Tony Howell (left) and NJIT President Joel Bloom meeting with student leaders at NJIT.
Laurence “Tony” Howell, executive director of NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), was given a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Leadership award from Stand & Deliver, a nonprofit group that helps young people improve their communication skills.
Howell was recognized May 9 during the group’s annual Night of Eloquence, an annual awards dinner held at Nanina’s in the Park in Belleville, New Jersey.
Steve Adubato, president and founder of Stand & Deliver, described Howell as one who embodies MLK’s spirit and legacy.
“Through his work at NJIT, Tony has helped so many young people, who so many have discounted, to pursue their dreams and reach their potential by succeeding in college and ultimately competing in life,” said Adubato. “Tony’s dedication to making a difference and being the change that we ask the young leaders in the Stand & Deliver program to be is the exact reason why he embodies everything that Dr. King was about. If this world had more Tony Howells in it, it would be a much better place.”
NJIT President Joel Bloom, who is on the board of Stand & Deliver, introduced Howell, noting that his impassioned leadership of the Educational Opportunity Program has changed the lives of thousands of students at NJIT
"Tony is being acknowledged tonigt for his legendary work with economically poor students from urban school districts," said Bloom. "He transforms their lives by guiding and helping them to receive an NJIT education."
In accepting the award, Howell recounted a few of his youthful missteps, which included dropping out of college during his freshman year, at which point his father immediately enrolled him in the military, where he served during Viet Nam as a Green Beret. And it was during combat, with killing all around him, that Howell said he found his calling: To return to college and get a degree and help others, especially underrepresented youth, make it through college.
“Do not let anything stand in the way of your realizing your potential and your dreams,” Howell said to the many young students from Stand & Deliver who attended the dinner. “I’m overwhelmed and honored to get this award, and I’m delighted to see how focused, self-assured and determined you all are.”
In his distinguished, nearly 19-year tenure at NJIT, Howell has done precisely that; helped thousands of underrepresented students realize their dreams and their potential. Many of them come to NJIT unprepared for college work; but with assistance from Howell and his EOP staff, and with ample dollops of “tough love,” they graduate from NJIT with STEM degrees and good jobs.
To students in the EOP program, Howell is a monumental figure, a demanding drill sergeant with a heart of gold who works day and night to ensure that they –– his “EOP family” –– succeed. And to those EOP students who grow up in single-parent homes, Howell often serves as a surrogate father, one who goads and prods them to excel. Those students don’t call him Mr. Howell: They call him “dad.”
Case in point is Jennifer Guevara, who received her bachelor’s from NJIT in 2004 and her master’s in 2006 and now has a top job at Lockheed Martin. She also serves as an Albert Dorman Honors College Board of Visitors member. By her own admission, she graduated from an urban city high school that left her unprepared for NJIT. But luckily, she was admitted to NJIT by way of EOP. And that made all the difference in her college career and her professional career.
“Mr. Howell was like a surrogate father to me,” said Guevara. “Many EOP students refer to him, with reverence, as a father figure. And he definitely deserves that loving title. Like many EOP students, I was the first in my family to attend college and I came from a poor urban school district -- New Brunswick -- that didn’t really prepare me for a great school like NJIT. I also grew up in a single-mother family. I had a few family problems when I was a student, but Mr. Howell was always there to help me. If it wasn’t for him, I would not be where I am today. He’s the man I call ‘dad.’”
By Robert Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org)