MSU + Pru Connect is building a platform and a valuable workforce pipeline between the Feliciano School of Business and Prudential, one of the country’s most respected, value-driven corporate leaders. As the initiative grows, it will become a template for affinity relationships between the University and top employers nationally.
For nearly 150 years, Prudential has maintained its Newark headquarters, contributing to its home community while building a highly-admired multinational financial services corporation. Likewise, over the course of its 115-year history, Montclair has become New Jersey’s second-largest institution of higher learning as well as one of its most diverse – a highly regarded university with a public purpose. It follows then, that these iconic institutions would find ways to become partners in creating opportunities for New Jersey students while strengthening workforce pipelines for the state and the country.
The institutions’ newest shared endeavor, MSU + Pru Connect, is taking their partnership to a new level, connecting and engaging Montclair alumni who work at Prudential. The organization’s goal is to create meaningful opportunities for alumni at Prudential to support the University, its students, and each other.
According to Michele Ansbacher ’80, executive in residence and chair of the Feliciano School of Business Advisory Board, the timing is right. “A Board of Trustees member and I were kicking around the idea,” she explains. “When I mentioned the idea to Kent Sluyter, the recently retired president of Prudential Annuities who was named to the Montclair State University board, he took up the cause in a big way.”
Ansbacher drew on her deep Prudential connections to organize the launch. Before joining Montclair as executive in residence, Ansbacher enjoyed a 34-year career at the company, most recently as Prudential Financial’s vice president of the Eastern Territory in Agency Distribution (now Prudential Advisors).
A working group of Prudential employees emerged to support Ansbacher and Sluyter that included Stephanie Geannakopoulos ’17 MBA, director and HR business partner, Global Technology; Evelyn Hudson-Dorrah ’90, senior business risk and control manager; Vincent King ’14 MBA, director of Abandoned Property Operations; and Patrick Whittam ’93, communications director, Prudential Communications. Susan Chegwidden, Prudential’s vice president and chief human resources partner, currently serves as the initiative’s executive sponsor.
When the group tested the waters with a November 2019 event held at Prudential’s Newark office, they realized the initiative’s potential. King points quite specifically to the event as the moment he knew that MSU + Pru Connect was going to be big. “I was amazed at the response,” he says. “More than 120 Prudential employees expressed interest in the event, and alumni were interested in further participation … I am very proud of all we have accomplished these past few years.”
Hudson-Dorrah also saw the potential. “It was an eye opener to see how many Montclair graduates were working at Prudential, and yet we were meeting each other for the first time,” she says.
Ansbacher’s enthusiasm springs from her own experience as a new Montclair graduate. “At my graduation, as a student officer, I was seated on the dais,” she recalls, “and was placed next to a Prudential executive who invited me to apply to Prudential. For me, the encounter was fortuitous and led to a very rewarding career. Our goal is to build a platform for many such conversations and many such opportunities for students.”
King echoes Ansbacher: “I was part of the first graduating class of the MBA cohort-based program,” he says. “At the time, formalized mentorship was not part of the curriculum. An affinity group like this within an industry of interest would have been invaluable to me in planning my career.”
“MSU + Pru Connect is a terrific example of our commitment to creating a path for students from college to successful career,” says Feliciano School of Business Dean Kimberly Hollister.
Since 2019, MSU + Pru Connect has hosted a series of in-person and virtual events. At a 2022 event, MBA students visited the Prudential campus. A half dozen speakers from sales to actuary provided sessions on company structure, career paths, and culture. Prudential Vice Chair Robert M. Falzon was on hand to meet and greet participants.
In addition to events, MSU + Pru Connect has formed online communications groups within the Prudential network and as part of the University’s MONTCLAIRConnect network.
“Our students and community win with so many stakeholders working together. We look forward to continuing to expand and deepen our relationship with Prudential,” says Chad Brown, executive director for Corporate Partnerships and Development, Feliciano School of Business.
MSU + Pru Connect represents an expansion of Prudential’s long-time support of career initiatives and student success at Montclair.
“Prudential has a very inclusive culture that encourages affinity groups,” Sluyter notes. “The company has a values-driven history of helping people connect. This is the backdrop. When I became a trustee of Montclair, I began to learn more about the University and its alumni. The alumni I met wanted to connect with each other, and they wanted to know more about what was going on at their alma mater.”
“I was confident that this initiative would thrive and would be a value add for both Prudential and Montclair,” Sluyter continues. “Prudential’s talent pipeline – the single-most important element in the company’s success – gains an excellent source of diverse talent, and Montclair students gain access to excellent career opportunities at a great company, as well as a warm welcome from fellow Montclair alumni.”
Hudson-Dorrah has a first-hand appreciation for what newly employed Montclair graduates stand to gain from a robust affinity group within the company. “It would have meant a great deal to me as an undergraduate stepping into the business world,” she says. “The corporate environment can be intimidating. Knowing that I could reach out to fellow Montclair alumni at the company would have been monumental.”
MSU + Pru Connect is bringing together the University’s champions from the corporate community and from within its alumni community, with the goal of engaging a network of dedicated professionals who are ready to support students’ career goals. The initiative’s founders see several opportunities for expansion.
Prudential recruits its workforce from a diverse array of disciplines, extending well beyond the expected business and MBA degree graduates. “My degree is in broadcasting, and rather than joining a major network I made my career in corporate communications at Prudential,” Whittam points out. “Before I joined the company, I had no idea that they housed top-of-the line video production facilities.”
Sluyter agrees. “There are great things happening in every corner of the university, and so many opportunities for leveraging this partnership across disciplines. I can also see this partnership as a resource for forecasting employers’ workforce needs going forward.”
MSU + Pru Connect is moving forward, full steam ahead. “The word is getting out,” says Hudson-Dorrah. “More and more Montclair alumni are raising their hands, and they represent all levels at Prudential – junior level, mid-management, and senior executive. It is a wonderful way to encourage alumni to give back to Montclair, and to share what they have learned in the business world.”
“We are already lining up activities for spring employee recruitment, as well as the fall internship recruitment season,” adds Whittam, who is leading the team of alumni at Prudential.
With Montclair’s talented alumni working at many major employers, it is expected that the initiative will grow. “I envision this partnership expanding at Prudential, and also expanding into other corporations throughout New Jersey and beyond,” says Hollister. “We are already in conversation with ADP, another corporate leader based in New Jersey.”