Stories of student success were celebrated at Montclair State, where academic achievements, the first-generation experience and a commitment to educating a diverse student body are among the hallmarks of New Jersey’s second largest public university. Inside Prudential Center, site of Undergraduate Commencement, President Susan A. Cole remarked on the “bountiful energy and potential” of the graduates earning baccalaureate degrees.
Among them, Serafina Genise, the Class of 2019 SGA president, looked out at her classmates on the floor of the giant Newark sports arena. “What comes next is still unknown … but one thing we can be certain of is that we are prepared with a stellar education and a forever home” as Montclair State Red Hawks.
Genise, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History with a minor in Sociology, plans to pursue her master’s in Higher Education. She was last of the senior speakers to commemorate the Montclair State experience, following the lead of the selected graduates who addressed fellow students and guests at Convocations that took place (rain and shine) on campus in the days leading up to the large Commencement ceremony.
“We are the future educators, doctors, lawyers, business people, nurses, politicians, artists and leaders of this nation and this world,” Genise reflected, an observation echoed by President Cole. This remarkable group, Cole said, is “prepared by your education to make a meaningful contribution to the hard work it takes to build a peaceful, prosperous and just society.”
Here are some of the stories of student success from the Montclair State University Class of 2019:
Paul Kehinde Ajayi, Future Doctor
Paul Kehinde Ajayi, who graduated with a double major in Public Health and Biology and a minor in Chemistry, says when he reflects on his Montclair State experience, “I realize that I’d been soaring high, and while I’ve been soaring, I have looked down and realized, ‘Wow, I’m not only growing, I have so much potential to contribute to my world and my community.’ ”
Ajayi grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and plans to work in underserved communities by promoting clinical care and environmental health interventions. He represented the College of Education and Human Services at the Convocation ceremony as student speaker.
Ajayi contributed to faculty research in both of his major departments, Biology and Public Health, and was part of the Science Honors Innovation Program. Additionally, he was a recipient of the Bonnie Lustigman Research Fellowship. Ajayi will be pursuing a dual Doctor of Medicine (MD and Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Sociomedical Sciences with a certification in Environmental Health Sciences.
“Montclair State has helped me tremendously because of the fact that being a Public Health and Biology major, I was able to immerse myself in two worldviews that will help me toward my path in medicine,” he says.
Damar Donovan, Registered Nurse
Damar Donovan, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, magna cum laude, was born and raised in Kenya. Married and the mother of two children, ages 5 and 3, she works as a registered nurse at Overlook Medical Center.
“Earning the BSN degree was a milestone in my life that seemed an unattainable dream when I first decided that I wanted to become a nurse,” she says. “It was during the time that my mother was gravely ill, shortly before her death in Kenya when I was 16 years old, that I decided that my goal in life was to help sick patients, like my mom, recover. However, after her passing, it wasn’t possible for me to pursue that dream due to my family’s challenging financial situation.”
After immigrating to the United States in 2008, she eventually was able to pursue her dream, beginning as a patient care technician at Overlook and graduating from Essex County College with an associate degree. Since 2013, she has worked as an RN at Overlook on the Neuroscience floor.
Serving as student speaker at the Convocation for the School of Nursing, she says, “Montclair State University’s RN-BSN program provided me with the opportunity to earn my BSN degree while fulfilling my family- and job-related responsibilities.”
Kimberly Fabijanczuk, Science Researcher
During Kimberly Fabijanczuk’s time at Montclair State, she has benefitted from the University’s new designation by the Carnegie Classification as a doctoral university with high research activity and recognition by New Jersey as one of the state’s four public research universities.
Fabijanczuk graduated with a degree in Biochemistry and spent the past three years in the research group of Assistant Professor Jinshan Gao as an undergraduate research assistant studying biomolecule characterization employing free radical chemistry and mass spectrometry.
Fabijanczuk, student speaker at the College of Science and Mathematics Convocation, was part of the University’s Honors Program and a member of the Science Honors Innovation Program. In the fall, she will start studies for a PhD in Analytical Chemistry at Purdue University.
George Garcia, Entrepreneur
As a student, George Garcia had a hand in two startup companies and a seat on a government agency looking at economic development. He’s a young professional to watch, according to NJBIZ, which named him to its list of 40 influential up-and-comers, all under the age of 40. The first student to complete Montclair State’s new Entrepreneurship major, he was the Convocation student speaker for the Feliciano School of Business.
Garcia lives in Randolph, New Jersey, and currently works as the CEO of a social application startup called Wheatpaste Inc., winner of the 2018 Montclair State pitch contest, the richest collegiate prize pool among New Jersey universities and colleges for promising business ideas. He’s also a member of the Randolph Economic Development Committee, where he is committed to the growth of small businesses.
“As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how much I like emerging technologies and being in the forefront of ideas,” he says. “I can see myself staying in this lane my entire life, working on startups and breaking technologies.”
Efrain Monterroso, Teacher
At a time when New Jersey is focused on lessening the teacher diversity gap Efrain Monterroso is a role model. “I feel as a Latino male I’m making a difference,” he says. “As a teacher you have to learn how to reach every student. I believe that is what diversity is all about, reaching every single student equally and trying to engage with them in a lesson. No matter what situations are happening in their home life or in their personal life, I can relate because I’ve gone through similar struggles.”
Monterroso grew up in East Windsor, New Jersey, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and Spanish certification. He was one of the Convocation speakers for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and was recently interviewed by NJTV News on the student-teacher diversity gap. Monterroso will begin his professional career at Hightstown High School, where he will teach Spanish. This summer, he will serve as director of the Rise Summer Academic Enrichment program and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Spanish Methodology.
Montclair State, he says, has prepared him well. “The education program offers courses on diversity and equity, method courses specific to your major, resources to prepare you for clinical internships. You have a support system every single step.”
Sophia Voglino, Production Stage Manager
Sophia Voglino graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production and Design. She has worked behind the scenes on a number of Montclair State theater productions, but for the College of the Arts Convocation, starred on stage as the student speaker.
“My four years at Montclair we’re some of the most challenging and informative I have known, but they gave me an invaluable experience which I will carry with me all my life,” she says.
Voglino worked on more than 12 productions at Montclair State, training that is helping her build a career as a professional stage manager. She will be joining the stage management team at Goodspeed Musicals to stage a new adaptation of the novel Because of Winn Dixie.”
Voglino grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey, and before her college career was a production stage managing for Old Library Theatre Co. in Fair Lawn. She has also served as assistant stage manager on international stages in Bregenz, Austria, and spent time with Goodspeed Musicals, The Atlantic Theatre Company, WP Theater and Papermill Playhouse, all while attending Montclair State. “I could not be more excited to take what knowledge I have gained there out into the professional field,” she says.
Cierra Watts, Future Financier
Cierra Watts has served as a student representative on the University’s Board of Trustees. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance. She plans to help build wealth for lower income investors.
Montclair State University is a melting pot of different races, nationalities and orientations. Earlier this year, Watts was among the students interviewed by FOX5NY who said the diversity on the college campus has had a big impact on their success in school.“Going into the business world where I’m going to be dealing with so many different types of people, you have to learn how to maneuver and change, and I think that was the biggest part about going to a diverse campus,” she says in the featured segment.
Watts grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and came to Montclair State as an Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) scholar. “EOF has played a big part in my growth as a student leader and in the ways I am paving pathways for students coming behind me,” she says.