Albert Appouh knows adversity. His Ghanaian immigrant parents divorced when he was 5. He came out as gay in high school and faced taunts. He has grappled with a learning disability and battled mental health issues. He started and stopped college twice.
But through it all, the fifth-year RU-N senior has overcome great odds to not only be the first in his family attend college but to stand out while doing it, taking on two majors at Rutgers University-Newark, being part of the Honors College, serving the RU-N and Newark communities with distinction, performing undergraduate research with renowned faculty, and starting a scholarship to pay it forward as gratitude for the numerous awards he himself has won.
“I’m committed to doing well and showing others that their background, medical history or social status has no effect on what they can accomplish,” says Appouh.
Arriving at RU-N in fall 2012 after stints at Seton Hall University and Essex County College, Appouh dual-majored in applied mathematics and economics, with a minor in business administration.
Intellectually curious and supremely motivated, he decided to stay at RU-N for a fifth year to fulfill the requirements for an extra major plus an Honors College senior thesis. The project looked at factors that influence academic achievement in math for middle- and high-school students. Appouh has known for some time that he ultimately wants to teach high-school math.
The desire to become a teacher aligns not only with his love of the subject but also with his commitment to helping others.
At RU-N he has served as president of the Golden Key Honor Society, where he helped create and run graduate-school and GRE/GMAT information sessions, along with resume writing workshops. He also was president of the Student Outreach Council, a student-run community service organization active in Newark.
In summer 2014, Appouh got involved with GS-LSAMP, a national and statewide initiative that encourages minority students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
He dove in as a research assistant for LSAMP Director Alec Gates, a professor of Earth an Environmental Science, who was studying factors that influence radon levels in the environment and soil. Appouh performed statistical analysis on the project, then presented their findings at an LSAMP Research Conference at Rutgers–New Brunswick, and at a black-doctoral-network conference in Philadelphia.
“The work was really in line with my applied mathematics major, and a great opportunity to learn from Dr. Gates,” says Appouh.
Through LSAMP, he also has tutored math students at Newark and East Orange high schools, has been a high school teacher’s aide (in math), and has peer-tutored fellow RU-N students. Appouh also advised newly admitted and transfer students about life as a STEM student at RU-N.
During his time at Rutgers, Appouh has also been involved with RU Pride, the Newark campus’ LGBTQ student organization. As part of this group, he has walked in New York City’s Pride March, held a fundraiser for families affected by the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting, and shared his coming-out story at various events. He also took part in this year’s Rainbow Graduation & Pride Awards Celebration, hosted by RU-N’s LGBTQ & Diversity Resource Center.
“I came out in high school but didn’t feel truly welcomed until I arrived at RU-N. It’s been a really supportive environment here,” says Appouh. “We’re such a diverse campus, and I’ve felt at home here.”
Of all the things that make Appouh stand out, however, it may be his dogged pursuit of scholarships to fund his education that looms largest.
He says that early on at RU-N, he did the math and realized he would be ineligible for financial aid after 180 credits and would have to seek other sources of funding starting his third year. He got right to work, researching and contacting dozens of foundations and grant-making agencies that were looking to help students like him.
Over his five years at RU-N, Appouh has received nearly 70 scholarships ranging from $500 to $10K for academic excellence, leadership, community service, advocacy and activism, diversity, and career aspirations. He’s gotten so good at securing money that he ran scholarship workshops for students as part of the Golden Key Honor Society.
Not surprisingly, he was awarded a $14K scholarship from Columbia University’s Teachers College toward his graduate work, which he’ll start in the fall as he embarks on a degree in Math Education.
As if that weren’t remarkable enough, in January Appouh began establishing his own merit-based scholarship at RU-N, which will award $1K annually to one deserving minority student with a 3.5 or greater GPA who performs outstanding leadership and service to the RU-N and Newark communities. He’s targeting students who are LGBT, have disabilities, are military veterans, or are non-traditional students (over age 25, single mothers, etc.).
The scholarship is scheduled to go online in the fall. Appouh will fund it out-of-pocket and hopes to raise money for additional scholarships down the road.
“It’s an honor and privilege to give back to next generation of RU-N students,” says Appouh. “Others have provided me with so many academic and financial opportunities over the years. It’s the least I can do to help others in need.”