montage of top news stories from 2021

SASN's Top Stories of 2021

This past year brought new hope as we began turning the corner on the Covid-19 pandemic, shifting from remote learning to finally joining together as a community to populate the RU-N campus and restore a semblance of normalcy to our lives. The School of Arts & Sciences-Newark found ways to give back with a very successful food drive to support the families of struggling students and staff in this time of need; welcomed a $500K gift from one of our retiring faculty members; and saw our students, faculty and alumni continue to push the frontiers of knowledge, win awards and contribute in ways that make SASN the special home it is.

Here's a recap of our most important stories of 2021. Enjoy.


To support to the most vulnerable members of RU-N’s community as the Covid-19 pandemic continued challenging students, staff and their families, Dean Jacqueline Mattis and her staff hosted a Fall Compassion@SASN Challenge to help stock the shelves of PantryRUN, the school’s food pantry. To say the response exceeded Mattis’ expectations is an understatement. Over the course of the two-week food-drive, which took place September 14–30, SASN faculty, staff and students donated more than 625 pounds of food items to PantryRUN, with more due to arrive beyond the deadline. 

Casteel beside her artwork

ACM Professor Jordan Casteel, who has gained fame for her vibrant, large-scale figurative paintings of black men, women and children as well as group portraits, joined the 2021 class of MacArthur Fellows, which brings a $625,000 prize for Casteel to use as she sees fit.   

Michael cole

CMBN Professor Michael Cole has established himself as a formidable researcher uncovering how the brain works, focusing on the network connectivity of various brain regions, and the cognitive and neural mechanisms that make human behavior flexible and goal-directed. His groundbreaking research may  help Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia patients in the future. 

How It Feels to Be Free PBS graphic

On Martin Luther King Day, PBS’ American Masters series premiered How It Feels to Be Free, a documentary film based on History Professor Ruth Feldstein’s book, How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press). 

Szchech on red background

Associate Professor Robert Sczech, who retired from RU-N’s Department of Mathematics & Computer Science in January 2021 after four decades on the faculty, pledged a $500,000 endowment to support research efforts in the department. The Robert Sczech Endowment for Research in Pure Mathematics will be used to bring visiting scholars to RU-N to teach and collaborate on cutting-edge research with professors in the Math department. It also will provide support for conferences and faculty research, for graduate students finishing their thesis, and toward awards for outstanding theses. 

Mark Comensanas

This year Newark native Mark Comesañas (SASN ’04), who taught in the Newark Public School system for eight years before pivoting to Principal of UPLIFT Academy, then Head of Schools for LEAD Charter School, was selected as the new Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper Newark. 

V-DAy hero

It wasn’t love at first site for Roberto F. Santiago (MFA, ‘12) and Mark Labowskie (MFA, ‘13), but the poet and fiction writer knew they had something special not long after, making this a very sweet SASN Valentines Day story indeed. 

Audrey beside NEH emblem

Professor Audrey Truschke, a well-known expert on South Asian cultural and intellectual history, won one of 25 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Public Scholars grants for 2021. Truschke is using the $60K award to work on a sweeping single-volume survey of the history of South Asia from 2600 BCE to the early 2020s, highlighting the Indian subcontinent’s dynamic religious and cultural changes.  

Nelson Reyes

Senior Nelson Reyes had a lot to be thankful for as we headed into the 2021-’22 holiday season. A nontraditional student who, at age 35, is finished up his college career in December, Reyes has battled through adversity that no person should have to go through. But with determination, empathy, hard work and the support of professors and staff at RU-N, Reyes fulfilled his lifelong ambition of being the first in his family to attend college and graduate with a degree before heading to medical school in the near future.  

Remolina with Trinitas hospital imposed

We checked back in with Dr. Carlos Remolina (SASN ’73), a pulmonologist who has been on the frontlines of the pandemic since March 2020, to gain his insights on the Covid-19 Delta variant. 

ITH screengrab of the GWB

We spoke with Robert Snyder, professor emeritus of Journalism and American Studies at RU-N, about the movie release of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” and how it compares to his personal experiences as well as extensive historical knowledge of the storied New York City neighborhood. 

Salamishah Tillet

Salamishah Tillet, Henry Rutgers Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing and the associate director of the Price Institute at RU-N, joined the class of 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellows this past year. She’s working on a new Cultural History of the ‘Me Too’ movement, exploring what sparked the mass movement and how it continues to create impact.   

Jerry Izenberg seated in the Yankee stadium stands

We had a rare chance this year to sit down with RU-N alumnus and sportswriting legend Jerry Izenberg, who at age 90 published his first novel (he’d published 15 nonfiction books before that). The result is a by-turns funny, serious and illuminating two-part series with Izenberg, who talked about his career; some of his most enduring friendships with famous athletes; Project Pride, the nonprofit he created in 1979 to help disadvantaged kids in Newark; and his deep ties to his alma mater. 

Alex Hinton

We sat down with Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Alex Hinton, Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and UNESCO Chair on Genocide Prevention, to discuss his latest book, It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S. (NYU Press, 2021). 

Carlos Medina

Carlos Medina (SASN ’89, NLaw ’92), a lawyer and successful businessman who is known in northern New Jersey for his civic involvement, is Creator, Executive Producer and Host of the popular Qué Pasa NJ television show on NJ PBS, now in its third season, which features in-depth discussions with an array of Hispanic figures from the worlds of business, culture, politics, nonprofits and academia, as well as non-Hispanic influencers and allies. 

Simon Reich

We interviewed Political Science Professor Simon Reich, who has a dual-appointment in the Division of Global Affairs (DGA), about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer and the broader issue of U.S. foreign policy in the region. 

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