“The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program is critical to Montclair’s dual mission of creating access points to a college education, and of servingness to the community,” stated Danielle Insalaco-Egan, acting associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of University College. “Each [graduate] has a unique story that led them to the program. We have military personnel, folks with long careers in industry, retirees, and so many other students committed to ‘finishing what they started.’”
Here’s a look at some of the recent graduates:
Chris Taite ’23
When Chris Taite ’23 left Montclair State in 2012, he promised his father that one day he would return. Years went by. “It was something that ate at me,” he said, but his focus had been elsewhere at the time. “I had people depending on me, and I didn’t have enough money, so after three years of school, I decided to leave for a job,” he recalls.
Intent on helping his family financially, he landed a job with Con Edison, where his father was employed. Taite had grown up watching his father, who came to the U.S. from Panama as a child, work hard to provide for his family.
Eventually, Taite says, his father urged him to apply for a supervisory position. “Last year, I applied and became a supervisor, someone with just a high school diploma.”
Soon after, he states, “I got an email from Montclair saying, ‘Hey, come back to school’ … At 17, 18, I wasn’t ready for Montclair, but at 30, Montclair reached out and said, ‘Hey we’re ready for you.’”
Taite resolved to complete his degree. “When I first went to school, I didn’t go for myself or for me wanting to be there. Later, …I wanted to be there. I wanted to challenge myself and finish what I started.”
Although he was determined, the path to success had its challenges. Taite recalls once, while supervising a crew making repairs four stories underground, having to scramble to find cell phone service so that he could use his phone as a hotspot for his laptop. Wearing his hard hat, he sat on some stairs, completed a paper that was due that day and submitted it. He was pleased when his professor commented that he liked a specific section of his paper. “I thought, ‘You have no idea what I had to go through just to hit submit… so it’s good to get that feedback.”
Now Taite has earned his BA in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Humanities. He includes the degree-completion program staff among those he counts in his corner, and already he is talking about pursuing a master’s degree. “The support from [University College Associate Dean] Daphne Galkin and [Assistant Director for Degree Completion Programs] Jane [Sanchez Swain] has instilled this confidence in me. Jane saying a simple, ‘I’m proud of you,’ puts an extra battery in my pack.”
Looking ahead, he remarks: “Having this new degree opens a whole new world to me. Who knows? I might climb the corporate ladder.”
Lauren Tiemers ’23
Lauren Tiemers ’23 had completed 50 credits at Passaic County Community College when she decided to put her studies on pause. “It just wasn’t the right time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was just about to turn 20; I had switched my major a few times.” She also had a busy life which included working full-time as a pre-school teaching assistant and traveling. “I spent some time in California and was considering moving there, but I decided against it and returned to New Jersey.”
Fast forward a few years and she had her son. “I was a full-time mom and lucky enough to stay home with him for the first few years of his life. By the time he was about two years old, I decided to finish out my degree.”
Tiemers did some research and found the BLS program to be a perfect fit. “I knew I wanted to be in the education field and saw that there was a concentration in Education, so I decided to do it.”
Education has been a calling for Tiemers. “All my working life, I did something in education,” she says. “Before I had a degree, I worked in childcare … I’ve been a tutor and a nanny. Everything centered around education. I knew that I potentially wanted to teach high school and gave it a try by subbing. From that, I learned high school is not for me. While in the BLS program, I became interested in the higher education field.”
Now recently graduated, Tiemers is working as a substitute teacher in her local school district while looking for a full-time position. She cites the incredible support offered through the BLS program in helping her to complete the program. “I had an academic advisor who was available for me whenever I needed. Even when I didn’t reach out to her, she would reach out via Zoom meetings and calls to make sure I was on track for graduation. If there [were] any issues with a class, she would help me find something more suitable.”
Tiemers continues to receive support from the program. Her academic advisor helped her look at sites to find jobs in higher education. Prior to that, Montclair’s Career Services helped her with her resume. When asked what the program has meant to her, she simply notes, “This program has meant everything to me.”
Keith Ryan ’23
Keith Ryan ’23 was working for a retailer that was in decline when he learned about the BLS program. “I was concerned for their future as my own. Coupled with the fact that it had long bothered me that I had not completed my degree, the timing could not have been more perfect.”
Ryan received his Associate of Arts degree in May 1999 at County College of Morris and went on to enroll at Montclair State University in the Spring of 2003. However, his circumstances were not ideal for finishing his degree. “At the time I lived alone, working full-time to support my education,” he shares. “Money became tight, external personal stressors could no longer be ignored and ultimately life with all its distractions further distanced me from resuming my studies.”
The BLS program was exactly what he needed to get back on track. “Honestly part of my hesitation to restart my journey at [Montclair] was the overwhelming uncertainty of where or how to begin. The step by step guidance and support I received put those feelings immediately at ease.”
Ryan earned his degree with a concentration in Humanities and minors in both Sociology and Classics. Now, he is the director of Logistics for a home goods supplier. When asked about the future, he says his plans are “to continue to be a good student to all the things yet to learn.
Caring for Our Students and the Community
Jane Sanchez Swain, assistant director for degree completion programs, works closely with the students.
“My hope for this year’s graduates is that they continue to embrace the spirit of lifelong learning and keep reaching for their goals,” she says. “This achievement shows that it is never too late to accomplish your dreams and explore new opportunities both personally and professionally. They will always have a special place at Montclair and I hope that they stay in touch!”
As for the future of the BLS program, Insalaco-Egan notes that they have exceeded their target enrollment for this program since its inception. She states this “demonstrates its value within the state and the region, and my hope is that we will continue to fulfill our promise of offering a pathway to degree completion for all students.”
To learn more about the program, visit: Bachelor Of Arts In Liberal Studies – University College – Montclair State University