Talent Search Sets Students on the Road to College

Written by: Julie Jacobs,
Mohamed Camara '17 (left) and Timothy Ellis '17 are the first graduates of the NJIT and Central High School Math 110 partnership through Talent Search.

Second in a Three-part Series on Pre-College Programs at NJIT

Timothy Ellis ’17 was a student at Central High School in Newark when he told his guidance counselor he wanted to become an engineer. He had one problem, though, that could hinder him: He lacked a fundamental ability in math, always using a calculator to compute answers. That all changed, however, after Ellis enrolled in the Educational Talent Search Program at NJIT, a pre-college program designed to help prepare primary-school students for college and career.

Ellis began participating in Talent Search in summer 2010, between his junior and senior years, and continued until he graduated in 2011. He initially was one of 15 students in the program’s Math 139 pre-calculus course with a concentration in algebra (now known as Math 110). Although he scored lowest among his classmates on a placement test, he remained undeterred. With the unwavering support of his teacher, Jimmy Hayes, an NJIT adjunct professor in mathematical sciences, and a firm resolve to work hard, Ellis became a natural at math and eventually moved to the head of the class. He earned an A in pre-calc and, in turn, a full tuition scholarship to NJIT.

“I knew [the program] was preparing me for college,” said Ellis, a first-generation college student raised by his maternal grandmother. “I told everyone ‘I’m going to the top.’ I stayed late to study and at the end of the year, I was the No. 1 student in the class.”

“That first semester, he came to me and said, ‘Professor, I now like math. I didn’t know I had the ability to do math,’” remembered Hayes, who has been teaching Math 139 as part of Talent Search for the past 10 years. “Both he and Mohamed [Camara ’17, also a program alumnus and scholarship recipient] realized their potential. Then, with their level of confidence growing, they both did very well at the university.”

The College Experience

Federally funded, Talent Search is administered by NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs and provides students from sixth through 12th grades with the necessary instruction and motivation to succeed. Many come from low-income households and are the first in their families to attend college. Academics are complemented by personal counseling, tutoring, field trips, college tours, workshops in social skills and test taking, recreational activities and career exploration. The program is offered on-campus during both the school year and summertime.

 The Talent Search summer class of 2017.

Talent Search “serves a great purpose,” remarked Hayes. “This program was originally designed to not only cover the academics…but also to present the students with a total college experience.”

For Ellis, that experience helped him improve his study skills, provided a bridge to higher learning and reinforced his sense of responsibility. “Professor Hayes held us accountable for our work. We had tutors from the Honors College that held us accountable,” he noted. “And they gave us the tools necessary to be successful.”

Ellis, who served as a Talent Search tutor and assistant to Hayes while he was a student at NJIT, received his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering this past May. This month, he started as a capacity planner at Nissan North America in Smyrna, Tennessee, where he “will be planning for the materials that are entering and leaving the manufacturing plant, and also will be traveling to suppliers and doing quality testing.”

Hayes attributes the exposure to college through Talent Search as a key factor in many students’ success stories. “The playing field has not been the same for these students,” he said. “So the whole [point] is to build that foundation for them.”

Offered Ras J. Baraka, mayor of Newark and former principal of Central High School, “I see the promise that these young minds hold. I see future scientists curing diseases, engineers discovering new ways to improve the infrastructure in urban cities, and mathematical geniuses deciphering the most intricate problems. Future leaders such as Mohamed Camara and Timothy Ellis, who attended Central High School and recently graduated from NJIT, demonstrate that our great city is filled with brilliant minds awaiting the opportunity to shine. I commend the leadership of NJIT for its commitment to this program and look forward to hearing more success stories in the future.”

About the Center for Pre-College Programs

The Center for Pre-College Programs was established in 1979 in order to increase access to scientific and technological fields among traditionally underrepresented populations and to improve the teaching of science and mathematics in secondary and elementary schools. Achievement is reflected in the accomplishments of its many pre-college alumni who become teachers who show the way to youngsters, engineers who create technology that allows astronauts to rendezvous in space, scientists who research new avenues to control and cure diseases, and financiers who strive to keep our economy flourishing. The Center for Pre-College Programs annually serves more than 3,000 elementary and secondary students and their teachers in a variety of programs.