Volunteer Profile: Jason Nicolau (STERN ’03)
February 15, 2023
“Serving on committees such as the NYU Alumni BeTogether Conference and the NYU Opportunity Programs (OP) Alumni Network allows me to do just that, giving back to causes and groups I am passionate about” says Jason Nicolau (STERN ’03). Read more about how Jason pays it forward to his alma mater and beyond.
NYU alumni volunteer Jason Nicolau (STERN ’03) (he/him/his) is the Senior Director of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at NYU, a professional role that encapsulates his journey to and since his own days as an NYU student. “As a college student that was first-generation, low-income, a man of color, and born and raised in the Bronx, there were a lot of questions and self-doubt about whether I was going to be able to attend college and even graduate. To receive my diploma from NYU put that self-doubt to rest,” says Jason, who also serves the NYU community as co-chair of the NYU Opportunity Programs (OP) Alumni Network and on the committee for the NYU Alumni BeTogether Conference. Jason completed his BS in Management and Organizational Analysis and Information Systems at NYU’s Stern School of Business and his Masters in Public Administration from the Marxe School of Public Affairs at Baruch College. Continue reading to learn more about Jason’s involvement with NYU and how he continues to pay it forward.
How did you first become involved as an NYU alumni volunteer?
I became an alumni volunteer in the fall of 2020. In particular, my involvement began with the advocacy of creating a network for NYU alumni of the HEOP and Collegiate Science and Technology Entry (CSTEP) programs. At NYU, HEOP has existed since 1969 and CSTEP since 1986 and there wasn’t a formal way to keep the over 3,000 alumni connected with the program after they graduated from NYU. When we received official recognition for an OP Alumni Network, I was grateful for the opportunity to serve as an executive board member.
Tell us about your involvement with the NYU Alumni BeTogether Conference and the NYU Opportunity Programs Alumni Network.
I cannot answer this question without being a little personal. My parents are recovering addicts and as a teenager, they took me to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with them. There is a saying in those rooms along the lines of, “you can't keep it unless you are willing to give it away.” In general, this saying is about sharing your experiences, strengths, and hopes with others. To me, I translate it as the importance of paying it forward. One key aspect of how I attempt to pay it forward is by investing my time in initiatives that aid historically marginalized communities. Serving on committees such as the NYU Alumni BeTogether Conference and the NYU OP Alumni Network allows me to do just that, giving back to causes and groups I am passionate about.
Why do you stay involved with NYU? Why would you encourage other alumni to get involved?
Continuing with the theme of paying it forward, I stay involved because I feel grateful for the education and experiences I had at NYU, primarily due to the lifelong relationships that were established while I was a student and the opportunities I have been able to secure after graduation. Before I share my thoughts about how I would encourage other alumni to give back, I think it is important to acknowledge that donating money is not the only way you can give back. Volunteering your time and expertise to fellow alumni and current and prospective students has the potential to be a very fulfilling experience by sharing your story with others, offering your professional expertise, making professional and personal journeys less difficult for others, and/or mentorship.
What’s your proudest (or most fun) moment as an alumni volunteer?
Connecting with other OP alumni across years and generations and seeing them (re)engage with NYU, OP alumni, and current OP students. In particular, I love seeing a current OP student engage with an OP alum because OP students can see what success looks like after college despite whatever doubts they have while reaffirming that they belong and they are nothing short of amazing!
Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?
It is difficult for me to identify one person at NYU that I would say had a profound impact on me since I try to take something from every interaction. That being said, as a collective I cannot thank the Opportunity Programs students and staff that ensured I succeeded at NYU enough. Without their constant and affirming support, I know I won't be where I am today. I think it is also important to acknowledge the New York State Education Department and NYU's institutional support of programs like HEOP and CSTEP that allowed me to attend NYU.
What is a surprising way you’ve used your NYU education since graduating?
I don’t think I appreciated some of the learning that occurred in courses until after I graduated from NYU. I say this because there were courses that I was like I don’t understand why we have to take this. It was only after graduation that I started to see the value of some of the required courses. This has reframed how I think about learning overall. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn something, granted it might not be as impactful as you might initially hope, but with time that perspective can easily change. Outside of this, the NYU prestige is real; having the NYU name on your resume goes a long way and its network is far-reaching.
What is your favorite NYU memory?
The All-University Commencement in Washington Square Park and Stern Graduation in Madison Square Garden! As a college student that was first-generation, low-income, a man of color, and born and raised in the Bronx, there were a lot of questions and self-doubt about whether I was going to be able to attend college and even graduate. To receive my diploma from NYU put that self-doubt to rest and completed a promise I made to my grandmother (who raised me from ages six to 14) shortly before she passed.
What is your:
Favorite Food? I love eating out and trying new cuisines as much as possible. If I really really had to choose, it would be a bodega bacon, egg, and cheese.
Favorite Book? My little one would like to think it is How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton. In reality, two books that I read in college and ones I have revisited on occasion are Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano and Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence by Robert Harvey.
Favorite TV Show and/or Movie? I rely on Netflix's top 10 to determine what I plan on watching when time permits.
Favorite Song and/or Musical Artist? I have Latin reggaeton and rap, 1990/2000's hip hop, and freestyle on shuffle.
Favorite place on NYU’s campus? Say what you say, I enjoy sitting in Washington Square Park. In a lot of ways, it is representative of the complex yet beautiful city that is New York. Besides Washington Square Park, I love being in the Academic Resource Center (aka the Washington Square bookstore when I was a student) and Dibner at Tandon. These are two locations where most current OP students frequent and where most of the OP team is based. In these two spaces, I can interact with students, many of whom are OP, see all the amazing talent that exists on campus, and be reminded of my purpose of paying it forward!