Meet Study Abroad Student Sharellis Sepulveda

Tuesday, November 14th
When Sharellis Sepulveda first enrolled at Rutgers University in Camden, she wasn't sure what she wanted to study. But as a first-generation student who had come to the United States with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was just 13 years old, she did know she was passionate about attending college. “My mom always told me that education is something that cannot be taken away from you,” said Sepulveda. “So, when I was given the opportunity to attend Rutgers–Camden, I took it.” Sepulveda is now a senior in the Honors College, double majoring in criminal justice and global studies with minors in Spanish and sociology. She is currently studying abroad in the United Kingdom for a semester after receiving a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship for International Study. Just four short years ago, the world of higher education was new to Sepulveda. But she had participated in programs that introduced her to the university while she was attending high school in Camden. It also appealed to her because she could pursue her dreams while remaining close to home. Still, even though Sepulveda was near family, she faced challenges in her first year as she adjusted to college life. “As a freshman, I wanted to prove to everyone who had believed in me that I wasn’t going to take this opportunity or their support for granted,” she said. “I felt like I needed to be perfect.” When she started to struggle with a particular class, however, doubt began to threaten her confidence and conviction.  "I had to learn that it is okay to stumble or even fail, because the most important thing is to keep moving forward and embrace those moments as personal growth," said Sepulveda. She credits her advisor for supporting her through those early stages, helping her to understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of the will to succeed. It is not uncommon for first-generation students like Sepulveda to struggle at first. While these students make up about one-third of all college students in the United States, they are often older than their peers, predominantly female, and are more likely to care for dependents or working while attending classes. First-generation students are also less acquainted with how to navigate various procedures and are likely to experience feelings of insecurity, shame, or isolation.   Sepulveda credits the many programs Rutgers–Camden has for first-generation students for helping her adjust to life on campus, especially The Center for Learning and Student Success (CLASS), which offers a range of support programs designed to help students be their best. "The support and guidance I have gotten from everyone at CLASS has been so important," said Sepulveda. "They have been my support system no matter what I am facing or what kind of help I may need." Now, as she nears graduation, Sepulveda is an active and engaged member of the Rutgers–Camden community. She is a member of Tri Alpha, an honor society for first-generation college students, serves on campus as a peer tutor, and works as a Spanish-language interpreter for Rutgers Law School. Looking ahead, she plans to pursue a master's in international studies and hopes to eventually work in a diplomatic position, helping underserved people around the globe. As for her time at Rutgers–Camden, she sees it as truly transformative. “I felt welcomed like I was truly a part of a family,” Sepulveda said. “At Rutgers–Camden, I was not just able to attend college; I felt like I belonged here." Sharellis Sepulveda is a Rutgers Global Media Team Scholar. Check out a recent video of hers on Instagram.  This article originally appeared on the Rutgers University-Camden website.

Center for Islamic Life Chair Recognized for Building Bridges Between Jewish and Muslim Women

Thursday, November 9th
Atiya Aftab is cofounder of the interfaith organization Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Atiya Aftab, chair of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers who helped launch an organization that brings together Muslim and Jewish women, isn’t giving up hope that there can be lasting peace in the Middle East. Aftab, an alumna and lecturer, recently received two coveted awards – the Terris in Pacem Peace and Freedom Award as well as the Rabbi Mark H. Tannenbaum Award for Advancement of Interreligious Understanding – recognizing her work through the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which brings Muslim and Jewish together to meet around the country. The two honors, one created by a Catholic diocese and the other named for a prominent Jewish human-rights activist, put her in the company of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Lech Walesa, the former democratically elected president of Poland. They come at a time when the Sisterhood’s work could not be more relevant, Aftab believes. “The new reality [of war in the Middle East] is just one chapter of a larger story, and the painful violence brings those realities to life,” says Aftab, chair emerita of the organization she cofounded. She hosted the first Sisterhood meeting in her South Brunswick living room with cofounder Sheryl Olitzky in 2010 and recalls the electricity in the room was palpable at the time. “We were talking on top of each other, not able to get over how much we shared: our experiences as women and minorities, eating differently than Christian women eat, issues of modesty. And I thought to myself – when do we have these opportunities to talk about these things?” Today, there are more than 150 Sisterhood chapters across the United States, Canada and England, as well as 10 youth chapters. Members learn about each other’s culture and traditions while building lasting relationships and participating in community service projects, among other hands-on activities. They will come together this fall at the Sisterhood’s East Coast Conference, scheduled for Nov. 18 and 19, at Rutgers. Aftab, who teaches in the Department of Political Science and the Middle Eastern Studies program in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, describes the Sisterhood as a lay-founded grassroots organization that enables women to come to the table to talk about the role of faith in their lives. “We create brave spaces where we can actually discuss issues that we might not otherwise discuss: How does your Jewishness affect your lives? What do these Muslim customs mean? We give a human face to our faith,” she says. A member of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, Aftab cofounded the New Jersey Muslim Lawyers’ Association and was a longtime member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Minority Concerns. Her Rutgers ties run deep: Aftab received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers-New Brunswick, majoring in political science, and her juris doctor degree from Rutgers Law School. All three of her children are also Rutgers graduates. Aftab sees the awards as a validation of her years of work. “I was overwhelmed when I heard about it,” she says. “I was very humbled. Ultimately, it gives that stamp of approval to the work we’re doing. I feel very grateful to have that platform.” The Tanenbaum Foundation, the source of the Sisterhood’s most recent recognition, works to promote individuals and groups that help counter extremism and violence in armed conflicts, among other goals. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is one of the award’s previous recipients. Sara Shenker of West Windsor, a practicing psychologist who received her bachelor of art’s degree from Douglass Residential College in 1999, learned of the Sisterhood’s mission and found herself intrigued by its philosophy. After attending a Sisterhood presentation at her congregation, Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, Shenker joined a Princeton-area chapter with 10 Jewish and 10 Muslim women, mostly, like herself, moms of young children. The new friends bonded over talk of throwing baby showers, getting kids into college and honoring their respective religious traditions. Together, they attended synagogue and visited a mosque. Although the meetings dwindled once the pandemic hit, “the organization is more important now than ever,” Shenker says in reference to the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas. “I don’t think a lasting peace will come solely with negotiation by politicians sitting across tables in boardrooms,” she adds. “It’s not a bad place to start, but it’s not a good place to stop, either. An enduring peace will come with children playing together as friends.” Aftab recognizes that the ongoing events in the Middle East are putting relationships to the test. “For the most part, I am pleased that we are weathering the storm and affirming our values – that dialogue leads to peace and that violence is never a solution,” she says. She said she understands that some people may feel the need to walk away from their relationships with their Muslim or Jewish sisters right now. “But those relationships with a stronger foundation see the humanity in each other’s groups,’’ she said. “We hope most of us will stay at the table, and that we will continue our conversations and model how we can dialogue over differences.” This article originally appeared in Rutgers Today.


Annual Global Health Fair

Wednesday, December 6th
5:00 pm
  Join us at the Annual Global Health Fair on Wednesday, December 6, at 5:00 pm at the Clinical Academic Building (CAB). To register for the event: In-Person: REGISTER HERE Location: Clinical Academic Building (CAB) 125 Paterson Street New Brunswick Rooms 3403 & 3404 Join the event virtually: ZOOM LINK For more information, contact: Office of Global Health at (848) 932-0233 or