campus folliage in fall

Karen L. Pennington

Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life

Karen L. Pennington likes to say that Montclair State is “a place where you can come and be who you are.” Speaking with the students whose lives she has shaped in her 22 years as Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life, something else is clear about Pennington, who is retiring this year: she made Montclair State a place where students realize the person they can become.

“Dr. Pennington is a phenomenal woman who went above and beyond during my medical school pursuits and has always been in my corner,” writes Vaughn McEnough Jr. ’09, ’13 MA, who earned his degrees in Molecular Biology and hopes to become a surgeon. “Even beyond writing letters of recommendation, she facilitated an atmosphere where I could sit and talk with renowned physicians in the field to inspire and motivate me.”

“I am one of the students that can say, with 100% certainty, that I am a beneficiary of Dr. Pennington’s wealth of knowledge as a student affairs professional and a kind and caring human being,” says Matt Lerman ’17, BA Business Administration with a concentration in Management. He is currently working at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, as the Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “Because of Dr. Pennington, I am a proud Red Hawk!”

During her time as SGA President, Serafina Genise ’19 says she blossomed under Pennington’s mentorship. But when it was time to leave the nest, Genise was hesitant, even a bit scared. “She told me it was time for me to go have a different experience. Take everything I had learned during my four years at Montclair and use it where I went next.” Genise is currently studying for her master’s in Higher Education Administration at Rowan University where she works as a graduate coordinator for the Student Center and Campus Activities.

How is such trust earned? “She always made it a point to check in on me and I really appreciated that,” says Fathia Balgahoom, a junior majoring in History and completing a certification in Social Studies for grades P-12. Pennington’s guidance helped her become more comfortable in the Student Trustee position. “I want to thank Dr. Pennington for playing such a large role in my life. She taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin as a leader and a student.”

Although Pennington’s encyclopedic knowledge of the University is “formidable,” Nikita Williams ’20 highlighted her fun side along with the grit. “I try to model her attention to detail and her endless capacity for new ideas,” says Williams. “She taught me incredible lessons about strategic leadership, self-compassion, and the importance of an office filled with plants.”

George Juzdan ’14 worked with Pennington while on the SGA to purchase the Red Hawk statue. Besides teaching him “how to create positive change in the community along with how to work with all different kinds of people,” Pennington also made it possible for Rocky the Red Hawk to attend Juzdan’s wedding. “I’ll never forget it! I am so happy that I was mentored and taught by one of the greatest people at Montclair State.”

Pennington also shows students that kindness isn’t a weakness.

“Dr. Pennington taught me that in order for a community to thrive, it needs leadership that is both firm and yielding, a leader that seeks to identify the needs of the community they serve and implement actions to remedy those needs,” says Alisha Tillman ‘05, Health Education, and a registered nurse in Philadelphia. “She taught me that a female leader in particular should be both a force to be reckoned with and a reliable stalwart ally in times of crisis.”

Says McEnough: “She is simply amazing.”

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann

Karen Pennington with Rocky and group of people
George Juzdan ’14 (fourth from right) credits Karen Pennington for making it possible for Rocky the Red Hawk to attend his wedding in February 2017.