For Nohemi Hernandez, Kevin Bernard and Alexis Garofalo, the goal always was to graduate no matter the obstacles that might arise. Fortunately, programs that comprise the Future College Graduate Academy gave them a lift over any hurdles, keeping them on track for both their career and graduation goals.
As members of the Class of 2022, they are realizing their dreams thanks to a variety of University programs that assist primarily low-income, first-generation students, set high expectations and help build a community in and out of the classroom.
“It literally takes just one person to give you that hope, motivation and attention you need at that moment,” says Hernandez, who grew up in Union City, New Jersey, and came to college from foster care, enrolling as an independent student so she was able to live on campus year-round. With a strong support team of peer leaders to lean on, the University felt more than just strictly school for her.
Hernandez also found that as an Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) scholar with a dream of being a social worker, many people gave her that motivation and attention, guiding her way to earning her bachelor’s degree in Family Science and Human Development in May.
EOF is just one of many assistance programs under the umbrella of the Future College Graduate Academy led by Assistant Provost for Special Programs Daniel Jean. The Academy consists of several state-, federal- or institution-run programs, including Health Careers, Academic Launch, Knowledge is Power, Cooperman Scholars, Give Something Back and Upward Bound.
“The framework is, ‘Let’s work with these urban centers, these low-income areas to provide college access opportunities so these scholars can ultimately become future college graduates,’” says Jean. “We refer to these students as scholars. This sets high expectations for them and helps build a community in and out of the classroom.”
To engage scholars in a mandatory summer academy, Academic Launch provides opportunities for academic advising, academic support and many co-curricular programs. It’s what set Bernard of Newark, New Jersey, to aspire to both teach political science and earn a position on the City Council, perhaps even run for mayor someday. Earning a degree in Political Science, Bernard’s experiences motivated him through the sense of individualism in the community.
“The program allowed me to give myself a comprehensive way to understand and find my own identity within the program, and also generate a kind of brotherhood and sisterhood, and take on leadership skills that will further my own identity on campus as well,” Bernard says. “It created the best environment for me to understand myself among people who look like me to share the same knowledge and try to advocate for change within my community.”
For Garofalo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology, her experiences in the Health Careers Program provided paid internship opportunities, class tutoring, a welcoming cohort and a strong support system.
“The motivation and attention that each one of us receives are very special and unique to the program,” says Garofalo, who grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. “It’s an encouraging environment among students and there are many opportunities that I wouldn’t have applied for or known about if it weren’t for this program.”
The Academy’s mission resonates with Montclair resident Julia Lanigan, who benefited from scholarships as a young immigrant and wants to ensure students can transform their lives through education, as she did.
Lanigan is generously supporting the program and she recently named the Montclair State University Foundation as a beneficiary of her trust to create the Julia Bartko Lanigan Endowed Fund, which will support the priorities of the Future College Graduate Academy for generations to come.
“My own experience has given me a great appreciation for the importance of access and excellence to higher education, and how this opportunity, combined with hard work, provides a pathway to achieve success in America,” says Lanigan.