When Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Business Studies major,
Candice Giunta, launched her campaign to become Phi Theta Kappa’s New Jersey
State President around a theme of overcoming challenges, she had no way of anticipating
the unprecedented obstacles that she was about to face. Knowing would not have
stopped her; nothing ever does.
Giunta had first enrolled at RCSJ in 2013. Soon thereafter, as she describes
it, “life happened.” She met her husband and paused her educational journey to
get married, give birth their children and begin working a full-time job to
help support her young family. Though she had moved from Williamstown to Runnemede
and was no longer located in Gloucester County, when she was ready to resume
her education in 2017, she knew exactly where she wanted to be.
“RCSJ was like home to me,” she stated with a smile. “I honestly
couldn’t see myself going anywhere else.”
Giunta immersed herself in college life and quickly became interested
in RCSJ’s Alpha Psi Pi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), a premier honor
society recognizing the academic achievement of students at associate
degree-granting colleges. She felt welcomed by the club’s advisors, chapter
president and members, and drawn in by their dedication to community service.
Already an active volunteer with her church and a mentor to individuals
recovering from drug addiction, once Giunta participated in her first PTK service
event – an American Red Cross blood drive – she was hooked.
“I was coming back as a nontraditional student, so I didn’t have too
many friends on campus,” she explains. “It was amazing to feel that warmth from
PTK’s members and advisors, and to connect with a group that was passionate
about helping others. It made me feel comfortable coming back to school.”
Her fellow PTK members began to feel like family to Giunta, and she
threw herself wholeheartedly into the club – first as a member, then as corresponding
secretary before finally becoming the RCSJ chapter president. When the
opportunity arose to run for New Jersey State President, the busy student, wife
and mother of three did not hesitate to throw herself into the race.
“I was excited to see Candice run for NJ State President,” said one
member of that family, Director of Advising and PTK Club Advisor Shawn Rutter. “She
is an inspiring young lady who has the passion and determination necessary to
succeed. After seeing what Candice
brought to the Alpha Psi Pi Chapter, I knew her skillset would be of benefit to
all other chapters within the state.”
Giunta began developing a campaign centered around overcoming life’s
challenges. She attended orientations, created campaign materials and signage,
and began working on her speech in preparation for the election to be held at
the 2020 Middle States Regional Convention, scheduled for March 13-15 at the
Seaview Hotel in Galloway Twp. As part of the process she spoke openly about
some of the darker moments in her past, engaging with members throughout the
region with an honesty and vulnerability that drew them to her. It was not your
traditional campaign strategy, but it was working.
“It was important to me to be genuine the whole time and that seemed to
sit with people better than just trying to campaign,” said Giunta. “I didn’t
want to be boring or dull; I just wanted to be myself.”
Just as Giunta was nearing the final weeks of her campaign, everything
changed and the entire world ground to a halt. What had begun as rumors
solidified into undeniable truth: the world was in the grips of a pandemic and
life would have to change drastically in order to combat the threat of COVID-19.
There would be no convention for PTK or large gatherings of any kind; and on March
12, RCSJ followed CDC and state recommendations, announcing the closure of
their campuses and a transition to online course delivery in order to protect
the health and safety of its students.
Having life turned on its head would have stopped most people, but
Giunta’s commitment to her goals did not waiver for a moment. The process of
campaigning switched to a virtual environment; instead of campaigning in person
at the convention, PTK required candidates to run a social media campaign
leading up to a virtual election to be held via Zoom on March 28.
“It was an abrupt switch and it was hard,” Giunta admits. “Every day
for two weeks I had to ask myself if there was something about my personality –
something about my motivation – that people need to know and that I haven’t
told them yet. These are people relying on you if you get elected. You don’t
want to just say whatever people want to hear. I knew I had to remain genuine.”
Giunta stayed the course and March 28, the day of the election, finally
arrived. More than 200 individuals participated in what she describes as “the biggest
Zoom meeting of all time.” It began with an awards ceremony; Giunta received the
Hall of Honor Chapter Officer award in recognition of the leadership and high
level of involvement she displayed in her role as RCSJ chapter president. Results
of the election for state presidents were saved until the very end. When they announced
PTK’s 2020 New Jersey State President, it was Giunta’s name that they spoke.
“I cried! It was so embarrassing,” she exclaims with an honesty that
has become her trademark. “I had to turn my camera off! I kept saying ‘I’m so
sorry, you guys.’”
Despite the hard work and dedication Giunta put into her campaign, and
the resilience she demonstrated by quickly readjusting to an entirely new
process, she was insistent that she could have never accomplished this on her
own. Her RCSJ PTK club family had her back the entire way.
“My campaign manager, Nina Barone, was amazing and I was able to rely
on her whenever I needed help,” said Giunta. “My PTK advisors, Shawn Rutter and
were there every step of the way. School was out. I expected to have trouble
getting a hold of people. No! Shawn answered every phone call. He was so
excited, and I know how much he wanted this for me. Jackie helped me rehearse
over the phone. I’m so grateful for them. I don’t think I would have made it
this far without my advisors by my side.”
Giunta has now assumed the role of PTK’s New Jersey State President –
the first ever RCSJ student to be elected to the role. She is already hard at
work, dividing her goals for this leadership position into what can be accomplished
now in a virtual environment and long-term goals to put into action once the
storm of this pandemic passes.
“One of my biggest goals is to bring all of the different chapters
together,” Giunta explains. “I would love to organize service events that
involve the entire region, not just one chapter. Not being able to physically
gather together makes that difficult, but we can still host Zoom meetings to brainstorm.”
know her best have little doubt that Giunta will meet and exceed her goals – despite
the challenging circumstances she is starting under and whatever roadblocks pop
up along the way.
living through some trying times right now as the country battles this pandemic;
being able to adapt to a situation quickly is crucial,” said Rutter. “Candice
needed to adapt based upon these same changes and deliver a campaign on a new platform
with very little time to prepare. That’s
what a leader does: adapt to the environment and utilize the resources that are
currently available to them in order to meet their goal. This is what Candice did, and that is why I
am confident she will meet any goal she sets for herself and for the PTK chapters
in New Jersey.”
For more information about Rowan College of South Jersey’s Phi Theta
Kappa Honor Society, visit RCSJ.edu/PTK.