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Michelli Scholarship Supports Excellence in Teaching in Underserved Communities

In their newest book, Montclair Professors Emeriti Nicholas M. Michelli ’64 and Tina J. Jacobowitz lay out a rationale for education as the path to social justice. Through their scholarship support, they put their philosophy into action, supporting Montclair students who plan to teach in underserved urban communities.

Posted in: Alumni News and Events, Alumni Profiles

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Education for Social Justice: The Meaning of Justice and Current Research, by Nicholas M. Michelli ’64 and Tina J. Jacobowitz, Montclair State University professors emeriti, is more than a treatise on the role of education in building a more equitable society. Similarly, the Nicholas and Susan Michelli Scholarship is more than a way to honor Michelli’s parents while supporting Montclair students who plan to teach in urban communities. Both are expressions of the couple’s deeply felt philosophy about the potential of education to lift the aspirations of individuals, communities and society at large.

Michelli’s perspective is rooted in his experience growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. “My father, and his father, owned a meat market on Valley Road in Clifton,” he says. “I might have followed in their footsteps, but my mother – who was the only member of her own family to go to high school – wanted me to go to college. I was still a child when she would walk me to the corner of Valley Road and Normal Avenue, point to the Montclair campus, and say, ‘That is college.’”

Michelli admits to wavering a bit in high school, but encouragement from his high school teachers who were Montclair graduates and a state scholarship kept him on the path toward higher education, and to Montclair. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Montclair, he went on to graduate study at New York University and earned a doctorate from Columbia Teachers College. He returned to Montclair, where he spent 30 years as a faculty member and 20 as dean of the College of Education and Human Services, now the College for Education and Engaged Learning. He was instrumental to the University’s rise as a leader in teaching for critical thinking and democracy as well as in programs designed for educators based on deep partnerships with and among educational institutions, arts and sciences organizations and public schools.

Following his tenure at Montclair, Michelli’s roles included university dean of Teacher Education at the City University of New York (CUNY) and presidential professor in CUNY’s doctoral education program. He initiated the Pathways Project, a large-scale systematic assessment of teacher education and new teachers entering the New York City teaching force. He also chaired the Committee on Governmental Relations of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. He has taught in China and helped universities in three countries – Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar – to earn international accreditation, including UAE’s Zayed University, one of the first universities for women in a Muslim theocracy. Michelli is currently presidential professor emeritus at CUNY Graduate Center and is a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

After teaching for 10 years in Bedford Stuyvesant, an underserved urban community in Brooklyn, Jacobowitz pursued a doctorate at New York University. She had just completed the doctorate when she answered an advertisement for a faculty position at Montclair. “I didn’t know much about Montclair at the time, but I fell in love with the campus right away,” she recalls.

Over the course of 39 years, Jacobowitz taught several generations of Montclair students. She also served for nine years as chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Elementary and Literacy Education, and coordinated the Agenda for Education in a Democracy as well as the Leadership Associates Program. She is the mastermind behind the first Portrait of a Teacher, an embodiment of the mission of the University’s teacher education program. In addition, Jacobowitz is an honorary member of Alpha Lambda Delta, in recognition of her dedication to the field of teaching. These days Jacobowitz devotes much of her time to painting. In fact, her work graces the cover of Education for Social Justice, their latest book.

The two have co-authored numerous books and articles promoting excellence in urban education, school-university partnerships, and education for democracy and social justice. As emeriti faculty, they value their connection to the University.

“Montclair is home to so many memories for us,” Jacobowitz says. “This is where Nick and I met, and where we built lifelong friendships.”

The two have been loyal donors to Montclair for more than four decades. In 2001 they decided to honor his parent’s memory with a scholarship dedicated to assisting students who plan to teach in underserved communities. In recent years, the couple has doubled their annual gift, and when Jacobowitz sells one of her paintings, she donates the proceeds as well.

“It is hard growing up in communities like Paterson and Newark,” Michelli notes. “That is why it is so important to encourage bright, well-prepared young teachers to bring their talents to urban schools and districts.”

Michelli and Jacobowitz are proud to see the University’s growing relationships with these and other underserved urban districts in New Jersey, and they are especially pleased with Montclair’s partnership with Bloomfield College. “So much that we value – our very democracy – depends on having an educated society,” Michelli points out.

While social justice is their primary motivation for supporting students who plan to teach in our cities, Michelli and Jacobowitz also find giving to Montclair to be rewarding on a personal level. “Meeting the scholarship recipients really warms your heart,” Jacobowitz says. “Their expressions of gratitude, and their eagerness to teach in Newark and Paterson, are so uplifting. It is wonderful to know that new generations of students are committing to careers that will make a difference in other people’s lives.”

“The power of teachers is transformative,” Michelli adds, reflecting on the many teachers who impacted his own life from grammar school through post-graduate study. “By giving to Montclair, and to the future teachers studying here, we are multiplying our wealth for the benefit of the whole.”