Educational Access Organization Prepares to Send First Class of College Scholars Off to College

June 16, 2017 – Newark, NJ – New Jersey SEEDS, a nonprofit that provides educational access to high-achieving, low-income students, recently celebrated the graduation of the first class of its College Scholars Program. All graduates will be enrolling in college this fall. These 22 students have received over 100 acceptances from more than 50 colleges and universities across the country, 75 percent of which are ranked Most, Highly or Very Competitive by Barron’s.

The students that comprise this first graduating class come from 11 high schools in nine cities within 25 miles of Newark. Students began academic classes with SEEDS in February of their junior year, and for the past 17 months, have worked closely with New Jersey SEEDS to navigate the college admissions and financial aid processes.

“We could not be prouder of this inaugural class of College Scholars,” says John F. Castano, Executive Director of NJ SEEDS. “Their commitment, tenacity and grit led to outcomes far beyond our already high expectations. As we celebrate our 25th year of education access, we are heartened and excited to add the College Scholars Program, and its newly graduated first class, to the portfolio of opportunity that is New Jersey SEEDS. The success of these 22 young people has paved the way for our second class which is nearly twice the size. The future is indeed bright!”

SEEDS’ College Scholars Program launched in 2015 to prepare and place top-performing, low-income students from public high schools in New Jersey into highly selective colleges with sufficient financial aid. The free program consists of academic classes each Saturday during the spring of students’ eleventh-grade year and throughout twelfth grade. Students also spend the summer before their senior year of high school completing a three-week residency with SEEDS at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

The NJ SEEDS College Scholars Class of 2017 with SEEDS Executive Director John F. Castano and SEEDS Dean of Programs Imani Gilliam.

The College Scholars Class of 2017 Graduation Ceremony was held at Montclair State University on Saturday, June 10. There, 125 family members, friends, donors, guests and SEEDS Trustees celebrated the accomplishments of the first class of College Scholars.

In addition to the morning’s Commencement Speaker – Nellie Chapman, Assistant Principal at Union City High School – Joselyn Jaramillo (College Scholars ’17, Bates College ’21) addressed her classmates. Several students also received special awards in recognition of their accomplishments:

  • Navjit Kaur (College Scholars ’17, Franklin & Marshall ’21) was named the Edward and Barbara Becker Scholar for her outstanding academic achievement and exemplary work done while in the College Scholars Program.
  • Rouwaida Nitiema (College Scholars ’17, Gettysburg College ’21) received the Dean’s Award for her overall achievement, character and citizenship.

Imani Gilliam, Dean of Programs continues: “Congratulations to the first class of College Scholars! Over the past 17 months, these students have continually impressed me with their hard work, motivation and desire to set themselves up for success in college and beyond. This dedication has paid off. All of us at New Jersey SEEDS are proud of what they have accomplished, and we wish them the best of luck in the future.”

Congratulations to the College Scholars Class of 2017!

Melisa Aguila (John E. Dwyer Technology High School) – Smith College
Harneet Bahia (Carteret High School) – Franklin & Marshall College
Genesis Canela (American History High School) – Davidson College
Angel Castillo (John E. Dwyer Technology High School) – Union College
Karina Collazo (Union City High School) – Villanova University
Anysha Hyppolite (Hillside High School) – Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Joselyn Jaramillo (Technology High School) – Bates College
Niyata Johnson (Harrison High School) – Stevens Institute of Technology
Navjit Kaur (Carteret High School) – Franklin & Marshall College
Veronica Leitao (Hillside High School) – Union College
Thalia Mullings (Harrison High School) – Rutgers University – Newark
Rouwaida Nitiema (Newark Early College High School) – Gettysburg College
Bryan Oliveira (South River High School) – Muhlenberg College
Isabella Pabon (Roselle Park High School) – University of Pennsylvania
Elena Pejovska (Roselle Park High School) – Union County College (NJ STARS)
Raquel Rojas (Union City High School) – Rochester Institute of Technology
Melanie Rosado (Bard High School Early College) – Marist College
Gonzalo Saavedra (Technology High School) – Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Gurpreet Singh (Carteret High School) – Stevens Institute of Technology
Sabrina Suazo (Union City High School) – Rochester Institute of Technology
Lexi Tumblety (Roselle Park High School) – Villanova University
Marvin Vargas (Union City High School) – Drew University

For more information, or to receive high-resolution photos, please contact Theresa Murray at [email protected] or at 862.227.9145.

 About New Jersey SEEDS
For 25 years, New Jersey SEEDS has provided educational access for highly motivated, low-income students and created a viable path for them to achieve their full potential. SEEDS strives for a world in which young people’s initiative, creativity and intellect can flourish without regard to socioeconomic status. Since SEEDS’ founding in 1992, more than 3,000 scholars have graduated from its programs. For more information, visit

Special thanks to our generous donors for their major support of the College Scholars Program this year: Allergen Foundation; Barbara and Edward Becker; and Julia and Robert Greifeld.