Nohemi Hernandez, a senior studying Family Science and Human Development, is on the path to becoming a social worker, something that seemed impossible before attending Montclair State University.
But a strong support system through the Future College Graduate Academy, an umbrella for multiple programs that assist primarily low-income, first-generation students, has kept her on track for both her career and graduation goals.
“It literally takes just one person to give you that hope, motivation and attention you need at that moment,” Hernandez says.
Students like Hernandez are benefitting from the Academy’s unified enrollment and graduation pathway for highly motivated students that includes special programs, high school enrollment partnerships, and the possession of additional grants and resources. The Educational Opportunity Fund, Health Careers, Academic Launch, Knowledge is Power, Cooperman Scholars, Give Something Back and Upward Bound now fall under the Future College Graduate Academy umbrella.
“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 Daniel Jean, the assistant provost for Special Programs, EOF and Academic Success, who oversees the academy. “We refer to these students as scholars. This sets high expectations for them and helps build a community in and out of the classroom.”
Educational Opportunity Fund
The goal is to increase the number of success stories like Hernandez. When she was a girl, Montclair was her dream school. Once accepted, she enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, where she benefited from academic support, leadership development, financial assistance, a community of peers and most importantly, a strong support system.
“Just being part of the EOF program, Dr. Jean and all the counselors who were there made me feel safe and calm because they never gave up on us. They had keynote speakers come in every week and give us that push we all needed,” Hernandez says.
Coming to college from foster care, Hernandez enrolled as an independent student, which allowed her 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 has an internship lined up with the Jersey City Police Department, which is not too far from where she lives. In October, she was one of five students in the state honored with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s Rising Star Awards and is on track to graduate in spring 2022.
For Alexis Garofalo, a senior studying Molecular Biology, the Health Careers Program has been a rewarding experience filled with paid internship opportunities, class tutoring, a welcoming cohort and a strong support system.
“What attracted me to the program was the amount of support and attention that is offered for students who are accepted,” says Garofalo, who grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. “The motivation and attention that each one of us receives are very special and unique to the program. 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.”
To engage scholars in a mandatory summer academy, Academic Launch provides opportunities for academic advising, academic support and many co-curricular programs.
Kevin Bernard of Newark, New Jersey, aspires to both teach political science and earn a position on the City Council, perhaps even run for mayor someday. As a senior in the Academic Launch program with a major in Political Science, Bernard’s experiences motivate 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.”
The academy also offers the Cooperman Scholars program that provides scholarship funding for students and includes a required Summer Bridge program and faculty mentorship.
Neika and Teika Brown, twins from Orange, New Jersey, are in their first year as Cooperman Scholars, both majoring in Molecular Biology. They were both interested in the program after Cooperman Scholars presented at their high school.
Both say their experiences as Cooperman Scholars have been “amazing.”
“The mentors and new people that I have made connections with could not have been possible without this program,” Neika Brown says.
“I’ve met lifelong friends and mentors,” says Teika Brown.
Upward Bound delivers educational opportunities for currently enrolled high school students from Paterson, New Jersey. The main goal of the program is to increase the rates at which students complete secondary education.
Ralph Falen is an Upward Bound alumnus and worked as a counselor for the program from 2008-2011. As a counselor, he learned a lot from students while also inspiring them.
“Being able to leverage your personal experiences and help others in their path is one of the most satisfying rewards in life,” Falen says.
Falen’s experiences with Upward Bound have guided him far – he now holds a manager position in the Regulatory Affairs Department of Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
The Give Something Back program provides underprivileged students from Essex County with joint scholarship funding, academic advising and co-curricular academic programs, as well as full scholarships for scholars who have experienced heightened social risks such as foster care or the incarceration of a parent.
Audrey Vargas-Cruz from Trenton, New Jersey, is a junior in the Give Something Back program and was attracted to the program by the connections she made with the staff and mentors.
“[Staff and mentors] want to see you succeed no matter the circumstances; they are always there for you in any capacity,” says Cruz, a Communication and Media Studies major. “I have been given the opportunity to fulfill my leadership goals within the program and that has led me to become the person that I am today.”
Meanwhile, the Knowledge is Power program provides a designated Kipp counselor and intentional curricular and co-curricular support.
The Future College Graduates Academy recently secured federal grants as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and received $2.6 million plus a state grant for $1.4 million, which includes funds allocated toward the development of the Future College Graduate Dual Enrollment Institute for Newark scholars. The main goal of the program is to prepare high school students to succeed in college. It also allows access to automatic admission to Montclair State through one of four Summer Bridge programs, as well as the opportunity to earn up to 18 credits before the start of their first semester.
Jean says that the future vision for the Future College Graduate Academy is to acquire more federal and state grant money to expand the number of scholars it serves.
“This feature is critical because the Future College of Graduate Academy was just an idea that came to me to put all of these programs under one umbrella so that we could market it properly,” Jean says. “We want to scale these programs and double the overall enrollment and services that we offer within the next five years.”
Story by Rosaria Lo Presti
You May Also Like: