Being a first-generation college student, Mary Pollard understands the value of having an education. She developed a passion to help other students in similar situations by studying to become an English teacher for secondary school students. Before wanting to be a teacher, she thought she was going to pursue a career in healthcare. “I realized I was more interested in education and community.” Her parents were shocked by her change of mind but they were supportive of her nonetheless. She is currently in her senior year as an English major with a minor in psychology. She will be graduating in 2018, after staying an additional semester to complete her teaching certification. With her time as an undergraduate coming to an end, she sums up her experience at Rutgers University–Camden as being “full of surprises.”

Mary Pollard
Working as a consultant in the Writing and Design Lab is preparing English major Mary Pollard for a career in teaching secondary-school students.

Mary did not have intentions on attending Rutgers while in high school; she did not want to follow the same path as her brother who is an alumnus of the college. However, it was the best choice for her financially and its location served to her benefit. When entering freshman year, she thought her college life would be pretty normal: commuting back and forth to Camden, focusing on her studies, and making a few new friends each semester. But things had started on an interesting note. Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Mary, African-American, was one of the few minorities in her high school and class. Her first semester at Rutgers–Camden came as a culture shock for her because of its diversity. “This encouraged me to want to work in diverse settings and develop a diverse mindset. Also, I wanted to help people of color with disadvantaged backgrounds get into higher education.” Her journey began with Rutgers Future Scholars.

Through work-study, she had the opportunity to begin working for Rutgers Future Scholars, a civic engagement non-profit organization that provides college preparation to first-generation, low-income middle school students. She started off as a Facilitator, which gave her the responsibility to create and teach academic and social curriculum for eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders. Because she excelled at her work and was dedicated to the job, she was promoted to the position of Lead Ambassador following her junior year. She mentored secondary school students and trained new Lead Ambassadors; created and maintained schedules and meetings; and created mentoring opportunities in schools. Her current position is Program Assistant, which requires her to direct and organize programs of the organization. What she appreciates most about being a part of Rutgers Future Scholars is the ability to work with young students, but her experiences have also prepared her to work as a consultant with the Writing and Design Lab (WDL).

WDL is a student-run, multiliteracy center that supports undergraduate students with writing assignments, visual presentations, and audio recordings. Mary was invited by the Managing Director, Travis DuBose, to work as a consultant after completing the credited training course, Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing, which he also teaches. “Working with the WDL has shown me that the greatest way to learn is by teaching.” By finding mistakes and observing different styles of writing in other students’ work, she learned to improve her own writing. She has helped numerous students for the past two years. Working in the center has also pushed her to new heights in her academic career. She is currently working on a research project that is called “How Writing Centers Impact First-Generation Students.”

The research began as a proposal assignment for the Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing course. Travis DuBose had encouraged her to continue the research. It consists of tracking three first-generation Rutgers students’ interactions with the Writing and Design Lab. “The goal of this research is to find out what best practices the writing lab can start to use to fully aid first-generation college students in writing courses.” Her work was submitted to and accepted by The Conference on College Composition and Communications, where she will be presenting at their next annual conference this March in Portland, Oregon. As the conference nears, she will continue conducting her research in hopes to gain findings that will support her hypothesis.  “I never thought I’d be able to do multiple things I love at once. I love to travel and I never knew an English major could do research outside of literature or history.” She will be spending a week in Portland, exploring a new city and developing a network with researchers in different subject areas. Her work itself will make a great impact in the academic field because there are few studies on how writing centers help first-generation students.

Mary cannot imagine if she would have received this kind of experience attending another school. “Every day I am finding something new about Rutgers and myself. I have learned to take advantage of opportunities as they come because you never know where they may lead,” she says. Above receiving great learning experiences, she has made lasting friendships with students and faculty and admires the youth who look up to her. “It’s a short distant home away from home, and I look forward to being a proud alumnus.”

Written by Courtney Daniels

Photo Credit: Austin Cuttino