Public 4-Year Schools

NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs Receives Upward Bound Federal Grants

The United States Department of Education (USDOE) has awarded the Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP) at New Jersey Institute of Technology two grants for its Upward Bound program.

CPCP received $503,928 for year one of a five-year continuation grant. It will enable the center to continue to serve 113 public-school students at Barringer Academy of the Arts & Humanities and Central, Marion P. Thomas Charter and Malcolm X. Shabazz High Schools in Newark. This grant has been serving the Newark Community for over 25 years. A second entirely new grant for $257,500, anticipated to be the first of a five-year grant program, will serve an additional 60 public-school students at Barringer Academy of S.T.E.A.M., East Side, Newark Vocational and Weequahic High Schools, also in Newark.

“This funding is incredibly important, because NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs works annually to support more than 4,000 pre-college students who are predominantly underrepresented females and minorities from the greater Newark area — a pipeline we must continue to expand if we are to meet the growing need for STEM professionals who are essential for economic growth,” said NJIT President Joel S. Bloom. “Of those students served by CPCP, well over 200 from underrepresented populations enroll as undergraduates at NJIT each fall and pursue STEM professions.”

Added Jacqueline Cusack, Ed.D., executive director, CPCP, “This additional funding allows us to expand our outreach to the secondary school-aged population of Newark to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge, skills, experiences and support to compete and achieve through their high school years that will, in turn, facilitate their successful transition to the higher education setting.”

Upward Bound is a TRiO educational opportunity program funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. It serves ninth- to 12th-grade low-income students, between the ages of 13 and 19, who will be the first generation in their families to attend college. The program’s goal is to increase the rate at which participants enroll in and graduate from institutions of higher learning.

Upward Bound is free and features an academic-year component that meets on-campus on Saturdays throughout the school year, as well as a six-week intensive, residential summer component. Students take classes in literature, composition, science, math, foreign language, art, computer science, architecture, psychology and more. Field trips are included as well, both during the school year and over the summer.

Another grant proposal for $250,000, to fund Upward Bound for English Language Learners, is still under review with the USDOE. CPCP looks forward to a favorable outcome.

To read more stories about NJIT, scroll down:

UBELL Promotes Language and Learning
NJIT Graduate Student Wins IBM Fellowship to Develop Brain-Inspired Computing Systems
NJIT’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Programs Presented at the United Nations

UBELL Promotes Language and Learning

First in a Three-Part Series on Pre-College Programs at NJIT

“Today I am 29 years of age, work for the leading defense contractor in the world —building the most powerful military stealth jet yet built — have a master’s degree and find myself creating a very secure future for my family. Although there are other factors that eventually contributed to my success, I truly believe that without the strong foundation and opportunities provided by Upward Bound, my present situation would not be nearly as favorable,” remarked Edwin Pimentel ’10 about the positive impact the Upward Bound for English Language Learners (UBELL) program has had on his life.

UBELL is among the many offerings provided to high school students by NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP). It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and designed to address the needs of first-generation college and low-income students as they make their way toward admission to higher institutions of learning. In addition to attending academic classes in math and science, UBELL students receive support in achieving competence in English and instruction in goal setting, study skills and time management.

Edwin Pimentel ’10 is a UBELL alum working in program management at Lockheed Martin.

Pimentel, who was born and raised until age 13 in the Dominican Republic, came to the United States with his parents and younger brother and sister. They arrived in Newark, N.J., just days after 9/11. The culture shock, particularly at that time, was compounded by his limited proficiency in English.

“I knew a few words to get by,” he recalled. “Overall, my first year was rough — getting used to the new culture, the cold, and being shy about speaking out loud due to self-consciousness.”

He learned about UBELL from a fellow student and applied to the program during his sophomore year at Barringer High School. Once enrolled, he participated year-round and took advantage of SAT and college prep courses along with guidance in applying to schools. His fondest memory of his UBELL experience was living on-campus at NJIT during the summer months.

“That turned out to be invaluable for me after high school,” Pimentel said. “It helped me improve my people skills, practice [English] more and more, and understand the responsibilities that come with living somewhat alone. It also helped me build lots of relationships within NJIT.”

Through UBELL, Pimentel not only improved his grades and ability to speak English, he also graduated from Barringer among the top five in his class. And while he visited nearly 10 colleges, he ultimately chose to apply to and attend NJIT, his “home away from home,” and studied mechanical engineering as a student in the Educational Opportunity Program. Today, Pimentel is in program management at Lockheed Martin, where he assists in the implementation and delivery of all contracted items (including jets) and ancillary equipment. He lives in Texas and also holds a master’s degree in engineering management with a concentration in systems engineering from University of Texas at Arlington.

“Before joining Upward Bound, I felt lost in this new world and sensed that the ‘land of opportunities’ was not a real thing,” acknowledged Pimentel, a first-generation college student whose siblings also are UBELL alum and whose cousin picked up an NJIT civil-engineering undergraduate-studies diploma at the university’s May 2017 commencement. “Upward Bound became my salvation.”

College Bound, Thanks to UBELL

Charged with enhancing students’ college readiness and success, UBELL also preps parents unfamiliar with the college process through financial aid and enrollment counseling. UBELL services are free, as are books, instructional supplies, field trips, meals and tickets for public transportation. Since its inception at NJIT’s CPCP in 1999, the program has served more than 700 students from targeted Newark high schools, with over 300 pursuing post-secondary education.

One of its recent graduates is Nicole Encalada, who is moving on from East Side High School to study accounting at Kean University this fall. Encalada, too, is a first-generation college student. She is the second of three daughters and has grown up in Newark, supported by her mother, a single parent employed as a hotel housekeeper.

Encalada participated in UBELL from ninth through 11th grade, during both summers and school years. She confesses that her English was poor before the program and her pronunciation unclear — “I really didn’t understand what people were saying to me” — and looked to the program to help her with speaking, reading and writing. The opportunity to visit college campuses and get assistance with college applications through UBELL attracted her as well.

“The program helped me with applications and I learned more about different schools and also the different programs they have,” she said. “[Without UBELL], maybe I wouldn’t have applied to college.”

Having always been interested in mathematics, Encalada wants to become a certified public accountant. For now, she’s thrilled that she’s going to college — and she’s not alone. “My mom is very happy for me to go to college, and have a career and my dream job.”

NJIT Graduate Student Wins IBM Fellowship to Develop Brain-Inspired Computing Systems

S. R. Nandakumar, a graduate student in electrical engineering, has won a coveted IBM Ph.D. fellowship to support his work on computer systems that mimic the architecture of the human brain. The international fellowship program, which is intensely competitive, awards exceptional graduate students in diverse fields who are tackling technical problems fundamental to innovation.

Nandakumar is developing systems that learn to perform intelligent tasks, from recognizing words and images to executing higher cognitive functions such as speech recognition and language translation. By mimicking the key features of the brain’s network – its neurons, synapses, and mechanisms that change the connections in the network over time – he hopes to raise the level of computers’ learning and inference capabilities while lowering the amount of energy required for their operation.

“The brain is a fascinating information-processing system and we are trying to mimic its behavior to build the next generation of intelligent computing platforms,” Nandakumar says. “We will be implementing new brain-inspired algorithms using IBM’s nanoscale hardware technologies.”

Nandakumar joined NJIT in 2016 to work on this project with Bipin Rajendran, (below, right) an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and expert in nanoscale electronic devices and system design.

“The goal of our research is to build novel computing systems that are inspired by the architecture of the brain,” Rajendran noted. “Compared to the machine-learning algorithms that are popular today, we are developing algorithms for spiking neural networks that mimic the brain’s ability to encode information in the electrical spikes signaled by neurons. We hope that these algorithms, when implemented using nanoscale devices, will one day lead to learning systems that approach the efficiency of the brain.”

The neurons in the brain fire at a very slow rate to communicate with each other compared to the signaling speeds in modern computers. However, each neuron’s spike is transmitted to thousands of other neurons. It is believed that this parallel information-processing paradigm allows the brain to operate with very high efficiency: a mere 20 watts is sufficient to control all of a person’s actions, thoughts, and emotions.

Rajendran added, “We are very fortunate that IBM Research, which is the leading research center in the world in the field of cognitive computing, is collaborating with us on this exciting project. IBM’s support of Nandakumar will enable us to jointly explore several new promising algorithms on IBM’s nanoscale hardware platforms for brain-inspired computing.”

The new algorithms will be implemented on hardware platforms that use nanoscale devices made of chalcogenide materials used for making phase change memories, a novel solid-state memory technology. These devices, unlike the transistors in today’s computers, can store information in an analog fashion, significantly improving overall learning efficiency.

“Spiking neural networks are considered to have significant potential for realizing highly energy-efficient neuromorphic hardware. IBM and NJIT are jointly investigating algorithms and non-von Neumann computing platforms to address the challenging problem of learning in spiking networks,” said Evangelos Eleftheriou, Ph.D., IBM Fellow, who leads the research group at IBM Research-Zurich.

Nandakumar will spend three months this summer in Zurich working closely with the IBM team, in particular with Abu Sebastian, Ph.D., who also manages a European Research Council project on non-von Neumann computing.

Von Neumann architecture, named for the computing pioneer John von Neumann, separates the two functions of data processing and storage in computing systems today. “But that’s not how the brain works,” Rajendran noted. “IBM’s new hardware platforms, for example, would enable devices to seamlessly merge information processing and storage using substantially less power than today’s computers.”

But several challenges remain before computers achieve the efficiency of the human brain. “We are currently studying how the systems perform, especially in light of reliability constraints that are inherent to nanoscale devices,” Rajendran says. “The initial results of our research appear promising.”

Nandakumar will present the team’s findings at the upcoming 2017 Device Research Conference, to be held in June at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

NJIT’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Programs Presented at the United Nations

President Joel S. Bloom, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Cesar Bandera and MBA student Miriam Helmy represented NJIT at the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) Summit on Micro-, Small & Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) held at the United Nations May 11 to celebrate United Nations General Assembly proclamation A/71/L.60 making June 27 Global MSME Day.

At the summit, which included SBA Administrator Linda McMahon and presidents from universities with strong entrepreneurship programs, the ICSB recognized NJIT’s commitment to economic development and its success in entrepreneurship education to students and regional companies. At the request of New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks and ICSB Executive Director Ayman El Tarabishy, Bloom outlined NJIT’s strategic resources for MSMEs including the Enterprise Development Center and the New Jersey Innovation Institute, and was a signatory to the event’s proclamation (see

Also at the summit, the U.N. and ICSB announced the activities of the inaugural U.N. Global MSME Day to be held June 27 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A central activity is the ICSB Academy – an entrepreneurship boot camp directed by Bandera and Helmy that brings together over 100 university students and dozens of educators and successful entrepreneurs from around the world ( In keeping with the theme of U.N. Global SMSE Day, Bandera and Helmy will guide students to form startups that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (