Dr. Rahjaun Gordon is the director of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program at Montclair State University, a state-funded program in colleges across New Jersey that helps low-income and disadvantaged students succeed through financial assistance and guidance throughout their four years in college.
He was promoted to that position this past summer. In his time at Montclair State, he has been instrumental in supporting disadvantaged students and pushing them to succeed.
Raised in Trenton, New Jersey, Gordon came from humble beginnings. All around him, he saw his friends go down the wrong path.
“There was a wave of gangs in Trenton when I was in high school. And that really took over the city,” Gordon said. “A lot of my friends who I went to high school with, they became gang members, they got involved with different things. And it really reshaped the city moving forwards.”
After getting kicked out of various schools in his younger years, he knew he had to mature by the time he entered high school. Then, something happened which really pushed him to change.
“My mom got extremely sick and she had to stop working,” Gordon said. “And she’s the breadwinner of the house, so when that happened we lost the house. We had to move into a hotel for a little bit and then move in with my brother in a one-bedroom apartment, [and] about at that time I think [there] were seven of us. That just really focused my mind. Focused on not necessarily what was going on around me but how can I better my environment to take the strain off my mom.”
Flash forward several years later, Gordon became a hall director at Montclair State. It was there where he first became attracted to the EOF program.
“I loved working at Montclair [State] in Residence Life. I love the staff [and] the students I supervised, but EOF always had components that would get other campus partners involved such as mentor-mentee components, where we can mentor EOF students,” Gordon said. “So, I naturally gravitated to that when EOF hosted conferences when I was the hall director. I would come just to volunteer to help out.”
Gordon then applied to be an EOF counselor to students in the program and got the job. Dr. Daniel Jean, assistant provost for Special Programs and Gordon’s predecessor and boss, said the reason why Gordon contributes so much to the program to this day is because he is “very ambitious, very talented, a natural leader and innovation-driven.”
“To me, it’s his can-do attitude,” Jean said. “I honestly believe you can throw almost any task at him. And he’ll either know how to do it [or] challenge himself to learn it. But he’ll get it done, and his positive energy connected to that can-do attitude is going to ensure that he goes far. This is not his last stop.”
It’s those kinds of traits that eventually led Gordon to become assistant director and now director, guiding students all along the way. Eric Okai, a graduate student at Montclair State pursuing his master’s in social work, spoke on how Gordon helped him personally in the program.
“He has an expectation. It’s clear that he wants everybody under his care to be great,” Okai said. “He’s going to push you and he’s going to hold you accountable. So there are times when I’m confused about something where I kind of just don’t know any steps, [I will] literally set some time apart and have a conference [or] an in-depth conversation and work through those feelings, and then get back on track to what I need to do to make the next step.”
Okai also noted that because he and Gordon both were disadvantaged students, as most EOF students are, they could relate more. That was part of what made Gordon able to so easily connect with students in the program.
“He grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. I grew up in Hillside, New Jersey, close to north Irvington [and] Elizabeth, so just understanding what those communities are like, facing adversity, facing challenges,” Okai said. “So we connect on those kind of levels where it was pretty similar in how we came about facing that adversity and coming to where we are now.”
Now as director of the program, Gordon looks forward to continuing to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds get the most out of their college experience and go on to do great things in life.
“I think it’s one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet, just because from a life-fulfillment standpoint I think we all have a duty to give back in some way,” Gordon said. “Because I was always passionate about education, I knew I would be in the field of education, but to be able to give back to students that I can see myself in, and they can see themselves in me, I think it’s invaluable.”
Jean says he couldn’t be happier with his decision to give Gordon the position.
“He’s very passionate about the scholar[s] he serves,” Jean said. “So for somebody who has held the position for a little over 10 years, I feel very happy and honored to pass the baton to him and see how you can take the program to higher heights.”