As we enter into this new year, many people find themselves declaring resolutions and making fresh starts. Jim Rhodes, a 1994 graduate of the Camden College of Arts and Sciences, should be the poster child for new beginnings. The Washington Township High School graduate started his education at Rutgers-Camden in 1975 as a political science major, but left after several years without obtaining his bachelor’s degree. Jim went into the workforce, eventually working as a stevedore with the Seafarer’s Union on the Pennsauken waterfront. In 1991, while on the job, he suffered an arm injury that prevented him from continuing his work. Faced with an uncertain future, he turned to the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. When the organization learned that Jim had earned credits toward his college degree, they encouraged him to return to school and even offered to pay for his remaining credits. Such a proposal could not be refused, though Jim admits that taking the first step – inquiring about the re-enrollment process – was difficult, for fear of rejection. Nevertheless, with that first step, he started a new chapter, one that would prove to be very successful and rewarding.
Upon his return to school, Jim focused on his studies and took a course overload for two semesters in order to graduate in one year. Despite the heavy workload, his hard work and dedication secured him a spot on the Dean’s List for both semesters, and allowed him to fulfill his goal of earning his bachelor’s degree in 1994. While his coursework was challenging, Jim cites courses such as Persuasive Writing as laying an important foundation for his later work, teaching him that his words should be concise and powerful. Dr. Kim Shienbaum, who is currently an Associate Professor of Political Science, was also an important figure in Jim’s life. He remembers her class on the American presidency as one of his favorites. Later, Dr. Shienbaum would invite Jim back to campus to be the guest speaker at a political science honor society induction and to serve as a part-time lecturer, teaching a course on New Jersey government and politics.
After graduation, Jim landed a job as a confidential aide to Camden County Freeholder Ed McDonnell, a position that blended his interest in political science and communications. He stayed in that role for four years before leaving to serve as the director of legislative policy and communications at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia. In 2007, he returned to the city of Camden as a Deputy County Administrator for the County of Camden, and continues to serve in this role. He is the executive manager responsible for the departments of Public Safety and Juvenile Justice, Employee Benefits and Insurance, and the Office of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
While Jim’s professional life kept him busy, he stayed committed and loyal to his alma mater. In 2006, President Richard L. McCormick asked Jim to serve as on the Rutgers Task Force on Alumni Relations. At the time, there were nineteen separate Rutgers alumni associations rather than one unified body. Jim led the way to the creation of a unified alumni association, and served as the founding chair of the Rutgers University Alumni Association, a position that Jim said was a “great honor” and a “tremendous growth opportunity.”
Currently, Jim serves on the university’s Board of Trustees and is the chair of Dean Kriste Lindenmeyer’s Leadership Council here at Rutgers-Camden. One of his goals is to increase collaboration between the Dean’s Leadership Council, the alumni leadership, and the alumni themselves. Recently, Rutgers-Camden alumni received good news with the Rutgers Board of Governors’ recent approval of the Writers’ House and Alumni House. Jim views this news as an extremely positive development and says, “the Alumni House is a testament to the university’s commitment to its alumni.”
Jim’s commitment to the alumni of Rutgers is mirrored by his commitment to the university’s current students. He’s a fervent supporter of the new Dean’s Emergency Fund, an initiative recently started in order to offer financial assistance to students who struggle to pay their tuition and fees. Jim reiterates the expense of a college education; he also knows from his experience with the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation that the offer to keep a student in school “can be a life-altering experience. If there’s a way to keep students in school, why not do it?”
He muses about his own college career and his life after graduation, and says, “Graduating from Rutgers University taught me that I can accomplish something, that I can achieve my goals. I became more confident in my abilities. A whole new world opened up for me that would not have been there otherwise. That’s why I am so passionate about helping my university. I am grateful.”
To learn more about the Dean’s Emergency Fund and to make a contribution, visit https://fas.camden.rutgers.edu/deans-emergency-fund/.
About Jim Rhodes
Hometown: Westmont, NJ
Camden College of Arts and Sciences Major: Political Science
Camden College of Arts and Sciences Graduation Date: 1994