Sports and Entertainment
Victor Cruz's Vision: STEM Education for Kids
New York Giants Star Partners With Boys and Girls Clubs
Victor Cruz, a wide receiver with the New York Giants, is involved in a number of charitable initiatives and is the founder of the Victor Cruz Foundation, which partners with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club of America to encourage youth interest in STEM careers and more. Here, he shares what motivates him, and why he's committed to helping children succeed.
Many people will look at me and see Victor Cruz, the New York Giant, the Super Bowl champion, the pro-bowler and the salsa dancer. But really, I'm just a kid from Paterson, New Jersey, who had big dreams.
Growing up in a city like Paterson wasn't always easy. You could quickly fall in with the wrong crowd if you weren't constantly making an effort to stay on the straight and narrow. Thankfully, I was able to find guidance from an incredible family. My mom worked hard to put food on the table, and taught me about the value of hard work. My grandma, mi abuela, had a strict rule that I had to be home for dinner before the street lights went on every night. At the time, I wasn't too thrilled about it, but looking back, I am so grateful. I'm sure that rule kept me out of a lot of trouble.
It wasn't just my family who made a difference throughout my life. During my childhood and teenage years, I met so many heroes in my community. My childhood Tae Kwan Do teacher taught me the importance of discipline and showed me that if I believed in myself and worked hard, I could accomplish my goals. My high school football coach, Coach Benjie Wimberley — a really tough guy who I never, ever wanted to disappoint — played a huge role in making me the man I am today as well.
As I continued to excel on the athletic fields and courts, however, I struggled in the classroom. There were times when my life had distractions, and what I let slip were my academics — not because I wasn't capable, but because I didn't work hard. I flunked out of college twice, and I was very close to never having the chance to have all that I'm blessed with now, but thankfully I graduated in 2009 with a degree in African American Studies. Once again, my support system served as my lifeline, and that helped me recognize the importance of all kids having a safe place where they are presented with opportunities to excel, to work hard and to have their education supplemented positively.
The Boys and Girls Clubs
For me, that safe place was the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson. It's one of the reasons I launched the Victor Cruz Foundation (VCF) in 2014. VCF works to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education as a vehicle to encourage kids to love learning and to prepare them for well-paying jobs in the future. The U.S. Department of Education said this year that while STEM jobs are steadily on the rise, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career.
I have worked closely with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to develop innovative new programming to engage youth and show them the potential of a future in one of the many STEM fields. I have also recognized the need to teach financial literacy skills to students. Football was my pathway to success, but not everyone is blessed enough to make it on a professional sports team. You need to have talent both on the field and in the classroom, and that's something I strongly support and promote through my foundation.
To me, winning with VCF means we are able to make learning fun and relatable to students' lives. My team and I have been blessed to work with some great organizations doing amazing things within the STEM field, including a past collaboration with the Stevens Institute of Technology to support the implementation of their Waterbotics program and a current program with the National Boys and Girls Club of America to continue developing STEM-related learning modules.
This fall, I'm excited to be piloting STEM modules in the Boys and Girls Clubs in Paterson, Passaic and Brooklyn that will tie science and math together in context with football. Students will work on project-based activities that encourage teamwork, collaboration, perseverance and critical thinking themes that are present in the NFL and essential for my position as a wide receiver. My hope is that other clubs and after school programs around the country will adopt these exciting and youth-friendly modules into their own curricula.
Focusing on STEM-related programming has provided me with tremendous opportunities. I have been able to work with the best minds in the White House and attend the White House Science Fair in 2013 and 2015. My partnership with the Time Warner Cable® Connect a Million Minds initiative lead to my involvement in Halloweenland, a one-of-a-kind sports and science fair fundraiser last year that introduced thousands of inner city youth to an array of STEM-related activities.
I promise that this is only the beginning. I am invested in having an impact off the field, and strongly believe that providing youth, like the kids in Paterson, with innovative educational opportunities is a win for students and a win for our society.
I have been incredibly fortunate in my life. No matter where I go from here or what the future holds, I will never forget where I came from and the people who helped get me here. The city of Paterson helped to raise me and I will never stop giving back. After all, I'm still that kid with big dreams.
Photo: Chris Talamo