Alumni couple gives generously to the Rutgers Future Scholars program, which is celebrating 15 years of helping underrepresented New Jersey students earn college degrees.
When Dan and Grace Reinhardt meet students in the Rutgers Futures Scholars program, he thinks back to the strength of his grandmother who raised his mother under challenging circumstances. “She's the one who really sparked a passion for me in getting involved in the program because she was a single mother in Brooklyn in the 1940s,” says Dan, a 1991 marketing graduate of the Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick.
Grace, also a 1991 marketing graduate of the Rutgers Business School, thinks of her parents who immigrated to the United States from China with everything thing they owned in one suitcase. “My parents paved the way for me,” she says.
She and Dan—who met at Rutgers as juniors and later married in the Kirkpatrick Chapel on the College Avenue campus at Rutgers–New Brunswick—went on from the university to successful careers in marketing and have given generously to the Rutgers Futures Scholars program for a decade. They view their gifts in support of the program, which is celebrating its 15th year, as a way to help young people in the same way their families supported their journeys to and through college. “Everyone deserves a chance to experience education, leadership, and mentorship,” Grace says.
Launched in 2008, Rutgers Future Scholars has guided more than 3,200 underrepresented students from Newark, New Brunswick, Camden, Piscataway, and Rahway. The program begins with students in eighth grade and runs through college graduation, offering college preparation and free Rutgers tuition along with academic and personal mentoring. It operates in more than 110 middle and high schools, and about 70 percent of its graduating high school seniors enroll at Rutgers. The program was the first of its kind in the country and has served as a model for other universities.
The Reinhardts often meet with students in the program, and have watched as many graduates have gone on to graduate school and successful careers. “The proof is that this program works,” Grace says. “These students have taken this opportunity with Rutgers Futures Scholars and shined.”
Najilah Muhammad, a Rutgers senior from Piscataway majoring in social work who has connected with the Reinhardts over lunch, began participating in the program in the summer before her eighth-grade year. Now beginning her ninth year in the program, which has enabled her to attend Rutgers tuition free, she serves as a mentor to middle and high school students who were once in her shoes. “It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Muhammad, who plans to go on to graduate school in social work at Rutgers after graduating in spring 2024. “It's definitely not something to take for granted or to take lightly. I'm eternally grateful for Rutgers Future Scholars.”
The Reinhardts have a long history of giving to Rutgers. Dan, founder of a consulting firm which Grace is a co-owner, and Grace began giving in the early ‘90s, not long after graduating. “The contributions at first weren't huge,” he says, “but every little bit helps in terms of advancing the cause and moving forward.”
They initially established the Daniel and Grace Reinhardt Endowed Scholarship, and then in 2013, they partnered with Dan’s brother, Sean Reinhardt and his wife, Suzanne Reinhardt, both of whom are Rutgers alumni, to establish the Geraldine Sheehan Endowed Memorial Scholarship in honor of their maternal grandmother. It also was a birthday gift for their mother, Mary Jane Hicks, who worked as a bookkeeper at Rutgers. “My mom, based on her upbringing, had always instilled in myself and my brother this idea of giving back and helping other people,” Dan says.
Dan, who served for nine years on the Rutgers University Foundation board, including a three-year stint as vice chair, continues to advocate for the Rutgers Futures Scholars program. He says the program helps the students in it, and also lifts up entire families through “bystander effect” of seeing a member of their family become the first to graduate from college. “When you multiply siblings and cousins, this program can positively impact an entire community,” he says.
He and Grace often encourage others to learn more about the Rutgers Future Scholars and continue to support it. “We have the ability to help change the trajectory of people's lives for the better,” Dan says.