First Presidential Scholars

Dinner with the president, financial support and other perks attract New Jersey’s high-achieving students.

This spring, Robert Onoz was still undecided about his college decision when he was invited to dinner with a select group of New Jersey’s best and brightest students. Each had received an acceptance letter from Montclair State University and was selected as a Presidential Scholar. For Onoz, the letter especially stood out among the seven other offers of admission he had received.

When it came time to give his final decision, the choice was easy, Onoz says. At Montclair State, his high school achievements had earned him a $20,000 scholarship and academic perks. He’s decided to spend the next four years studying biochemistry as part of the University’s first class of Presidential Scholars. “The dinner left me feeling more comfortable and excited about being here in the fall,” he says.

“The Presidential Scholar program is designed to identify and mentor New Jersey’s high-achieving students and to help them make the most of their undergraduate experience,” says President Susan A. Cole. “You’ll have an exceptional opportunity to experience the best of the University,” she said in remarks at the March dinner.

Robert Onoz talking with a female.

The evening also included a chance to meet with professors, alumni and students. “They sold me on the school,” says Onoz, an honors student from Ridgefield who recently graduated from Saint Peter’s Prep. “I felt a human aspect,” a caring community, he says, to help him connect and explore his interests outside science in teaching and film production.

Students who are in programs like this are great to be around they make each other better.

Robert Onoz, incoming freshman

Representing fewer than 10 percent of the incoming class, the Presidential Scholars will form a small cohort who will get to know each other through shared coursework in specialized learning communities, says Jeffrey Indiveri-Gant, director of Undergraduate Admissions. They will participate in academic, cultural, research-driven and career-focused programs and activities that take the college experience to the next level.

Onoz says he’s looking forward to the challenge. “Students who are in programs like this are great to be around. They make each other better.”

Money factored into many of the students’ decisions. “It takes a little bit off my parents’ shoulders,” says Onoz, who, like every Presidential Scholar, will be supported by a $5,000 scholarship for each of their four years of study, provided they maintain the rigorous academic requirements.

This dynamic new program allows the university to make a positive contribution to the state’s economic and social development.

Susan A. Cole

Cole says the scholarships represent an investment by Montclair State in the intellectual growth and success of New Jersey’s youth. “By making our outstanding education accessible to the state’s most valuable resource – talented, motivated students – this dynamic new program allows the University to make a positive contribution to the state’s economic and social development,” she says.

The scholars will also be exposed to meaningful experiences, including during their freshman year, access to alumni mentors and internships, spring break community service, lectures and research opportunities.

Susan A. Cole speaking from podium to Presidential Scholars.

“This is a significant scholarship,” says Kendrick Slaman, a Parsippany High School senior from Lake Hiawatha. “It’s special to be one of the first to experience it.”

Slaman plans to study filmmaking. He visited about a dozen colleges, but at the end of his college search applied to just three. “Montclair’s program is incredibly good,” he says, noting the new “Hollywood East” home of the School of Communication and Media. “With Montclair’s partnership with Sony and technology, it’s one of the best in the country.”

For John Brizek of Oak Ridge, Montclair State’s designation as a public research university was key to his decision to accept the Presidential Scholar award to study marine biology. “It made a difference,” says Brizek, who was accepted into three other schools.

The University’s reputation continues to grow overall admissions, and enrollment in the Presidential Scholars this first year exceeded projections.

A couple of female Presidential Scholars.

A number of first-generation students count among the first cohort, including Ashley Deita of Passaic, a senior at Passaic High School who plans to study Family Science and Human Development. “What drew me into Montclair State was the feel of the campus and how I could imagine myself there,” she says. “I am the first in my family to go to university,” an achievement enhanced as a Presidential Scholar. “It’s amazing to see how far I’ve gone.”

To receive the scholarship, the students challenged themselves with rigorous AP and honors classes while in high school and earned high grades. Harrison resident Alejandra Zavala pursued studies in the sciences at Harrison High School and a passion in music, a path that led her ultimately to decide on music education as a major. She elected to attend Montclair State after taking a flute lesson and passing the audition.

“I felt right at home and fell in love with the campus,” Zavala says. “The scholarship is just a plus, like a cherry on top.”

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