NJIT makes Amazon’s ‘The College Tour’ encore (updated)

Producers returned to capture life through the lens of Spanish-speaking students

NJBIZ STAFF//February 26, 2024//  

The basics:

After showcasing New Jersey Institute of Technology three years ago, the producers of a series streaming on Amazon Prime Video returned to capture life at the Newark public university through the lens of Spanish-speaking students. It’s also among the first schools featured in the premiere season of “The College Tour en Español,” which is a spin-off of “The College Tour’s” original four-year-old series exploring colleges and universities.

Since September 2020, Emmy-nominated producers Alex Boylan, Lisa Hennessy and Burton Roberts have documented 150 schools, including several in New Jersey: Kean University, Montclair University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Saint Peter’s UniversitySeton Hall University and UCNJ Union College of Union County, NJ.

The series – which just dropped its 11th season – is a one-of-a-kind show that gives families the freedom to explore all options in higher education without the burden of travel costs or logistics.

oylan, who won Season 2 of CBS’s hit reality series “The Amazing Race,” came up with the idea for “The College Tour” after helping his niece with her college search. From there, he teamed up with Hennessy, one of the original members of Mark Burnett Productions, and “Survivor: Pearl Islands” fan-favorite-turned-travel-host Roberts, to develop a program that tells each school’s story through the voices of students.

From campus life, academics, sports, housing and activities, the student-driven segments give the audience an inside look at what it’s truly like.

In addition to Amazon Prime Video, all episodes are available for free on The College Tour’s website, along with resources designed to make navigating all aspects of higher education a more equitable and less stressful process.

With the Hispanic population representing the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., The College Tour wanted to produce episodes entirely in Spanish and narrated through the experiences of Latino students.

“Hispanic students play such an important role in today’s education and we felt strongly that it was important to amplify their voices, and also help inspire other Spanish-speaking students to pursue higher education,” Boylan said.

Other schools featured in the first season will include Arizona State University, Community College of Denver and Maricopa Community Colleges, as well as New Jersey’s Kean University.

All of the participating institutions, The College Tour believes, are committed to preparing Spanish-speaking students for success, through innovative learning environments, establishing valuable career connections or offering internship opportunities.

In planning for The College Tour en Español, Boylan said producers were so impressed by NJIT the first time in August 2021 that they knew a return to the Brick City was in order.

“I would say one thing that really stuck out while filming our first season at NJIT, was the sense of community on campus. It is such a hands-on school, and you get the sense that the students really enjoy being there,” he recalled. “We knew we wanted to share their commitment to Hispanic students with the entire Spanish-speaking population.”

Filmed over a five-day period in March 2023, the 30-minute episode gives viewers a look at NJIT’s award-winning research, active student life, NCAA Division I athletics and everything that makes it one of U.S. News & World Report’s Top 50 National Public Universities.

“From the moment you step onto campus at NJIT there is such an incredible energy that stems from the fact the students are thriving here. You can tell that they feel supported by the staff and excited by the opportunities around them,” Boyland said of spotlighting the school for The College Tour en Español.

In addition to Amazon Prime Video, NJIT’s episode can be viewed on the university’s YouTube page.

Bob Medina, a member of NJIT’s Class of 1975 and the first-ever Hispanic to chair the university’s board, believes the production is an effective way to connect with students — especially ones from Spanish-speaking families.

“When it comes to the Hispanic Latinx culture, parents have a big say because these are first generation students going to college,” said Medina, who was also the first in his family to earn a college degree. “So, it’s important that we convince the parents, as well.

“Most of the students that come to NJIT are proficient in English. It’s really more directed at parents who maybe don’t speak English very well or feel more comfortable in Spanish,” he said. “And, it’s showing them ‘NJIT is a great place, a safe place and a place that their kids can call home and get a good education.’”

“Hispanic culture is very family oriented, and I know a lot of parents, particularly of first-generation students, want to keep their kids close to home, keep them protected and make sure that they have a welcoming atmosphere,” he said. “I think they did a fantastic job. A lot of times when productions are done in Spanish, they’re just a translation of the English version. Sometimes they come across and sometimes they don’t because they don’t capture the essence of what they’re trying to do,” he said. “In this case, I was impressed the whole production team was Spanish or spoke Spanish. I think they brought a reality to the culture that they were trying to capture.”

Making the grade

The College Tour en Español comes shortly after NJIT was designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-serving institution, which was a major goal in the school’s latest strategic plan.

The new HSI status, which is reserved for colleges and universities with enrollments of full-time, Hispanic undergraduate students of at least 25%, highlights NJIT’s commitment to diversity, as well as unlocks several new funding and educational opportunities.

In the U.S., about 20% of colleges – roughly 570 schools – are Hispanic-serving institutions, including more than a dozen in New Jersey: William Paterson UniversityMontclair State University, Kean University, Atlantic Cape Community College, Bergen Community College, Essex County College, Hudson County Community CollegeMiddlesex CollegeNew Jersey City University, Rutgers-Newark, Saint Elizabeth University, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University and UCNJ Union College of Union County, NJ.

Considered key in helping serve a marginalized population, HSIs enroll about 1.4 million Latino full-time equivalent undergraduate students, which represents about 62% of Latino undergraduates, according to advocacy group Excelencia in Education.

Over the past five decades, NJIT has transformed from a commuter school teaching applied engineering skills into one of the nation’s preeminent polytechnic institutions, offering degrees in engineering, architecture, management, computing, science and select humanities degrees.

One of only 32 polytechnic universities in the United States, NJIT prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century through its multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education.

As a result, NJIT attracts talented students and faculty, produces graduates who are in demand in the job market, carries out high-impact applied research and fosters close partnerships with industries that drive local, state, national and global economic growth.

The public university now enrolls more than 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students, conducts more than $170 million in research activity each year and has a $2.8 billion annual impact on New Jersey’s economy.

Its many recognitions include an “R1” status – the highest possible ranking – in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for research productivity, as well as top spots on several lists, including U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 universities, Forbes’ best schools for student upward economic mobility and The New York Times’ great working-class colleges.

Another recent accolade came from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and African American Chamber of Commerce, which applauded NJIT as an Emerging Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Influencer in the chambers’ annual Trailblazer Awards program.

The latest honor is a testament to the university’s continued work to attract, admit and enroll a diverse population of students who can succeed. Such efforts enabled the university to welcome its most diverse first-year class ever this past fall, with underrepresented minorities comprising half of the class. The number of first-year students identifying as Black has nearly tripled since 2013 and Hispanic first-year enrollment exceeded 30% for the second year in a row.

Between Fall 2019 and Fall 2023, total Hispanic undergraduate enrollment at NJIT rose from 1,827 to 2,551, according to the school.

Learning from anywhere:

NJIT was among 20 New Jersey universities that were recently ranked on U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 Best Online Programs list. Click here to read more or click on the chart below for a quick glance.

U.S. News & World Report's 2024 Best Online Programs

In 2023, NJIT also earned the federal designation that serves Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander students and landed a $1.94 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to ease the transition of such students into college.

Commenting on the goal of becoming a Hispanic-serving institution, Medina said, “That strategic plan came out around 2020. At the time, I had a discussion with the provost and said, ‘If you want to achieve that goal – there’s two ways we could do it. We can just wait and see, because the demographics are such that the Hispanic/Latinx population is growing pretty rapidly in New Jersey.’ Or we could take a proactive approach to making sure that we get there and when we get there, it’s a sustainable type of a program.”

As part of that strategy, Medina co-founded the Hispanic and Latinx Leadership Council to advise, counsel and support NJIT’s drive to increase its percentage of Hispanic and Latinx undergraduates from 20% to 25% by 2025 to qualify for federal designation as an HSI.

The 11-member group – which includes leaders in business and community advocacy as well as alumni – also works to deepen relationships with Hispanic and Latinx businesses, organizations and NJIT graduates.

Medina, who co-chairs the council, described the designation “as a great achievement” and “reflection of the great diversity that we have here at NJIT.”

“It will also provide a form of federal funding for programs to encourage more students to follow a STEM education and also to provide the support that’s needed,” said Medina.

After profiling over a half dozen higher education institutions across the Garden State over the last few years, Boylan described the state’s schools as “incredible.”

“As someone from Massachusetts, it feels like home to me. The students who come here from in and out of state are very lucky, and really in my opinion, have access to so many amazing career opportunities,” he said.

Going forward, Boylan said The College Tour’s dream is to do an episode for each of the thousands of four-year schools and community colleges across the U.S.

When it comes to selecting which schools will be next, Boylan said it “always has to do with outreach.”

“We love when a school approaches us, and we also reach out to schools, as well,” he said.

Ramapo’s cameo

At Ramapo College of New Jersey, school officials sought out The College Tour to visit the Mahwah-based public liberal arts school, according to Lisa Ambrose, Ramapo’s director of communications and public relations. While a number of factors go into attracting, recruiting and enrolling students, Ambrose said that The College Tour episode “played a role in the increased interest in Ramapo College.”

In Fall 2023, Ramapo enrolled 5,521 students — its largest class since 2019 and second largest in college history, she noted.

“We also have received more applications (8,500 and counting!) this year than ever in college history,” Ambrose said.

After Ramapo’s "The College Tour" episode was released in fall 2022, the school used it on the road at high school visits and college fairs, in email communications and other events, Director of Admissions Anthony Dovi said.
After Ramapo’s “The College Tour” episode was released in fall 2022, the school used it on the road at high school visits and college fairs, in email communications and other events, Director of Admissions Anthony Dovi said. – PROVIDED BY RAMAPO

“Ramapo College has long held the moniker of being a ‘hidden gem’ in New Jersey. Dr. Chris Romano, vice president for strategic enrollment, outreach and engagement, connected with The College Tour to learn more about the process after recognizing the potential to raise the visibility of Ramapo College. He also saw the value from a marketing and recruitment perspective since peer-to-peer content is very relatable to the prospective student audience,” said Ambrose, who also helped produce the segments. “The ability to showcase an array of opportunities in a dynamic and engaging way was enticing. For us to execute storytelling with this production quality, coupled with the exposure to much larger audiences on platforms where we could not have space on our own, the decision essentially made itself.”

She continued: “It was a no-brainer for us to make this happen so that New Jersey, and the world, would learn about all we have to offer as a public liberal arts college.”

After Ramapo’s episode was released in fall 2022, Ramapo’s director of admissions Anthony Dovi said the school used its episode on the road at high school visits and college fairs, in email communications and other events.

“The College Tour video series are great assets for promoting the college brand, success stories, and overall student and academic life on campus,” he said. “For those who cannot visit campus, especially international and out-of-state students, the videos serve as a great tool to learn deeply about our location, our buildings and campus, student activities and residence halls, and more.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:33 p.m. ET Feb. 26, 2024, to include the complete name of UCNJ Union College of Union County, NJ.