Natacha Ramos Da Silva Lima has always loved the arts and education. As a kid growing up in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, she was passionate about writing, reading, music and films and in 7th-grade proclaimed to her friends that she would one day get a Ph.D.
“I loved all the different ways to communicate things, and loved expressing myself through writing," said Lima. “And my parents came to this country so I could get a good education. It’s always felt like such a huge privilege. I’ve loved every second of it.”
Lima fused those two passions at the School of Arts & Sciences at Rutgers University–Newark, where she recently graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English and Education by completing the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP). Her path to that milestone was anything but linear, however: She started at Essex County College (ECC) before transferring to RU-N in 2018. Lima took that route because, as one of one of the 1.8 million children who emigrated with their parents to the U.S. before turning 16, and as one of 800,000 who received DACA protection before President Donald Trump rescinded the program in 2017, she had trouble securing financial aid for college.
“I remember getting the news that DACA was rescinded. I was about to finish Essex. You work all your life in this country, feel like it’s your home, and then you’re told you don’t belong here and have this narrative attached to you,” said Lima. “It was absolutely disheartening and infuriating. It impacts you every day.”
Lima’s parents had moved to Newark from Lisbon, Portugal, when she was 6 years old, looking for a better life. Her mother, who grew up in an orphanage and had a fourth-grade education, cleaned houses after arriving in the U.S. Her father almost finished high school and has worked as a waiter at various Ironbound restaurants. They were laser-focused on their daughter getting a good education and early on inspired her to go as far as she could and earn a doctorate.
She's on her way, having become the first in her family to attend and graduate from college.
Lima came up through the Ironbound public schools, graduating from East Side High School with honors in 2015. As she began applying to nearly a dozen colleges and repeatedly was denied financial aid, Lima discovered she was undocumented—a DREAMer—something her parents had kept secret to protect her. She chose community college because it was affordable.
My parents came to this country so I could get a good education. It’s always felt like such a huge privilege. I’ve loved every second of it.
Lima arrived at ECC that fall and took three years to complete her liberal arts associates degree as she paid her way through school. There she focused on English, humanities and writing as part of the Honors program, while working part-time on campus as a literature and writing tutor and off campus as a bank teller at Garden State Community Bank in Newark. She graduated as salutatorian with a 4.0 GPA. Just as important, she discovered her passion for teaching while tutoring and, through her coursework, gained an even deeper appreciation for learning and education.
As graduation from ECC neared, Lima sensed that RU-N would be a good next step and applied. Her hunch paid off: RU-N offered her a Chancellors Scholarship and a RU-N to the Top award that covered her tuition for her entire two years.
“I knew I’d have to do well at Essex to qualify for scholarship to continue with college,” said Lima. “Rutgers-Newark was close to home, and I knew they were a huge advocate for DREAMers and the undocumented community. I’ve always felt accepted and celebrated here, and they helped me out financially. I’m so grateful.”
Lima made the most of the opportunity, diving into literature courses with Professors Barbara Foley, Akhil Sharma and others. The workload and expectations were a shock at first—and intimidating—but she took every opportunity she could to meet her professors during office hours to work on her research, analytical and writing skills and eventually took 500-level undergraduate and graduate-level classes.
Lima accomplished this while holding down two tutoring jobs her first year—her old one at ECC and a new one at RU-N's Writing Center—and while fast-tracking her UTEP coursework and teaching internships, shortening that path from the normal three years to two.
Last fall, as a college senior, she jettisoned her tutoring jobs and worked part-time at Newark’s Central High School, shadowing a veteran teacher who taught AP Language and Composition, along with English 3, to juniors and seniors. When the spring 2020 semester rolled around and Lima was set to do her full-time teaching practicum at a different school, the veteran teacher asked her to take over her classes while she took maternity leave.
“This teacher had trained me, coached me and liked my philosophy, and wanted me more than a substitute for spring semester,” said Lima. “That made me feel super-flattered. The training wheels came off sooner than I expected, and she was there to support me and give me advice. So, it was a wonderful opportunity.”
Lima also started the UTEP Educators Club at RU-N to generate discussions around issues of education and social justice. The group held a daylong symposium in November 2019, featuring nine speakers and drawing close to 50 people to the Robeson Campus Center.
Next year Lima hopes to teach high school full-time in Newark or a nearby town while starting a masters-level Education program at Rutgers-New Brunswick, then eventually earning her Ph.D. in international education. Just prior to graduation, she received the David Diorio Memorial Award, given to an outstanding nontraditional student majoring in English.
Lima has cherished her time at RU-N.
“To get a full-ride acceptance was beyond my dreams, but getting accepted was my first step toward giving back to my parents, who took a leap of faith to move thousands of miles to give me a better life,” said Lima. “The support I’ve received from peers, professors and staff at RU-N has been insane. Every day I’ve arrived on campus, I’ve taken a deep breath and have felt so fortunate. The people here have made an immigrant dream come true, and that means everything to me.”