Photo of College Hall Bell Tower
University News

2021 Year in Review

The University saw a greater reawakening of campus life – and a change in leadership

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Two students dancing on the patio in front of the Student Center

In 2021, as the world continued to grapple with the ongoing pandemic, Montclair State University forged forward, taking every possible step to provide a safe, quality, accessible education to its more than 21,000 students. Meanwhile, the University underwent its greatest sea change in a generation as it welcomed new President Jonathan Koppell and bid adieu to President Susan A. Cole, who retired after 23 years. Throughout the year, students, staff and alumni continued to dazzle, and a groundbreaking Vice President of the United States visited campus. Here are just some of the highlights from this past year.

Hope in a New Year

woman in flowing dress and yellow face mask riding skateboard
Professor standing on lawn lecturing a class seated on a hillside

Montclair was one of the few higher education institutions in New Jersey to return to in-person education in fall 2020 – with a hybrid option and low-density, socially distanced residential housing. The safe and thoughtful return to campus continued in January 2021, as Montclair welcomed more students back into residence halls, while providing the physical and mental health supports they needed. And in fall 2021, the University welcomed its largest freshman class in history for a fully in-person fall semester, reflected in a campus bursting with life again.

COVID Battle Continues

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout shifted into high gear in the spring of 2021, the School of Nursing answered the call, with nursing students and staff working at Essex County’s large-scale immunization centers and helping register and educate members of the community. Meanwhile, the campus community showed its dedication to the public good with high vaccination rates, responding favorably to vaccine mandates.

Cole Hall Dedicated

President Cole speaking from a lectern

In June, College Hall was rededicated as Susan A. Cole Hall to honor Susan A. Cole upon her retirement after 23 years as president. “It is fitting that we rededicate College Hall to formally honor President Cole, who, as the University’s eighth president, and first female president, has led the University through its remarkable period of growth and transformation,” said Francis M. Cuss, chair of the Board of Trustees. The iconic 113-year-old Mission Revival building once housed the entire school and had recently reopened after being completely renovated and expanded.

A New Leader, A New Era

President Koppell in front of belltower

University Trustees announced in June that Jonathan Koppell, a nationally regarded scholar of policy, organization and management who transformed the public affairs college at Arizona State University into one of the largest, best and most innovative in the nation, would become Montclair State University’s ninth president. Since starting on the job August 2, Koppell has engaged with the Red Hawk community as he sets out to build on the University’s legacy as a place that not only makes a difference in the lives of students but also in the world.

One Family and Six Degrees

For the second year of the pandemic, Montclair held multiple outdoor socially distanced commencement ceremonies at Sprague Field in June. Among the 5,044 degrees conferred in 2020-21, including those during the 16 ceremonies, were those of Associate Director of Postal Services Lavone Broxton and his daughter Tiiera, both of whom earned degrees in Sociology. They joined Lavone’s spouse and Tiiera’s mother, Rhonda Robinson-Broxton, who holds two master’s degrees from Montclair, as alumni in the family. Broxton’s two older daughters, Siiera and Kiiera, hold master’s degrees from other institutions and Kiiera is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University. “I didn’t want to be the only person in a family who didn’t go to school,” Lavone says.

Heroes Among Us

Brian Warner, a technology support desktop specialist at the Feliciano School of Business, and his fellow firefighters from the Hawthorne Volunteer Fire Department rescued 15 people and two dogs from swiftly moving waters caused by Tropical Storm Ida. Toms River Police Officer Rebecca Sayegh ’15 rescued a homeowner, her two dogs and a cat from a house fire in January. Valerie Tauriello ’04, a health and physical education teacher at Soehl Middle School in Linden, New Jersey, stopped a runaway SUV as it was headed for a group of schoolchildren. And a random act of kindness 15 years ago by Leigh Ann Murduca ’09, ’11 MA changed everything for Amy Elizabeth Policelli ’09, who because of it was able to learn American Sign Language and connect with her non-verbal child years later.

Major Grants

Among nearly $17 million in grant awards received by University researchers and programs this year, is a $2.6 million, two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institutional Resilience and Expanded Postsecondary Opportunity program to address the needs of the most vulnerable students, as well as build institutional resilience, in the ongoing global pandemic. Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Elaine Hitchcock has been awarded a $435,000 National Institutes of Health R15 grant toward her research in telepractice delivery of speech therapy. And researchers Weitian Wang, Michelle Zhu and Amy Tuininga, received a three-year, $289,737 grant from the National Science Foundation to build a robot system to connect 12 departments across the University.

Public Service

Koppell and students in the community garden

As is tradition for the University on the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, hundreds of students, faculty and alumni volunteered with local communities throughout the region. President Jonanthan Koppell says this strong base of public service is becoming a signature hallmark of the Montclair education. “This generation is more focused on making the world a better place. We need to do everything in our power to support students and prepare them to engage in public service.”

COVID-19 Remembrance Day – Illuminating Hope

Mourner sits on steps in the amphitheater among candles lit in remembrance

Students, staff and faculty came together on September 30 to support each other and acknowledge the toll COVID-19 has taken on the community and the world. Because the pandemic has touched the lives of all – whether they have lost loved ones, been ill themselves, or suffered from the stress and isolation of living through this time – the campus community created a luminaria display of words of remembrance, healing and hope to support one another.The ceremony was held at the Amphitheater and included singing and spoken words of encouragement, as lights flickered in bags that created a wall of remembrance.

Fulbright Hispanic-Serving Leader

Latino and latina students, faculty and staff displaying flags from their families' ancestry

In October, the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs recognized the University as an inaugural Fulbright Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Leader, one of only 35 institutions to earn the designation. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to increase understanding between Americans and people in other countries. Montclair, designated an HSI in 2016, was chosen as a Fulbright HSI Leader for its noteworthy engagement with the program and for helping students and faculty benefit from a variety of on-campus Fulbright initiatives.

World College Radio Day Marathon – and Musical

In October, award-winning WMSC 90.3 FM collaborated with more than 600 stations in 40 countries for the 11th annual World College Radio Day, powered by Live365. The station hosted 34 hours of special programming featuring on-air talent, exclusive celebrity interviews and music performances, and closed out a 24-hour Global WCRD marathon with the station’s first college radio musical “The Nightmare Before World College Radio Day.”

Big Names on Campus

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking with guests at the Ben Samuels Children's Center

Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris – along with Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and Governor Phil Murphy – visited the Ben Samuels Children’s Center on the Montclair State University campus on October 8 to highlight the importance of federal funding for childcare. “A lot of the work that we are doing right now … is the work of recognizing the significance of supporting our parents, supporting our children, and understanding that it is about an investment in our collective future,” Harris said during the discussion.

Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis provided the pinnacle experience for the new Cali Immersive Residency Program, a reimagined professional residency program of 10 rotating ensembles and solo artists. From Nov. 9-11, Marsalis participated in master classes and a Q&A with Cali School Director Anthony Mazzocchi.

The School of Communication and Media welcomed Michael Price 81, award-winning executive producer for The Simpsons and co-creator and showrunner of Netflix’s F is For Family, for its final SCM 2.0 speaker event of the semester. Price discussed the exciting growth and evolution of American streaming media, shared stories from his life since departing Montclair for Hollywood, and offered advice for students aspiring to work in entertainment.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The College Tour, a Prime Video series hosted by Amazing Race winner Alex Boylan, was on campus this fall, shooting 20 segments written and told by students and alumni. The University will be featured in Season 4 on Amazon’s streaming service, IMDb TV, on The College Tour’s app (Android, iOS) and website. It will also run on Roku, Apple TV, LG Smart TV, Samsung Smart TV, Sony, Philips Smart TV, Amazon FireTV and Android TV. The College Tour gives prospective students around the world the chance to travel virtually for an inside look at colleges and universities in the United States.

Monday Night Football Symphony

Violinist plays a solo in front of the MSU Symphony Orchestra

In a unique mashup, the Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra performed in a teaser for Monday Night Football on ESPN prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers-Chicago Bears game on November 8. Students delighted in their close-ups. “It’s so crazy because I’m a huge football fan and I rarely watch before the kickoff,” said Nathaniel Williams, a senior Music Education major from Newark, New Jersey. “I was beyond excited. When I saw the orchestra and the shots of myself on the violin I showed it to the person I was sitting next to.”

Celebrating Together

Closely packed students and alumni in the amphitheater for homecoming

In October, in-person Homecoming returned after a one-year hiatus, with the greater Red Hawk community enjoying a return to campus for a traditional event – and a much needed return to a sense of normalcy.

Two students dancing on the patio in front of the Student Center

Cultural pride was on display this fall as the University celebrated its first Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month block party, marking its five-year milestone as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and its first-ever all-Latinx executive board of the Student Government Association.

Video Highlights from 2021

Story by Mary Barr Mann
Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters

Video by University Videographer Christo Apostolou