Presidential Scholars Find a Home

Financial support and meaningful experiences attract N.J.’s high-achieving students

Carla Ko and Robert Onoz are among the first class of Presidential Scholars at Montclair State University.

When Carla Ko graduated from James Caldwell High School with a perfect 4.0 GPA, her high school achievements earned her a $20,000 scholarship and academic advantages as a member of the first class of Presidential Scholars at Montclair State University.

“It’s the main reason I decided to study here,” says Ko, an accounting major. “It’s exciting to be a part of a brand-new program, this community of students who strive for success and love a good challenge.”

Representing just over 10 percent of the freshman class, the Presidential Scholars formed a small cohort who got to know each other through shared coursework in specialized learning communities. They participated in academic, cultural, research-driven and career-focused activities that take the college experience to the next level.

For Robert Onoz, the select group’s reading of a common book, the Pulitzer-winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, has been especially meaningful. As a chemistry major and future science teacher, Onoz was drawn to the theme of man-made climate change destroying our planet’s ecosystem, a message made all the more compelling by the discussion on campus with the author, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert.

“Presidential Scholars are highly diverse and among New Jersey’s most ambitious and determined young people who are looking to maximize their college experience, explore opportunities and gain every possible advantage,” says Jeffrey Gant, director of Undergraduate Admissions. “This program encourages them to put a stake in New Jersey ground and establish themselves as the next generation of leaders and professionals.”

Staying in New Jersey was important to Karsen Griffin, an exercise science major who graduated fifth in her class from Teaneck High School with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Montclair State felt like the right fit, she says. “I just felt that I would never be able to get that diversity, differing opinions and exposure to the real world anywhere else,” she says.

The scholars receive a $5,000 scholarship during each of their four years of study, provided they maintain rigorous academic requirements. They are also exposed to meaningful experiences, including access to alumni mentors and internships, spring break community service, and lectures and research opportunities. They also share a close-knit living and learning community and academic advantages, including priority registration.