Read this article as it originally appeared June 10 in The Sun Newspapers.
With her high school graduation days away, Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT) student, Krisha Darji, is as excited as any graduating senior but perhaps a bit more self-assured. After all, this is Darji’s second graduation ceremony of the summer — a few weeks ago, she walked across a stage at Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) to accept her Associate of Arts and Sciences degree as her family cheered.
“My Commencement ceremony at RCSJ was so much fun! I’m the first person on my mother’s side to earn my college degree in the U.S., so my parents were really proud of me,” she recounts. “That day really felt like a celebration of all the hard work we put in, and for that, I’m very thankful.”
Like many achievements deserving of celebration, Darji’s dual graduation from high school and college is a result of dedication and determination. The Deptford resident chose GCIT for its Collegiate High School Program offered in partnership with RCSJ, which allows students to earn dual credit for college-level courses taken while in high school. Several of her mother’s friends had spoken highly of the program and how their high school students had gone on to further reduce the cost of their education by earning college credits at a discount through RCSJ’s High School Option Program (HSOP).
Darji quickly set herself apart at GCIT and it was not long before high school guidance counselor and liaison to RCSJ, Jeffrey Burns, congratulated the freshman for ranking number one in her class. A puzzled Darji relayed the information to her family later that evening. Both of her parents received their formal education before immigrating from India and were unfamiliar with U.S. high school rankings, so she went back to Burns the next morning for clarification.
To keep her academic momentum going, Darji met with Burns about opportunities to earn college credits at RCSJ through dual enrollment and HSOP, and how she could best arrange her high school and college schedules so that she was able to take on increasingly advanced courses. After a computer course was taken at RCSJ opened a free period in her high school schedule, she enrolled in an Anatomy course at the College, and everything changed.
“I’m so blessed that I got to take Anatomy because if I didn’t, I’d have never known I wanted to be a doctor,” Darji explains. “I like that I could be exposed to so many career fields through this program. I was interested in IT as a high school freshman and now I’m going to medical school! It was a major flip, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t take college courses through RCSJ.”
When Inspira opened a new OBGYN practice in Mullica Hill, she contacted them about volunteering. After some training, she found herself in the maternity ward – more certain of her calling than ever before.
“My first day, within 10 minutes, I was in the lab watching them draw blood and take vitals from the tiniest, newborn baby. It was my junior year of high school and I couldn’t believe I was actually there. I knew that I needed to do this. I spent that whole day in the maternity ward, and I loved every minute.”
When COVID brought her volunteering to an abrupt halt in March 2020, true to form, Darji did not waste a moment. She took advantage of the virtual class environment to take on more college classes over the next few semesters, satisfying the requirements for her Arts & Sciences degree in time for RCSJ’s May Commencement.
“GCIT students have multiple options to earn college credit through RCSJ prior to high school graduation, including dual credit opportunities, the High School Options Program, and the Collegiate High School customizable senior year experience. As the liaison to RCSJ, I help each student develop a unique degree plan to make their academic goals attainable while leaving time for important high school experiences,” explained Burns. “Krisha has worked very hard over the past 3+ years to make her goal a reality. I’m so proud of her and the other 23 GCIT students who earned their Associate degrees this May. I look forward to watching them all cross the stage again as they graduate from GCIT – and to everything their futures hold.”
Darji plans to enter Rowan University’s accelerated medical degree program in September, earning her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering before continuing onto the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) to pursue her doctorate. She is still leaning towards an OBGYN practice, but is also eager to explore Pathology and Virology; no matter which path she ultimately heads down, Darji looks forward to embracing the more holistic approach to medicine taught at SOM.
“Rowan University’s accelerated medical program means more work and less free time, but pressure helps keep me focused and I like that about accelerated programs,” Darji admits. “I’m really eager to work in the field. I’m planning on restarting my volunteering work at the OBGYN in September. Even now, I want to go to the hospital and volunteer. I’ve never been more interested in becoming a doctor.”
While much awaits Darji, on June 16, she will slow down for just a moment to enjoy one last high school tradition – her graduation ceremony. As GCIT’s 2021 Salutatorian, she will deliver an address to her graduating class. She did not have to look far for inspiration; Darji’s salutatory address will focus on lessons learned from her parents, and how their unending support has enabled her own success.
“Giving this speech in front of my mom and dad means the world to me. A lot of people have doubted my abilities and my parents’ abilities because they’re immigrants, but they’re the smartest people I know,” Darji concludes. “Everyone says that my parents must be so proud of me, and they are, but I’m also so proud of my parents. Without them, I wouldn’t have the ability to do any of this.”
To learn how high school students can save money earning college credits at RCSJ, visit RCSJ.edu/DesignYourFuture.