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Montclair Alumni Front and Center at Male Education and Graduation Alliance (MEGA) Symposium

More than 200 scholars and professionals gathered on campus for the inaugural Male Enrollment and Graduation Alliance (MEGA) Symposium.

Posted in: Alumni News and Events

MEGA event attendees

On Friday, March 3, more than 200 scholars and professionals gathered on campus for the inaugural Male Enrollment and Graduation Alliance (MEGA) Symposium. MEGA is a nationwide initiative to improve educational outcomes for Black and Latinx males attending and completing college. The Symposium was co-led by Daniel Jean ’00 MA, assistant provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success, and Carolina Gonzalez, assistant dean for Administrative, External and Student affairs in the College of Education and Human Services.

“Today was a vision realized for the University,” Jean said at the end of the event.  “We are positioning ourselves to be the national leader for Black and Latinx male success at all levels, and we are very excited about the partnerships that were born today.”

Gonzalez agreed: “Today was an amazing, energizing and inspiring experience. This was an opportunity to gather in a community and have action-oriented conversations centered around issues that matter to all of us.”

The symposium consisted of two tracks: one for youth-serving professionals and community members, and the other for high school students. Honored at the event were two Montclair alumni: Dr. Gemar Mills ’05 and Gian Paul Gonzalez ’07, with many more former Red Hawks serving as presenters and participants.

Mills, who serves as chief academic officer and executive director at College Achieve Public Schools in Paterson, was honored for his career in education, including his notable achievement of turning around Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark. The school was being considered for closure after having had four principals in four years. Previously a math teacher and department chair, Mills spent one stellar year as vice principal when, at the age of 27, he was tapped to lead the failing school. He started the day with words of inspiration for the students and held an assembly each time a scholar-athlete won a college scholarship to demonstrate that hard work pays off. Having grown up in the Christopher Columbus projects in Paterson, he was a natural role-model to countless young men attending the school, and continues this work in his current role at College Achieve Public Schools in Paterson. CAPS offers an innovative vision for public schools and was created for youth who have enormous potential but limited resources.  

Mills commented, “the event was timely; we need to get young people of color into the pipeline – graduated and employed. It also was sentimental for me as a graduate of Montclair State University. I got an opportunity as an eighth grade student to stay on campus in Stone Hall and take classes; it helped me to feel I belonged… We need programs like this.”

Gemar Mills
Dr. Gemar Mills ’05, chief academic officer and executive director at College Achieve Public Schools, accepts his award.

Also honored was Gian Paul Gonzalez ’07, whose famous “All In” speech motivated the New York Giants to turn their season around and win the 2012 NFL Super Bowl. As a motivational speaker, he has traveled across the nation inspiring the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, the Army 
Cadets at West Point, the United States Air Force, as well as audiences at many other corporate, athletic, government agencies, and educational institutions. He has been featured on ESPN, Fox News, ABC, CNN and more. Gonzalez is the founder of Hope + Future, an afterschool health and wellness program in Union City designed to give students hope in their academic, social and economic future. He has worked with youth in detention facilities, bringing in college athletes to play basketball with the young men there. As a student at Montclair, Gonzalez was an NCAA First Team All-American forward. He was offered a few professional basketball contracts; however, he turned them down to continue his work with at-risk youth.

Step and repeat at MEGA event
Left to right: Daniel Jean ’00 MA, assistant provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success; Gian Paul Gonzalez ’07, executive director, Hope + Future; Dr. Leslie Wilson, associate dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and Carolina Gonzalez, assistant dean for Administrative, External and Student Affairs in the College of Education and Human Services

A number of Montclair alumni shared their experience and vision, presenting on topics from mentoring, to manifesting your dreams, to the first-generation professional experience and more. Speakers included:

  • Keith Bellamy ’10, HYPED, teacher
  • Elijah Blackwell ’19, Bordentown Regional High School, professional school counselor
  • Kevin Brenfo-Agyeman ’17, Ramapo College of New Jersey, academic advisor
  • Dr. Milton Fuentes ’94, Montclair State University, professor
  • Anthony David Gonzalez ’98, Empty Hand Training, managing director
  • Gian Paul Gonzalez ’07, Hope + Future, executive director 
  • Dr. Gemar Mills ’04, College Achieve Public Schools, chief academic officer 
  • Dr. Nicole Pulliam ’05 MA ’14 PhD, Monmouth University, department chair; associate professor; director of the Social Justice Academy
  • Martin Soto ’22, Montclair State University, student
  • Michael Spence ’14, Michael Inspire LLC, speaker/consultant 
  • Christopher Taite ’22, Montclair State University – Degree Completion Program, operating supervisor 
  • Jenabu Williams, MPA, ’01 MEd ’18 MA, JAB Education & Leadership Consultants, president and CEO 
MEGA event
Alumnus Michael Spence ’14 delivers one of two talks during the symposium.

“It fills my soul with joy considering I was once that underrepresented kid,” said Delfin Santiago ’14 ’18 MA, vice principal of Union High School, who attended the event. “I’m the first Latino school administrator in my present school district’s history. It couldn’t have been done without the numerous mentors and support system I’ve connected with throughout my life who were ‘just like me’.”

The symposium is the most recent of several events and initiatives related to the MEGA program. On Nov. 16, 2022, the EOF Boys to Men Future College Graduate Conference welcomed 300 high school males from 18 schools. They attended sessions related to financing college, the power of mentorship, effective decision-making and steps to forming a true brotherhood for positive peer pressure. For current Montclair Scholars, is a community hub to bond and promote higher graduation rates. Students sit in real barbershop chairs and get a trim while male EOF staffers foster discussion among the group about challenges faced and strategies for success. Another Future Graduate Conference will be held in Fall of 2023.

Beyond engagement/awareness activities and external/internal partnerships, the MEGA taskforce is also focused on data collection and analysis. The group will publish a report this summer with findings, recommendations and a repository of best practices. “The MEGA initiative will have far-reaching effects, and we are honored to have such accomplished alumni to partner with us in this important work. We look forward to continuing to explore ways to empower young Black and Brown young men to successfully achieve not just enrollment, but also graduation.” stated Greg Collins ’79, Montclair State University Foundation Chair.


Make a donation in support of MEGA.

Read more about the symposium.

Visit the MEGA website

View photos from the event.

Media Highlights:

Inaugural Summit Explores Best Practices for Young Men of Color – Diverse Issues in Higher Education, March 5, 2023.

MEGA Symposium to Build Pipelines that Bring Black and Latinx Men to College – Diverse Education, October 28, 2022

To attend and graduate college, Black and brown male scholars need more support – OpEd by Daniel Jean in, November 3, 2022

Dr. Daniel Jean ’00 MA serves as the assistant provost for Special Programs at Montclair State University with oversight of the Future College Graduate Academy, which includes the Educational Opportunity Fund Program (EOF).

Dr. Carolina E. González serves as the assistant dean for Administrative, External and Student Affairs at the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University, and also serves as co-lead of MEGA.