The first time Shantelle Jones ’19 saw herself on a billboard, she was driving along Route 46 near Montclair State University. Her smile lights up the highway, and in cap and gown, the ad celebrates pride in the achievements of Montclair State graduates. On this summer night, Jones pulled over for a long look, her bright eyes above staring back as she reflected on how she had gotten to this moment. For sure, it had come with more than a few bumps in the road.
“It felt so surreal as I stared at it for about 10 minutes straight, letting the euphoric feeling sink in,” Jones recalls.
Then, as if on cue, her car radio segued into the hit song “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” by the rock band Panic! at the Disco. “It felt so good and meant to be,” Jones says. “So, I sang along, capturing that divine moment of the beginning of the journey ahead of me.”
Her reaction epitomizes the feelings of two other Montclair State students who are also featured in a new outdoor advertising campaign: Paul Kehinde Ajayi ’19, an aspiring doctor who dreams of serving underserved communities; and Jack Barteck ’22, a sophomore who voices play-by-play and color commentary for Montclair State Red Hawk Athletics.
Their portraits are catching the eyes of people driving by billboards on North Jersey highways and commuters traveling on NJ Transit to Manhattan on the Montclair-Boonton line, signaling the beginning of a story on the ways the University has grown and stands out among New Jersey’s public colleges and universities, and how it complements and meets the aspirations of the students who chose to come here.
In the campaign, Ajayi’s love of his science mirrors Montclair State’s recognition as a Carnegie-designed national research doctoral university with high research activity and as a state-designated public research institution. The University is listed among the nation’s top 90 public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
“I am truly excited and humbled from all of the reactions from friends and family who’ve messaged me about seeing me on billboards from their cars and trains,” Ajayi says. He grew up in Newark, a triplet born to parents who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. “My parents taught me that the true riches in life can be found in service. But most importantly, having a purpose rooted in service can set the groundwork for bringing charity and care for others – particularly those who are underserved.”
In May 2019, Ajayi graduated cum laude with a double major in Biology and Public Health and a minor in Chemistry, and has begun work at Columbia University with two positions – as a biostatistics researcher at the Mailman School of Public Health and a BioBase Harlem scientist at the Zuckerman Institute.
“Montclair State 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.
Jones lives in East Orange and graduated from Montclair State University in May with a degree in Communication Studies. Her passions include dancing, modeling, acting, styling and creative directing. During her freshman year of college in 2013, she founded the “MSU Complexions Band Dance Team” to create a space for female empowerment and healthy self-esteem.
A truck accident and personal setbacks led Jones to take a break from college. Once healed, the Educational Opportunity Fund scholar returned to Montclair State mentally, emotionally and physically stronger, she said.
“You must fail your way to success,” Jones says. “Don’t let fear be the reason you miss out on opportunities in life that will transform you. Dream big. Reach for your goals, make mistakes and repeat. Living life truly begins only at the death of fear.”
The new billboards are part of an expanded marketing push that adds the outdoor campaign to an integrated mix of promotions.
“We want New Jersey families to know that Montclair State is here for them. We offer an excellent education at an affordable price, on a beautiful campus with outstanding facilities,” says Joseph A. Brennan, vice president for Communications and Marketing.
“Shantelle, Paul and Jack are amazing students, and we’re delighted to share their stories,” he says.
Montclair State students are winning Emmys and participate in faculty research and discovery, everything from dangerous jellyfish at the Jersey Shore to the mysteries of space. In New Jersey classrooms, Montclair State graduates are closing the racial and ethnic gaps between students of color and their teachers.
Top-tier drama, dance and theatre arts programs, communication and media, business and sustainability, fashion and the arts – in all, more than 300 programs of study – provide real-world professional experiences, including internships and career opportunities on Wall Street, Broadway and throughout the New York City metro area.
With more than 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Montclair State is New Jersey’s second largest university. But despite its growth, current students say it has retained its small-school feel and strong sense of community.
In the ad campaign, Barteck is surrounded by fellow students to illustrate the connections made on campus. “It’s been fun having my friends sending me pictures of myself,” he says.
Barteck grew up in Wood-Ridge and is entering his sophomore year as a Television and Digital Media major. “So far, my experience at MSU has been everything I could’ve asked for,” he says. “The campus is beautiful, the people are great and there are many opportunities to get involved. I been able to work with great professors who have hands-on experience in the field, and with the state-of-the-art technology. I could not be happier with my choice of Montclair State.”