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Philanthropy in Practice

The Campaign for Montclair State SOARs high, breaks records for supporting students, research and programs

Posted in: University

Photo of dancer Nicole Arakaki practicing in a studio

Getting to spend most of her time back in the studio after months of virtual instruction has been a relief for Nicole Arakaki, whose commitment and passion for dance fuels her drive to overcome every barrier to earning her degree – including finding financial resources to put herself through school.

“It’s so freeing,” says Arakaki, a sophomore Dance Education major. “I love the long hours. I don’t think I could ever feel as passionate about any other field.”

The dancer’s determination is typical of Montclair State University students, who inspired more than 20,000 alumni, friends, and corporate and foundation donors to contribute nearly $82 million toward Soar, The Campaign for Montclair State University, surpassing the goal of the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University’s history.

Making a difference in the lives of students like Arakaki was at the heart of Soar and was a core message that resonated quickly and deeply.

“Donors from all walks of life stepped forward to invest in Montclair State’s future,” says Vice President for Development Colleen Coppla. “These funds are having a direct and lasting impact, strengthening every aspect of a Montclair State education. Our gratitude to our donors – and our Red Hawk pride – have never soared higher.”

This philanthropy in practice is creating meaningful impact in three vital areas: educating the next generation of leaders, sustaining a vibrant research and scholarship community, and enhancing our student-centered campus.

Educating the Next Generation of Leaders

“Scholarships to support the education of the next generation of leaders have always been a necessity at Montclair State,” says President Susan A. Cole. “Our students, often the first in their families to attend college, are as hardworking as ever, but the financial realities of earning an education have changed.”

More than 7,500 scholarships were awarded during the campaign. Ninety-one new scholarship funds were created, including 34 endowment funds that will provide an enduring source of financial assistance for Montclair State students.

These resources are vital to students who struggle financially to stay in college. “With more than 70 percent of our students relying on financial aid to attend college, every scholarship dollar matters,” Cole adds.

Supporting the American Dream

“It is essentially up to me to pay for my future,” says Arakaki, who received a scholarship in honor of retired dance professor Lori Katterhenry. Arakaki has taken out loans to pay tuition, but without the help from the scholarship, she says, “I don’t know if I’d be here right now. Because of this scholarship, I can focus on gaining the knowledge and experience to grow as an artist and as a person.”

“A gift of $500 or $1,000 can literally save the education of a dancer at Montclair State,” says Montclair State University Foundation Board Trustee Gerald Appelstein, referring to the typical gap between many students’ financial aid package and the cost of staying in school.

Gerald Appelstein

“Montclair State is an incredible place,” says Appelstein, an angel investor who established the Lori Katterhenry Dance Scholarship. “Everywhere I look I see talented people making a difference. Here, the American Dream is truly inclusive, and equal opportunity means providing the tools for students to become their best.”

Helping Hands

As a first-generation college student and a teen mom, Keesha Chavis ’97, ’03 MA learned that hard work and helping hands can change the course of your life. Chavis grew up watching her own single mother struggle to make ends meet. She was determined to follow a different path.

Keesha Chavis

“Without my mother, my sister and the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), I could not have done it,” she says, recalling her early days as a student. Today, she is assistant vice president for learning, development, and performance in the University’s Division of Human Resources.

Chavis created the Tanya and TaQuanna Green Memorial EOF Scholarship in memory of her sister, who passed away in 2016, and her daughter, who died two years later, to help students from Newark, New Jersey. “This scholarship is my way of offering assistance to those in need and acknowledges that my sister played a key role in my journey to obtain a higher education, and also honors the memory of my daughter,” she says.

For sophomore Zhaky’a Shorter, Chavis’ gift provided the resources needed to get through this difficult pandemic year. “I was so close to taking a year off of school,” Shorter says. “The scholarship provided the help I needed. It made me realize that finishing college was going to be hard but that there are ways around it and I should not give up.”

Zhaky’a Shorter, a sophomore, says receiving the scholarship lessened the stresses brought on by the pandemic.

Giving Students a Global Experience

Sharon Foerster ’66 created a scholarship for undergraduate students in the Language, Business and Culture program to ensure that first-generation undergraduates have the chance to experience the world.

“When students study abroad, they have to be open to diversity in order to get by – they must be open to cultural difference. And they bring that sensibility, that openness, home with them, often with a new interest in equity,” says Foerster, the lead author of several college-level Spanish language textbooks and co-founder and academic advisor of Academic Programs International, an independent study-abroad provider.

The Impact of Scholarship Gifts

Scholarships are as individual as the donors who create them. Collective funding from College of the Arts (CART) Board Members established the Creative Talent Awards, which gives recipients opportunities to work with luminaries in their chosen fields, in addition to providing much-needed financial support. “To be part of a student’s growth and see them excel has been beyond gratifying,” says Robert Gregory, the CART Advisory Board chair.

Trevor Stephney, a senior majoring in Filmmaking, says receiving the Creative Talent Award was “one of the most memorable moments of my life” and has allowed him to pursue his art, to discover his voice for what he intends to create. “I’m taking this career path seriously, and it’s good to have that support system, knowing there are people who believe in me and what I do.”

Trevor Stephney, a senior majoring in Filmmaking, says the support strengthens his resolve to pursue his career path.

University Foundation Trustee and lawyer Steven Resnick ’93 created the Tayler-Benfield Scholarship as a tribute to his professors, Marilyn Tayler, professor of Political Science and Law, and David Benfield, professor emeritus of Philosophy and Religion, while also helping deserving pre-law students. “I was immensely touched to know that a former student felt such gratitude to name a scholarship in our honor while we are still alive and teaching,” Tayler says. “The scholarship provides a substantial motivation to excellence for our students.”

Steven Resnick

It’s an honor as well for Hiba Khalil ’20, who graduated with a double major in Political Science and Philosophy, a 2019-2020 Tayler-Benfield Scholar. “This scholarship gave me the recognition I needed to confirm that I had put in my best work at Montclair State,” Khalil says. “It was a reminder of what I am capable of achieving on my journey to law school.”

Campaign Cabinet member and University Foundation Trustee Judith Schumacher-Tilton notes, “The motivation for supporting scholarships at Montclair State may be unique to each donor, but the impact on students’ lives is universal. Deserving, determined, hardworking students are afforded opportunities to pursue their passions and realize their dreams.”

Sustaining Vibrant Research and Scholarship

“The University’s talented faculty represents a significant resource of scientists and scholars contributing to the creation of new knowledge and solutions to society’s most pressing issues,” says Cole. Donors contributed nearly $43 million in support of academic programs, professorships and research initiatives that are breaking new ground in disciplines, including artificial intelligence, music therapy, social reform, sustainability and teacher training.

A Dream Come True

Entrepreneurs Mimi and Edwin ’82 Feliciano know firsthand the challenges and rewards of launching a new business venture. They established the Mimi and Edwin Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation to provide rich, real-life entrepreneurial experiences for students and to expose them to mentors and advisors who are, themselves, successful entrepreneurs. Mimi Feliciano is a member of the Feliciano School of Business Advisory Board.

Mimi and Edwin Feliciano

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Feliciano Center’s MIX Lab, which provides tools for 3D printing, design and manufacturing, did more than enhance students’ innovation skills. Students used the facility to produce more than 30,000 face shields for front-line health-care workers.

“Core to the Center’s work is collaboration with a rich ecosystem of global and local talent that helps blur the line between where the Montclair State campus ends and where the entrepreneurial community begins,” says Feliciano Center Executive Director Carley Graham Garcia.

A Lasting Impression

Although Michael S. Kogan, professor emeritus, retired in 2015, he remains in touch with his former students. He taught courses in philosophy, theology, American religious history and Mormonism. He also initiated evening lectures and informal events that allowed students and faculty opportunities to deepen their dialogue and to look beyond what was covered in the classroom.

Michael S. Kogan

“I’ve had a great career and loved everything about it,” he says. Through his planned gift, he created the Michael S. Kogan Fund to support the Department of Religion in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This gift is a fitting legacy for Professor Kogan, a passionate advocate for tolerance and dialogue among religions,” says Coppla.

Always Ready to Do More

Over the years, Lawrence R. Inserra, Jr. and Inserra Supermarkets have been generous champions of the University, supporting everything from the Red Hawk Pantry to the Theresa and Lawrence R. Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies.

Inserra saw Soar as an opportunity to greatly expand the Inserra Endowed Chair. “The endowment has placed Italian Studies at Montclair State University on the national – and the international – map,” says Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair and professor of Italian. “It has created a unique opportunity for us to think about Italy, not just in terms of preservation of culture, but in a contemporary, dynamic and, most important of all, interdisciplinary way.”

Knowledge as a Resource for the Greater Good

While many donors choose to support specific initiatives, their combined support for academic programs and research helps strengthen the academic foundations of the entire University.

When the pandemic hit, faculty across disciplines shared their expertise on economic modeling, public health, social justice and more with collaborators, the media and the public.

Enhancing a Student-Centered Campus

Nearly $11 million in unrestricted gifts and support for student life allowed the University to enhance athletics, expand career and academic support services, and address the most pressing needs of students. Donors supported athletic facilities, team travel and equipment, academic resource rooms and the extracurricular life of the campus.

Making a difference in the lives of students was at the heart of Soar, The Campaign for Montclair State University, the largest and most ambitious campaign in the University’s 112-year history. The campaign raised a record-breaking $82 million in private contributions, surpassing its $75 million goal. The Soar campaign enhanced the University’s ability to provide a vibrant educational environment where students, regardless of their financial means, are challenged and empowered to succeed. Soar also provided faculty members with resources to develop new programs, conduct groundbreaking research, and for the entire campus community, access to facilities conducive to 21st-century teaching and learning.


Paying It Forward

Judy Graef ’66, ’69 MA knows how to make every minute count. An avid traveler, she has been to all seven continents. As an education professional, Graef encourages students to be open to possibilities.

But when Graef learned about the financial hardship faced by some students, she saw how opportunities for adventure could seem far out of reach. Her support for the Pay It Forward Emergency Scholarship assists students in need in their senior year. “These students have proven themselves, and what I give can help them get across the line to complete their degree.”

Charisse Myers ’16 was in the second semester of her senior year when her family encountered sudden financial hardship. “I emailed the financial aid office to see if there was anything they could do,” she recalls. “They told me about this new emergency scholarship fund and helped me apply. It came at the perfect time – it relieved the financial burden for my family, lifting such a weight off of my shoulders. I could focus on school work and finishing my degree.”

Red HawkPride Runs Deep

By the time Holly P. Gera ’79 retired as director of Intercollegiate Athletics after 22 years, she had been part of many athletic accomplishments, including 50 conference championships and every sport competing in an NCAA Championship tournament. She is particularly proud to have recognized 209 All-Americans and 21 Academic All- Americans over the years.


Holly P. Gera


So supporting the Red Hawk Athletics Fund through Soar was a perfect fit for Gera. “There are lots of organizations that one can donate to, but for me, it is important to give back to Montclair State because it changed my life,” Gera says. “It gave me great background to build my life and career.”

Going Green

Timeless values and innovative thinking are behind two Soar-funded programs – the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies Green Teams and the Sustainability Awards. Paid internships allow students to pursue their ideas for a sustainable environment while earning money to support their education.


PSEG’s Angela Ortiz And the 2019 Green Team


“I want to leave a handprint on the earth instead of a carbon footprint,” says Portia Calo ’19, a Nutrition Sciences graduate who worked to get fresh produce into the homes of city residents.

Amy Tuininga, director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, says these off-campus partnerships help students succeed. “This important educational component of their academic careers helps to jump-start the next stages,” she says.

Every Gift Counts

These are just some of the many ways philanthropy in practice is providing life-changing opportunities for students and helping to ensure the continued success of programs at Montclair State.


Kristina Kostovski ’18 spoke at the 2018 Annual Scholarship Dinner. An Accounting major, she graduated with a job at a Big Four accounting firm fueled by generous scholarship support throughout college.


“The success of Soar is possible thanks to the generous participation of so many alumni, volunteers, faculty, staff, students, and corporate and foundation supporters,” Coppla says. “They taught us so much about coming together as a community, and about the true value and impact of giving.”

This article appears in the latest edition of Montclair magazine, which will be online starting December 2. To see past issues of Montclair, visit the magazine website.