Harbans Singh, Professor Emeritus, Earth and Environmental Studies
In 2019, Harbans Singh, then the University’s longest-serving professor, carried the ceremonial mace as Grand Marshal at Commencement. The mace, an ornamental symbol of authority that originated centuries ago as an instrument of war, took on a markedly benevolent quality with Singh’s kind and gently smiling face behind it.
That demeanor is authentic. Singh’s empathic approach to education was evident to his students long before he retired this past year to help care for his grandchildren.
“Dr. Harbans Singh has been a friend, a mentor and an inspiration to me since I began my career here,” says Amy Ferdinand ’14 PhD, Environmental Management. “I will always remember his kind, soft-spoken words of support and encouragement whether as a doctoral student in one of his classes or as a colleague in my role as an academic administrator at the University.” Ferdinand was a long-term University employee when she took on her studies and now works as director of Environmental Health and Safety for University Facilities.
“His focus was not just on teaching, but ensuring that students understood the material,” says Siobhan McCarthy, reference librarian for Research and Reference Services at Sprague Library, and current student in the graduate Sustainability Science program. “He was good about fostering a collaborative atmosphere in his classes, encouraging students to work with each other. As an educator myself, this did not go unnoticed.”
Rae Cade ’20 MS, Sustainability Science, and winner of an Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, is now working toward a PhD at Montclair State. Cade says she was struck by how Singh “was just so considerate about students.”
“For me, in my first semester, that was just amazing. He started every class with just a little bit of information about himself and talking to students to make sure that we’re all okay, mentally and physically. And I thought, ‘Well, this professor, he’s just so humble.’” Cade recalls Singh’s classes feeling like a family. “He is a really great person.”
Mike Wilson ’09 MS, Environmental Management, says he was unsure of himself when he came to Montclair State as an older student. “Dr. Singh made me feel welcome and gave me the confidence to continue my education. He recognized the valuable experience that I had gained through my employment in public gardening and was always trying to get me to apply practical experience to my studies – but he exerted his influence in subtle ways.” Wilson recalls Singh taking the time to show him a restoration project in a park near his house. The ensuing discussion both helped Wilson realize the practical knowledge he brought to the topic and inspired him in developing a thesis.
Wilson now works as an adjunct professor of Environmental Studies for Ramapo College and as an agricultural extension agent for Cornell University Cooperative Extension Service.
“Dr. Singh is one of the kindest and gentlest teachers I have ever had,” says Wilson echoing Ferdinand, McCarthy and Cade. “He made me feel comfortable from the very beginning.”
–Mary Barr Mann