NJIT President Welcomes Students Back To School with Pancakes and a Smile

Professor Angelo Perna serves pancakes with a smile.

On the first day of the fall semester, NJIT President Robert Altenkirch traditionally welcomes students with a pancake breakfast – a free breakfast served outside on the campus green.  While professors and deans serve pancakes and coffee, Altenkirch weaves through the crowd, greeting the students. 

NJIT is a demanding university. But it’s also a small campus with caring professors and administrators.  And the breakfast is just one of the ways that the university, and Altenkirch, shows its concern for students.

Some university presidents are aloof or intimidating or formal. Altenkirch possesses none of those qualities. He is casual, forthcoming and friendly.  He tells his colleagues, and even the students, to call him “Bob.”

And on this day, a September morning steeped in sunlight, “Bob” Altenkirch was happy to see the students back at school.  As they sat at tables, eating, Altenkirch asked the students where they were from and what they majored in – just making conversation, putting them at ease.  

He talked to Katrina Hornstein, a mechanical engineering major, for a few minutes.  Katrina plays for the women’s volleyball team and Altenkirch is a big sports fan.  He is also trained as a mechanical engineer, and the two talked about their mutual love of thermodynamics. He then talked to a table of exchange students about their respective countries, discussing cities he had visited.  

Altenkirch noted that this year’s incoming freshman class is the largest ever to attend NJIT. “And the students I talked today,” he added, “seemed serious and engaged.” Also for the third year in a row, he added, U.S. New & World Report named NJIT as one of the nation’s top-tier research universities.

The freshman class numbers 917 students, according to Steve Eck, director of university admissions. The Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT also has its biggest incoming class ever, with 160 students. The most popular majors chosen by the freshman class are architecture, mechanical engineering and civil engineering; other popular majors include biomedical engineering, biology, computer engineering, computer science and business management. 

“The quality of the students is high and it’s a diverse freshman class from many different states and countries,” Eck said.  NJIT offered many new academic programs this fall, which seemed to attract incoming students, he added.  Just some of the new majors include interior design, digital design, international business and computational sciences. 

About half of the freshman class lives in the residence halls, said Lynn Riker, director of residence life at NJIT.  Many students prefer to live on campus, she added, because of the convenience.  They can roll out of bed and get to their classes in minutes -- with no harried commute.  Living in the halls also means they live independently -- away from their parents.  And they also have the chance to socialize and make new friends and enjoy campus life.

“I’m glad the students are back and hope they take advantage of all the opportunities NJIT offers” Riker said.  “It’s important for them to get involved, both with their studies and with campus life.  Students want the freedom of college life.  But how they negotiate that freedom will determine how they do.  We very much want them to succeed and graduate and to be happy with their jobs and lives.” 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)