At age 38, Zion Crichlow is a nontraditional student who has seen it all.
After studying music and bouncing around various colleges in the early aughts, the Neptune, NJ, native found his calling in the mental-health and substance-abuse fields, working in various capacities for 12 years before returning to school at Rutgers University–Newark in 2018 to study Psychology and Youth Development and Justice.
He proudly graduated from University College–Newark, part of the the School of Arts & Sciences–Newark, this spring.
“Most things in my life haven’t been traditional, and being a student at this time is really no different, and I embrace it,” said Crichlow. “It provides a different means of focus and intentionality.”
Crichlow’s road has been an interesting one. In 2007, after studying songwriting and piano, and after brief stints at Long Island University and Rutgers-New Brunswick, he took some county college courses to help a good friend living with HIV. The courses ended up focusing on addiction as well as people who are HIV positive. It was there he discovered his passion for helping others and began interning at a methadone clinic, then became a certified alcohol and drug counselor.
Over the next 12 years, Crichlow worked as a treatment associate and primary counselor with adolescents at New Hope Foundation, which has multiple locations in New Jersey, then completed substance use–disorder assessments for parents investigated by the NJ Department of Youth and Family Services, in the family court building in Newark. He followed that up by working as the Newark outpatient adolescent coordinator, admissions manager and director of admissions for Integrity House, an outpatient and residential treatment provider in Newark.
“I decided to return to school in fall 2018 after witnessing years of disparities in care, experiencing devaluing due to lack of credentials, and understanding how I could contribute to change,” said Crichlow.
Most things in my life haven’t been traditional, and being a student at this time is really no different, and I embrace it. It provides a different means of focus and intentionality.
He took full advantage of the opportunity, absorbing a full load of courses (12 credits) in psychology, sociology and other related disciplines while working 55 hours a week at Integrity House. He did that by taking mostly night classes through University College–Newark, as well as some day courses that his supervisors allowed him to leave work for, and made the Dean’s List five semesters.
He also managed to take on other responsibilities during his final year at RU-N, winding down his job at Integrity House to work as a Research Assistant in Psychology Professor Paul Boxer’s lab, and as Outreach Coordinator for RU-N's Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which is part of the school’s Counseling Center and has required a 20-hour-per-week commitment.
For his efforts Crichlow received the Cassie Edward Miller Award for 2020-’21, given annually by the Office of Academic Services to a graduating senior—usually from University College-Newark—for outstanding academic achievement, community service, and contribution made to multicultural understanding on campus.
This summer, Crichlow will participate in the Graduate School-Newark's (GSN) Summer Undergraduate Research Institute, working in the Boxer Lab once again to conduct research on the impact of killing on veterans, the impact of social media use on adolescents, policing, and the impact of race-based violence. He will also participate in the P# Collaboratory’s Psychology Professionals of Tomorrow mentoring program.
Crichlow will begin a masters program in Psychology at Rutgers-Newark this fall, and his long-term plan is to become a clinical or developmental psychologist to support marginalized youth and their families. Meanwhile, he’s full of gratitude for his time at RU-N.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to grow, impact the world and actually do something about the changes I want to see,” Crichlow said. “All of the things I told myself, my insecurities and negative thinking, were untrue. Show up, commit yourself, and gain as much as you can from Rutgers-Newark. Amazing things come out of Newark. I’m grateful to everyone who has supported me.”