Chelsea Coccia, a 2017 graduate of Rutgers University-Camden, is proud to sport her Rutgers pride and cannot imagine having gone to college anywhere else. “I chose Rutgers–Camden over other schools I was accepted to because I knew that there must be a reason Rutgers had such a good name and reputation,” Chelsea says. Rutgers–Camden’s low tuition, small class size, and short commute from home made it the ideal school for her.

As a political science major, Chelsea focused primarily on American politics with a concentration on American women’s political history. She tried several different majors before deciding on political science. Chelsea had first taken some introductory political science classes at Camden County College (CCC), which she had enjoyed.  This foundation solidified her desire to pursue the major.  At CCC, Chelsea learned the importance of creating a solid relationship with fellow students and professors; depending on them for support, help, and advice. She took this lesson with her to Rutgers and it made her time there very successful.

Chelsea CocciaIn September of 2014, after obtaining her associate’s degree from CCC, Chelsea continued her academic career at Rutgers–Camden. During her first semester, she joined Rutgers’ student chapter of New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG), a decision which gave her real-life experiences in politics. Chelsea was active in a campaign that fought to prevent fracking in the Delaware River Basin. “Our goal was not only to stop it, but to get the government’s attention about it and let them know we wanted to uphold the moratorium against fracking,” she says. Chelsea set up a table during free period in the Campus Center to gain student support and ask them to sign petitions and share call-to-action hashtags on social media sites.

Chelsea also was involved in the New Voters Project, encouraging Rutgers–Camden students, faculty, and staff to register to vote, and educated them on the importance of voting. “I was planning to only focus on my academic work because of my shyness, but when a NJPIRG representative visited one of my political science classes to find interested students to volunteer, I thought it would complement my major. It brought me out of my shell and exposed me to experiences I would not have received on my own,” says Chelsea. Through NJPIRG, she had the opportunity to meet New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker, to gain his support in their campaigns. Also, working on the New Voters Project inspired her to work with the Camden County Elections Board as an Election Official in November 2016, and a job she continues to do now.

In 2015, Chelsea was inducted in to Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society. Chelsea’s induction secured her admission into the Political Science Honors Program. As an honors student, Chelsea participated in seminars and workshops to complete an honors thesis, which she conducted under the guidance of Dr. Kelly Dittmar, Assistant Professor of Political Science. Dr. Dittmar helped Chelsea find a focus on the announcements of candidacy and concession speeches made by female American presidential candidates. “I wanted to see whether or not these women, in the past, had used a more masculine or feminine speech pattern, and compared them to Hillary Clinton’s speeches in her 2016 presidential campaign, to figure out her style,” she says. In February 2017, Chelsea presented her honors thesis at the Pi Sigma Alpha Student Research Conference in Washington, D.C. where she networked and learned from her fellow presenters. “Working with Dr. Dittmar was the greatest experience during my honors thesis. She was encouraging and patient, and led me into the direction of wanting to work with women in politics,” she says.

Chelsea also thanks Dr. Shauna Shames, Assistant Professor of Political Science, for being a great supporter in both her academics and future career. “Dr. Shames was the one who encouraged me to apply for the Pi Sigma Alpha conference, and helped me gain experience for employment with my degree,” she says. Chelsea began working her current job as a Research Assistant for Dr. Shames in the political science department at Rutgers-Camden in February 2017. Her responsibilities include peer reviewing, research, working with book editors, and basic administrative duties. “The best thing about working in this position at Rutgers is that my opinions and input as a former student are valued by Dr. Shames, coworkers, and university staff,” says Chelsea.

In Chelsea’s spare time, she volunteers for the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, for which she transcribes radio shows conducted by Studs Terkel, an American historian and broadcaster who interviewed important figures from history. Chelsea explains, “Working with the organization allows me to explore my other passion, history [which was Chelsea’s minor].”

Chelsea encourages students to explore new things and pursue what they love. Being a student who traveled different paths and is still discovering new interests, Chelsea believes that there should be no limitations or boundaries on choosing what to pursue. “Rutgers–Camden pushes students to work hard, provides a strong community of personal relationships, and puts students’ success above all else,” she says.

Written By Courtney Daniels