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Atlantic Cape Alum Gina Harvell Receives Rutgers Continuing Studies First Ever Lifelong Learner Award

01/16/2024 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
Gina Harvell and Atlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara Gaba

MAYS LANDING — For Atlantic City native Gina Harvell it began as a dream, one that seemed impossible and unimaginable. Homelessness and drug addiction had led her to existing day-in and day-out in Brown’s Park located across the street from Atlantic Cape Community College’s Charles D. Worthington Atlantic City campus. It was here where Harvell would spend innumerable hours wondering, dreaming and hoping for brighter days.

Gina Harvell smiles after receiving her Lifelong Learner Award from RutgersWhile access to higher education was never physically far away, for Harvell the distance appeared to be an unbridgeable gulf. She believed in herself and her dreams, and received unwavering support from her husband, children, family and friends. Harvell would eventually rid herself of her demons, surviving breast cancer, earning her GED in 2010, her associate’s degree from Atlantic Cape in 2020, her bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University on the Mays Landing campus in 2022 and later this spring, her master’s degree in social work from Rutgers as well.

Recognizing these accomplishments and personal perseverance, Rutgers Statewide, Division of Continuing Studies Vice President Richard J. Novak presented Harvell with the inaugural Lifelong Learner Award, whose creation was inspired by her story, on Thursday, January 11 at Atlantic Cape’s Mays Landing campus.

“We are all here today to say that what seems impossible is really possible. A person who suffered with homelessness, addiction, incarceration can be transformed, can be a success, can stand as a role model for lifelong learners everywhere,” said Novak. “We could not think of a more outstanding example than Gina of a lifelong learner.”

A young mother at the time, Harvell dropped out of high school at 17. Life was hard and many hurdles, including imprisonment and the passing of her mother, impeded her path forward. Even during her darkest hours, sitting in that park and with every seed of doubt percolating in her mind, Harvell had a dream, knew her path and knew that she wanted to be in the service of others.

Gina Harvell is overcome with emotion“While I was in that park I used to look across at Atlantic Cape and wonder why can’t I go to that school. Oh Gina, you don’t have a high school diploma. So, I continued for many more years getting high in that park,” admitted Harvell. “My children motivated me to become a better mother. I told myself that once I had a grandchild that I would never use drugs again. And, while I was away at a halfway house, my son came to visit me and tell me that his girlfriend was pregnant. When I came home my grandson was 30 days old and I never looked back.”

In September of 2010, Harvell achieved her first goal by attaining her high school diploma by the State of New Jersey’s Department of Education after passing her General Educational Development (GED) exam.

When Harvell registered at Atlantic Cape in 2018 she was certain of the path that she intended to follow. In the service of helping others became her calling, her life and professional goal.

“I let my advisor know what path I wanted to take and she guided me through that path,” said Harvell, who received a Powell Family Foundation/Jon R. Powell Family Division scholarship, assistance from Atlantic Cape’s Financial Aid department, input and direction from Testing Specialist Darick Garrison, numerous math tutors and Vita Stovall, student service navigator at the Worthington Atlantic City campus, who helped Harvell select and register for all of her classes.

Gina Harvell with family and friendsAtlantic Cape President Dr. Barbara Gaba recalled the first time she met Harvell in 2019.

“I’ll never forget the day that Gina and I first met. I host Pizza with the President on all of our campuses where I engage with our students. That day Gina came up to me and asked, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ She began to tell me her story and how far she had come in her journey through persistence and hard work,” said Gaba, who presented Harvell with a framed photograph that was taken of them together on that day.

Harvell earned her Associate in Science Degree in Human Services from Atlantic Cape in 2020.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I had given up. I gave up in my head so many times, but in my heart I knew that I was there,” concluded Harvell. “I was determined to reach my goal of becoming a social worker and being able to give back to the community I grew up in. Never look down on anyone. Never turn your back on anyone because the next Gina Harvell could be looking for that spark.”

“Gina was able to realize her educational goals despite facing obstacles that easily could have deterred her. Gina took every advantage of the opportunities offered to her and worked extremely hard to accomplish where she is today. Indeed, she is a role model for so many who share a life story that's similar to hers. She is an inspiration to all of us,” proclaimed Gaba.

Harvell continued her education at Rutgers University where she would earn her Bachelor’s Degree, Summa Cum Laude, in Social Work in 2022. Rutgers’ Lifelong Learning Center on Atlantic Cape’s Mays Landing campus opened in 2012 and Gaba praised the collaboration between the two institutions of higher learning.

“Atlantic Cape and Rutgers have a long-standing relationship, partnership that has provided numerous opportunities for local residents to make it possible for them to pursue educational opportunities closer to home that may not have been possible elsewhere,” said Gaba.

Harvell’s accomplishments were acknowledged as a true sign of hope and inspiration for all.

“We love heroes. Heroes who do things that we never thought we could do. Gina falls into this category,” said Novak. “She has done things and accomplished what many, if not most of us, thought could never be done. She stands as an inspiration for us all.”

“It takes a village to raise a successful lifelong learner each step along the way. But, Gina did the hard work and we are all acknowledging that story,” said Novak. “We all acknowledge how Gina did the hard work and we are here to celebrate her success, but also our success because Gina is our success, and we are so so proud and humbled by that success.”

Visit our Flickr page to view a photo gallery from today’s event.



About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape Community College is a Middle States accredited, 2022 Achieving the Dream Leader College and Hispanic Serving Institution proudly serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. As a comprehensive, two-year community college, Atlantic Cape offers 47 undergraduate degree programs, and 33 certificate and workforce development professional series programs at its Mays Landing, Atlantic City and Cape May campuses. Atlantic Cape is home to the renowned Academy of Culinary Arts, rated the top culinary school in New Jersey, and for more than 50 years, our highly-acclaimed Nursing program. Atlantic Cape also partners with several four-year universities to offer students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree without having to leave home.