our distinguished alumni, Luis Leyva, who graduated from Rutgers in May 2016 with a PhD in Mathematics Education and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Luis was a 2015 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow whose doctoral dissertation project documents the gendered and racialized forms of success among undergraduate African American and Latin@ students pursuing mathematics-intensive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors at a large, public four-year university. He will be going on to Vanderbilt University – Peabody College of Education and Human Development where he has been awarded a tenure-track faculty position as Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education. Luis has been a FIGS alumnus in more ways than one. As a first-year undergraduate student in the fall 2006 semester, Luis enrolled in a FIGS Health and Medicine course and was forever changed by the decision. He has continually highlighted the importance of taking a FIGS as a first-generation college student and credits the program with helping him to successfully navigate Rutgers. Luis states that FIGS helped him tap into academic advising resources, join different student organizations, and apply to on-campus jobs that applied to his future career as a mathematics educator and scholar. Having benefitted so much from his FIGS experience, Luis stated that he wanted to “pay it forward” by serving as a Peer Instructor in the fall of 2009. In his Exploring Education course Luis taught an engaging class of 25 students about different perspectives in education and strategies in leading a well-balanced Rutgers student lifestyle. Having graduated with a BA from Rutgers in 2010, Luis returned to the FIGS program again as a Graduate Curriculum Development Coordinator as he was embarking on his graduate studies. Serving in this position in 2011 and again in 2014, Luis utilized his FIGS course planning skills to advise new Peer Instructors’ development of syllabi and weekly lesson plans. Luis additionally credits the FIGS program with helping him develop skills that he applied to his subsequent work in the Rutgers community as an educator and mentor across STEM support programs including the NSF-funded STEM Talent Expansion Program and Upward Bound Math-Science. He states that his professional background in FIGS and these other initiatives inspired him to create academic work that engaged in answering questions about undergraduate STEM student success among first-generation and underrepresented populations and the institutional impact of student support programs in higher education on these groups. We are proud of the important work that Luis has contributed to academia and the Rutgers community. He is an excellent example of how FIGS can impact students in the classroom and beyond. We wish him nothing but success at Vanderbilt and thank him for his years of contribution to the FIGS program.

Dr. Loredana Quadro's Story
Faculty Mentor Honoree

At the close of each fall semester the FIGS Program hosts a Recognition Breakfast to celebrate all of the people whose hard work and dedication make this program possible. This year’s FIGS Recognition Breakfast, on December 11th, 2015, marked the first year that the FIGS Program awarded the Faculty Mentor Award to recognize a Rutgers faculty member who went above and beyond to help a Peer Instructor teach a FIGS class. Peer Instructors are required to find Faculty Mentors when planning their FIGs classes to gain insight on how to teach a first-year class in their field and to receive advice on serving as an educator.

The first recipient of this honor is Dr. Loredana Quadro, Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science. Dr. Quadro was enthusiastically nominated by her mentee, Exploring Nutrition Peer Instructor Breahnna Saunders, for her excellent mentorship. At the Recognition Breakfast Breahnna shared her gratitude for Dr. Quadro’s help in preparing for her FIGS class over the summer and throughout the fall semester. Breahnna explained that Dr. Quadro helped her think of informative content and meaningful assignments for her course while she was planning her lessons and then assisted her in adapting her class to the needs and interests of her students once the semester began. Dr. Quadro visited Breahnna’s class and gave a guest lecture on nutritional food labels, a topic that really interested Breahnna’s students. She also arranged for Breahnna’s class to visit her research laboratory and receive a tour, an experience that many of Breahnna’s students highlighted as their favorite experience in the course. It is clear that Dr. Quadro made a genuinely positive impact on Breahnna and her class. Breahnna closed her speech by stating that “Dr. Quadro deserves special recognition because she was truly interested in the experience of my students and always made herself available to assist in creating the best experience for them. She gave me great advice as well as assurance that I was progressing as an instructor during the experience.”

We would like to thank Dr. Quadro and all of the Faculty Mentors for all of their work helping FIGS Peer Instructors teach meaningful and engaging classes in their fields. Without the assistance of dedicated faculty members like Dr. Quadro the FIGS program would not be where it is today.

Maggie's Story
Peer Instructor

One of the main reasons for the continued success of the FIGS program is our talented, skilled Peer Instructors. We are delighted to recognize Maggie Morash, a past Peer Instructor of an “Exploring Health & Medicine” FIGS, for winning a highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. This award—granted to a select group of high-achieving students in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering—celebrates Maggie's tremendous success at Rutgers University.

In 2014, Maggie conducted genetics research, served as Captain of the Women's Soccer team, and mentored first year students through the FIGS program. “I realized that being a FIGS Peer Instructor would be a really unique experience that would not only help me develop public speaking, planning, and mentoring skills, but would also provide me with a way to give back to a community that has given me so much,” she said. “Even as a junior, there were still so many aspects of Rutgers and resources available that I didn't know about, which made me wish I had taken a FIGS my freshmen year!”

Maggie will be returning for a second year with the FIGS program as a Senior Peer Instructor, helping to train and mentor new Peer Instructors for Fall 2015. “I applied to become a Senior Peer Instructor because I felt like I had gotten a lot out of the Peer Instructor role and wanted to help future instructors do the same,” she explained. “The students who become FIGS PIs are some of the most passionate and interesting people to be around at Rutgers, so I was excited to have an opportunity to work with and learn from them.”

Because of her interest in the study of cellular microtubules, Maggie hopes to continue pursuing her education at the postgraduate level and eventually run her own research laboratory. We are so proud of Maggie for encouraging her students to set high expectations for themselves and for modeling academic success in her own Rutgers experience. For more information about the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and other fellowship opportunities, check out the Office of Distinguished Fellowships.

Camille's Story
Peer Instructor 

Each year, we spend several months reviewing applications, interviewing prospective candidates, and selecting some of the very best Rutgers students as FIGS Peer Instructors. We’re thus thrilled when former PIs achieve academic and professional success.

Camille Ungco, a Fall 2013 Peer Instructor, was recently asked to share her Rutgers story as the Distinguished Student Speaker at the 2015 Academic Excellence Awards. The ceremony, which recognizes the highest achieving sophomores from each of the Academic Schools, served as a platform for Camille to inspire her peers to take on new challenges at Rutgers.

An English major with minors in Education as a Social Science and Critical and Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, Camille designed and taught the first Asian American Studies FIGS course, a class that has been offered every year since its creation in 2013. Camille has shared that teaching a FIGS challenged her to strengthen her public speaking and communication skills and helped her to foster a strong relationship with Professor Allan Isaac, her Faculty Mentor. Professor Isaac encouraged her to think about teaching and learning in terms of asking the right questions. In her speech at the Academic Excellence Awards, Camille shared that this experience allowed her "to contribute to Rutgers and create change" and affected her academically, professionally, and personally.

This spring Camille was awarded a prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and will be spending the 2015-16 school year in Indonesia. When she returns from Indonesia, she plans to go to graduate school and become an educator. We’re so proud that the FIGS program has been part of her incredible journey!