For Primo Davis, the list of things to explore was long when he came to Montclair State University. He sings and performs. He makes clothes. He enjoys student government. “I like working with other people and I’m working on trying to find my specific area in life that I want to go into,” he says.
As a University College student, being a pre-major freshman has given Davis the time and space to discover his path. He meets regularly with an academic advisor who guides him to the programs, classes, organizations and clubs that fit his varied interests. And on April 1, he cheered as the first class of University College students declared their major areas of study at “Signing Day,” the finale to a March Madness-inspired “Major Madness” showcase of Montclair State’s 300 majors, minors and concentrations.
University College delivered a full-court press throughout the month of March, offering students the chance to “crash a class” for focused academic exploration and hosting a series of interactive showcases where students had the opportunity to meet with faculty and organizations/clubs within the various disciplines. Leading up to “Signing Day,” more than 550 students who were previously pre-major had declared majors since fall 2018.
“Signing Day” was a celebration of the major declarations. Students were welcomed by their new deans and presented with T-shirts from their new academic home. In the keynote, Christopher C. Catching ’99, an educator passionate about providing students with access to transformative learning opportunities, recognized the major decisions, recalling his time at Montclair State.
“A monumental moment in my college career happened early, when I recognized that there was this wide landscape of options,” Catching said. He credits his classroom and campus experiences for providing a foundation as he pursued an EdD and career in higher education. In 2012, he was recognized with the Governor Thomas Kean Distinguished Alumni Award from the New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund Program.
“Take your skills that you learn in this University,” added Leslie Wilson, acting associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The imaginative skills, the hard skills and the soft skills “will define you in the future.”
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University College is the first program of its kind in New Jersey that makes “exploratory” and “pre-major” the new “undeclared” and provides an academic home for students as they discover a passion and career path. It gives students the chance to explore, take their time and make sure that the major they’re selecting is the right fit.
“We are laser focused on providing quality academic advising and academic experiences that are both meaningful and impactful in helping guide students toward their decision of major,” says David Hood, associate provost for Undergraduate Education and dean of University College.
University College academic advisors work with more than 2,000 students as they make their way through all the educational possibilities available, mindful that a mismatched choice could lead to added semesters and tuition. University College students include freshmen, sophomores and transfer students, as well as continuing students who have yet to select a major or are transitioning to a new major.
“We welcome them all with the same approach of trying to foster an environment that is welcoming, that is supportive of their exploration and where they feel they have a connection with someone here at the University,” says Jane Sanchez Swain, an academic advisor.
With the ball in his court, Davis says he’s looking forward to narrowing his choices as he makes his own “major” decision. “I now know that some things are off the table. Some things are still possible. Some things will take a lot of work. Some things I can just jump into. But having that clarity and understanding of what I can do is liberating.”