NCAS Siblings Ready to Graduate and Take on Big Challenges
Kimberly and Stephen Guzman are siblings from Belleville, N.J., who are graduating together from Rutgers University–Newark this month. They are the last of three children born to parents who migrated to the U.S. from Ecuador in the 1980s.
Kimberly, 23, arrived at RU-N in 2012 and has taken five years to complete her undergraduate degree. Stephen, 21, came to campus in 2013 and is graduating after four years. Both are in the Honors College, and both have distinguished themselves in their respective majors and are leaving RU-N with a long list of accomplishments that would make any parents proud.
Below are profiles of this remarkable sibling pair.
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As a child, Kimberly had a deep yearning to be a veterinarian when she grew up, but severe allergies to the family cat convinced her she needed to abandon that dream. Her fallback career was pediatric medicine, and she started down that path upon arriving at RU-N, working as a research assistant in the lab of Professor Vanessa LoBue, a child psychologist, and as a medical assistant at a pediatrician’s office.
Her stint in pediatrics was short-lived.
At a campus workshop she attended near the end of her second year at RU-N, the moderator asked if there were any pre-veterinary students in the audience. Kimberly immediately shot up her hand, much to her surprise. At another workshop that same week, she was asked why she wanted to be a pediatrician.
“I answered, ‘Because I like to help people smile, and I’m allergic to cats and can’t be a vet.’ At that instant, I realized that I was about to make a huge mistake if I continued on my path toward med school,” she says.
Kimberly pivoted and decided to give veterinary school a chance. She started by volunteering at the West Orange Animal Hospital and the Turtle Back Zoo.
She knew she’d made the right decision and hasn’t looked back since.
She majored in biology and minored in psychology, eventually became a veterinary technician at the hospital, a job she holds to this day, and went on to do summer internships at an animal rescue center in Ecuador and an equine hospital in Pennsylvania while at RU-N.
“I realized my allergies were from living with a cat and that temporary exposure was okay,” says Kimberly, who is thrilled to be pursuing her childhood dream.
While at RU-N, she also got involved with GS-LSAMP, a national and statewide initiative that encourages minority students to pursue careers in STEM fields, and she started working as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Biology Professor Jessica Ware, an entomologist and evolutionary biologist who specializes in dragonflies and termites.
In 2016, together with doctoral students in Ware’s lab, she co-authored a peer-reviewed journal article on new cockroach species identified in Guyana. And in January, with funding from an LSAMP–NSF grant, Kimberly did fieldwork in Australia with Ware and others, collecting and identifying termites. This spring she presented her findings at RU-N’s Research Day, and also completed her Honors College thesis on the history of zoos and animals in captivity.
Kimberly has done all this while spending three years as a fullback on the RU-N women’s soccer team, working as a mentor for the Braven Accelerator Program, and serving as a peer advisor for the Honors College.
“I owe such a huge debt to my parents, who struggled so much before coming to this country from Ecuador,” says Kimberly, “and to the Rutgers-Newark community for opening up doors and inspiring me to be confident and strong. It has been a life-changing five years here.”
Stephen, who graduates this spring after four years at RU-N, has followed a decidedly different path than Kimberly, opting to major in political science with a minor in psychology.
He also finished the bulk of his coursework in three years. In the interim, he focused on one off-campus internship after another, starting with a semester-long stint through the Honors College at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a legal nonprofit started by actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie that helps children seeking asylum and/or trying to reunite with their family in the U.S.
It was Stephen’s first foray into the nonprofit world and his first time working in a professional office setting, and the immigration cases there hit home.
“My parents are immigrants, and so I’d meet families and think, ‘This could be us,’” says Stephen. “They were vulnerable, and usually faced language and cultural barriers, and were so relieved to have an attorney helping them.”
During the second semester of his junior year, Stephen moved on to the ACLU, in Newark, analyzing civil rights complaints, conducting claim investigations, reviewing applicable regulations and statutes, and drafting response letters or providing referrals to complainants.
The following semester, with most of his course requirements completed, Stephen left for Washington, D.C., to do a 15-credit internship through the Washington Center, a nonprofit that connects students with opportunities in and around the nation’s capital. He ended up researching and analyzing court cases for the legal department of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a liberal organization advocating for the separation of church and state and equal treatment of all religions.
The organization paid for his housing near Capitol Hill and gave him a stipend for food and transportation. It was a major life event for Stephen, who, as a commuter student at RU-N, had never lived away from home.
“I learned to cook for myself and do my own laundry,” he says. “I now feel much more confident stepping out on my own after graduation. It was a great experience.”
During his final semester at RU-N, Stephen is working as a Spanish translator and interpreter for the American Friends Service Committee, again focusing on immigration cases, and he is also interning in the office of Sen. Cory Booker. Both internships are in Newark.
He also is finishing up his Honors College thesis, an analysis of unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court nominations throughout our nation’s history, a topic that came to him during President Obama’s fight to have Judge Merrick Garland confirmed by Congress.
For all four years while at RU-N, Stephen has received the Newark Chancellor’s Award and the NCAS Dean’s Scholar Award. He’s also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Societies, the Rutgers Pre-Law Society, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (along with his sister Kimberly).
His goal is to get some work experience before returning to Washington for law school.
“I’m so grateful to my parents, my sister and Rutgers-Newark for all the support over the years. I’ve grown tremendously here,” he says.