Alumni Profiles, Giving Back

All in the Family

Photo of the Emmons brothers
(Photo by Jonathan Kolbe)

Growing up in Woodlynne, New Jersey, brothers Robert and Kevin Emmons didn’t have much in common beyond family ties and working-class roots—and the fact that higher education was on neither of their agendas. Yet, remarkably, both ended up attending Rutgers, pursuing doctorates, and, eventually, finding a professional home at Rutgers University–Camden: Robert GSC’02 as associate director of the Digital Studies Center and Kevin CCAS’04 as a professor in the School of Nursing.

Robert, who at 45 is six years older than Kevin, took a class at Camden County College at the suggestion of a friend, and it was a revelation. Perusing the course catalog, he thought, “Oh my, you can study whatever you want.” For him, that turned out to be journalism and, later, documentary filmmaking, through which he illuminates “lost or under-told stories of popular culture and the large impact they can have on our lives.” He received his bachelor’s degree from Rowan University, then a master’s degree in liberal studies from Rutgers, and finally a doctorate in media and fine arts from Drew University.

The first in their immediate family to go to college, Robert inspired Kevin to follow suit. Another inspiration for Kevin was the hospice nurses he met while working a high school job in a palliative pharmacotherapy program. In 2000 he enrolled in the nursing program at Rutgers–Camden. Like his brother, he developed a hunger for education, going on to get a master’s degree and a doctorate in nursing at Drexel University. A captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, he served in Kuwait and Iraq from 2016 to 2017.

Over time, the brothers discovered other things they shared, notably serving the community. They also experienced what Robert calls “cross-pollination.” For instance, Kevin’s work in nursing inspired Robert to study the way in which illness is represented in documentary film.

Both found mentors at Rutgers who proved instrumental in shaping their lives and careers. After graduating from Rowan, Robert took a graduate course in documentary filmmaking at Rutgers–Camden taught by Allen Woll, who encouraged him to get his master’s at Rutgers. Not only did Woll become his mentor, he also helped him get his first two positions at the university.

Kevin’s mentor was nursing professor Kathleen Frame, who told him, “You’re going to be a professor one day, and my job is getting you through nursing school.”  She did, and also helped him find an adjunct position at Rutgers.

Today, the brothers are collaborating on a project to teach veterans how to tell their personal stories using digital tools, an amalgam of both their interests. “Showing someone a little bit of technology that can give them a voice they didn’t know they had is the most satisfying thing I do,” says Robert.

Similarly, Kevin derives his greatest rewards from service, which has informed every personal and career choice he’s made, including his decision to go into the military and into nursing, to start a wound and foot care clinic in Camden for the homeless and underserved, and to found an annual trip to Guatemala, allowing his students to work with indigenous Maya people.

And in April, New Jersey’s Department of Health tapped Kevin to be chief nurse at the Field Medical Station in Atlantic City, a pop-up hospital treating COVID-19 patients. He was part of the team charged with developing and opening the hospital, which accepted its first patient on April 21. The opportunity to marshal his skills in the fight against the pandemic, he says, “fits perfectly with my mission to serve the community of southern New Jersey.”

Service is behind Robert’s choices as well, including an annual course he teaches in which students produce a film about a local nonprofit organization; last year’s effort focused on Joseph’s House, a homeless shelter in Camden.

In the end, the brothers have a great deal in common. “We’re from this community,” Kevin says. “We went to school at Rutgers and we made the decision to return to Rutgers and serve the community we came from.”