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Redefining ‘First, Only or Different’

Dr. Reem Jaafar

For Reem Jaafar, Ph.D., being different in a big academic department—and in STEM—has taken many forms. She leverages different approaches to serve first-generation college students and guide them toward success. She is equally committed to supporting her colleagues as they grow in their journeys. 

“You can be different in how you do things,” says NJ ACE board member Dr. Jaafar, a professor and director of research at LaGuardia Community College. She and fellow board member Dr. Joy de los Reyes, a professor of marketing at Felician University, will host the NJ ACE virtual 2024 Lunch and Lead, “First, Only or Different: Moving from Deficit Mindset to Asset Mindset,” Friday, Feb. 2.

There is exceptional power in having the right mindset, says Dr. de los Reyes.

“It is important for women to realize that we each have our own value proposition and need to embrace our strengths,” she says. “By having an asset mindset, we can position ourselves for growth and success.”

Dr. Joy de los Reyes

Being first, only or different also presents unique opportunities.  “You can capitalize on opportunities to be different,” says Dr. Jaafar, adding that in her case, it doesn’t mean ignoring being a woman in STEM, a first-generation faculty member or an immigrant. “It means we are the product of our experiences, and once we begin to work in higher education, we are further shaped by the folks we interact with,” Dr. Jaafar adds. “That interaction is important and offers a great way to leverage collaborative efforts.”

“We can pay our wisdom and expertise forward,” Dr. Jaafar explains. “It’s an ecosystem, whether we are dealing with our peers, those who are ahead of us, or those who are behind us. It’s up to us to leverage those relationships to help everyone thrive.”

The Feb. 2 dialogue led by Dr. Jaafar and Dr. de los Reyes is just the beginning of a conversation that will continue at the NJ ACE Spring Leadership Conference. That event is slated for Friday, April 12, 2024 at Ramapo College of New Jersey and will feature author, speaker and entrepreneur Issata Oluwadare.

“The Lunch and Lead is not just a listen-in, passive event,” says Shadlyne St. Fleur, a student success advisor at Seton Hall University and programming chair for NJ ACE. “This is about drafting complete strategies. Attendees will actively participate and apply what they learn to their professional lives. We expect to follow up and learn how they follow through.”

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