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Finding the Right Fit

The first University College grads supported in choosing majors are ready to don caps and gowns

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Timothy Lewis will earn a degree in Television and Digital Media during the University’s Commencement in May, and is among the first graduates who began their academic career at University College, the home for students who enter college uncertain of their academic and career paths.

Four years ago, Timothy Lewis was among Montclair State University’s Class of 2022 who entered college undecided about what he wanted to study. But as part of the inaugural class of University College – the first and still the only program in New Jersey that supports undergraduates as they explore academic and career paths – he’s about to cross the finish line.

Altogether, about a quarter of this year’s graduating class will tip their caps to the mentors in University College who helped guide them at the start of their college journeys. Lewis will earn a degree in Television and Digital Media with a minor in LGBTQ Studies. “My college experience ended up turning out different than what I thought it was going to be,” he says.

That’s not unusual. “Why should you have it figured out at 18?” asks Robert Schneider, an academic advisor, who mentored Lewis. “Personal experiences, work experiences are going to change your views on a lot of different things.”

When University College launched in 2018, there was no precedent or blueprint to work from, recalls Associate Dean Daphne L. Galkin. “We started building our professional team, honing our mission and thinking about how we could best support pre-major students.”

The goal is to have students choose a major by the end of their first two academic years, a milestone commemorated each spring with a “Signing Day” of major declarations. To date, nearly 3,300 pre-major students have chosen a major.

“We’re kind of like training wheels,” says Schneider of University College’s academic advisors and program coordinators. “At some point we remove them and then we send the students off to their major. You watch them fall a little bit and then they get up and they brush themselves off and give it a go again.”

Lewis recalls being “a cautious college freshman very much outside of my comfort zone” when he came to Montclair. He found support from Schneider as the advisor encouraged him to take ownership of his learning experiences. (Listen to Lewis describe his journey on the University College “I Do Declare!” podcast).

“Like a lot of our students, he needed to learn about what Montclair can offer and funnel everything into one direction,” Schneider says. “It’s important for students to have that self actuality in the end that they made their own decision on a major so that the decision doesn’t define them, they define the decision. It’s very powerful for them when they can do that.”

photo of Ally D'Addezio
Ally D’Addezio came to Montclair as a transfer student. She will earn a degree in Child Advocacy and Policy.

Nearly 800 graduates in the Class of 2022 began as University College students. Among them, Ally D’Addezio recalls her experience coming here with no clear academic plan. “I transferred to Montclair not knowing what I wanted to do. My advisor was amazing,” she says, helping her explore her interests, which all pointed to working with children. She’ll earn a degree in Child Advocacy and Policy with a minor in Social Work and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Speech Pathology.

Meanwhile, Nani Sterling found University College after falling short of being admitted into one of Montclair’s competitive restricted majors, Animation/Illustration. “It was disappointing but I didn’t want to give up,” Sterling recalls. A University College advisor encouraged Sterling to take art classes available to pre-majors, including ceramics and painting to build an art portfolio. After a review of the new work, Sterling was admitted into the program and is now set to graduate and launch an art career.

Photo of Montclair State student Photo Photo of Montclair State student Nani Sterling
As a student leader, Nani Sterling, an Animation/Illustration major, serves as a University Fellow to support first-year students on their own college path.

“It’s super competitive. I’ve started to realize that sometimes you have to be lucky and I’m hoping that happens,” Sterling says. “I’m excited to start the journey.”

“Watching these graduates grow not only as students, but also as student leaders” contributes to the joy of this milestone, says Bobby Serrani, University College’s marketing and communications coordinator.

“Our goal is of course connecting them to their advisor, faculty, staff, their major, their new college, but also to each other,” Serrani says. “Seeing some of our students become super student leaders has been so refreshing and rewarding, to just know that what we’re doing is working and it’s making a difference.”

Among those leaders is Ashon Lanada, a Business Administration major who served as executive president of the Student Government Association. University College, he says, helped him navigate a path. “Not just my life, not just my major, but my path to where I’m at now.”

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters.

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