The ninth annual Rutgers Day was celebrated under sunny skies with summer-like temperatures by an estimated 103,000 people at the university’s three locations – providing visitors the opportunity to learn about New Jersey’s only Big Ten research university.
It was the second year that this popular spring event, which began at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in 2009, was held at Rutgers University-Newark and Rutgers-University Camden, giving those who spent the day a snapshot view of the research, service and education offered at the state’s largest university.
The annual show-and-tell, which coincides with Alumni Weekend, offered festival-goers more than 600 free performances, demonstrations and interactive activities. Those who attended the daylong gathering at any one of the three sites could choose from a bevy of activities – from science, technology and sports to crafts and animals to history, English, theology, theater arts and politics.
There were belly dancing, hip-hop and virtual reality demonstrations. And for those who wanted to do it themselves, they had the opportunity to create sand castles; mini earthquakes and tsunamis; craft new Rutgers shields, play Sherlock Holmes; and take photos of their children dressed as future Rutgers graduates.
In New Brunswick, the kick off began on College Avenue with a parade led by Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard Edwards – whose motorized golf cart was followed by students and alumni from the class of 1945 – to this year’s graduating seniors, many wearing grey T-shirts emblazoned with “America Converges Here,” the words taken from the speech delivered by President Barack Obama to Rutgers graduates at the 2016 Commencement. Hundreds of these Rutgers enthusiasts marched through Voorhees Mall as the marching band played the “Rutgers Fight Song.”
“There is an emotional attachment to the campus despite the changes,” said Franklin Simon, president of the Rutgers class of 1949 and a resident of Monroe, who marched in the parade.
While the festivities officially began at 10 a.m., early birds turned out hours before for plant sales on the Cook-Douglass Campus, where some of the signature varieties developed at Rutgers, including the Scarlet Strawberry and Rutgers 250 Tomato, were being sold by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
“I like that they have unusual plants,’’ said Judithanne Higgins, of Colonia, who arrived by 8:30 a.m. and filled her basket with milk thistle, a mina lobata vine plant and Sun Gold tomatoes. “And I love the atmosphere. It’s family friendly, dog friendly and there is a good vibe about the place.’’
Meanwhile at the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences booth, Ava Waskiewicz, 8, Shealyn Tuller, 12, and her sister, Kiley Tuller, 8, leaned in close to learn how to extract DNA from strawberries. Using a blender, cold water, salt, a strainer, liquid soap, isopropyl alcohol and the expert guidance of Ph.D. students, they pulled white stringy stuff – DNA – from the mixture.
“There are a lot of cool things to see,” said Shealyn, looking around the Busch Campus lawn filled with booths offering hands-on science experiments. “I like that you’re not just walking around – you’re actually doing stuff.”
At Rutgers-Newark, a carnival atmosphere prevailed on Norman Samuels Quad, as faculty, staff and students offered visitors engaging ways to learn about research and creativity.
Physics department chair Dan Murnick joined his graduate and undergraduate students in leading kids of all ages through activities to demonstrate fundamental principles of motion and momentum, including a gyroscope simulator. Younger children got the opportunity to take a free book home by taking a literary challenge.
“We love having whole families come to campus,” said Lenore Pearson, senior executive assistant in the Office of University-Community Partnerships. “It gives us the opportunity to show what Rutgers-Newark is about, while planting seeds of inspiration even in the youngest generation.”
At the Rutgers Law School, with locations in both Camden and Newark, future litigators had the opportunity to play a hop scotch game that listed the steps it takes to apply, try on a black judge’s robe, bang a gavel and have their photo taken.
“Rutgers is my first choice for law school," said Angelic Galindo of Clifton, who spent the day at Rutgers-Newark. "I want to be a prosecutor or a domestic attorney. I work with kids now and I want to keep doing that."
In Camden, Chancellor Phoebe Haddon helped kick off the festivities by participating in a tai chi demonstration for the second consecutive year. The Rutgers-Camden Beatlemaniacs provided the live soundtrack to thousands who roamed the sea of tents offering nonstop, family-friendly activities, from hands-on henna, sari draping and turban-tying demonstrations to a marathon reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself and a discussion about sniffing out fake news.
Children seized upon the opportunity to craft their own Rutgers shield, courtesy of the Rutgers-Camden communications office, and play Sherlock Holmes during a mock forensic situation. The family-friendly event also encouraged children to dress up and be photographed as a judge in the Archer & Greiner Moot Courtroom in the Rutgers Law School facility and engage in simple science experiments.
What’s best about Rutgers Day say those like third-year Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts student, is the unique stories and important facts that many New Jersey residents don’t know.
“I learned so many random, great things that I didn’t know existed, like about the program I am in now,” said Julia Meier, who is studying costume technology and first learned about what was being offered at Rutgers when she came to Rutgers Day before becoming a student. “It’s a great way to promote programs that the public wouldn’t otherwise know about.”