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Sights Set on Montclair

High school students participate in summer Pre-College Access Institute

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Miguel Angulo with PCAI attendees
Miguel Angulo of Check Point Software Technologies takes a selfie with PCAI participants during a networking event.

The subject on the student’s agenda is “Advocating for Yourself” and Jane Sanchez Swain is quizzing high school students about what happens once they enroll in college. Swain, assistant director for Degree Completion Programs at Montclair University College, pushes them when they respond that they are more independent.

Someone responds that they become adults. That’s the response Swain was seeking. “Legally, you become an adult,” she says. “So, in high school, because you’re a minor, your parents have to be involved in stuff related to you as a student, your record, all that… In college, the moment you become an adult, there is something called FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act]. We can’t disclose information to your parents because you’re an adult.”

Swain is speaking to a group of 34 students on campus in late July for the Pre-College Access Institute (PCAI) sponsored by Walmart. Now in its second year, the program provides potential Montclair students from underserved and underrepresented communities with the opportunity to learn about applying and transitioning to college. It also helps prepare them for academic success.

One of several summer programs offered by Montclair State to ease the way to college, PCAI is modeled after the six-year-old Hispanic Student College Institute (HSCI) and allows students to live on campus for three days and two nights. PCAI participants cover lots of ground, including sessions on financial aid literacy and college essay writing. They also receive mentoring from Montclair students, many of whom are also previous participants in HSCI or PCAI, and later will get to network with University faculty and staff. But before then, however, peer mentors, including Macarena Duque, a Psychology major, and Shantal Proano, a senior Medical Humanities major, walk them through the paces of how to network properly, which covers everything from introductions to shaking hands and attire.

large group photo of all PCAI attendees
High school juniors and seniors participated in the Pre-College Access Institute, one of Montclair’s summer programs that help prepare students from underserved communities for college success.

The adulthood conversation is the perfect segue into discussing the importance of self-advocacy, on which Swain also quizzes PCAI participants. “College is the place when you really assert your independence,” she says. “Our goal for you is – and your goal for yourself should be – success and independence.”

She walks them through a series of exercises. Working in small groups, the students are presented with different scenarios and must practice advocating for themselves using a five-step strategy Swain has reviewed with them. She also notes some of the benefits of self-advocacy, which include strengthened communications skills, confidence building and learning to be a better listener, all of which will serve them in their academic and professional careers.

“There is power in believing in yourself and there is power in speaking up for yourself,” she says.

Jane Sanchez Swain speaking with a student
Assistant Director for Degree Completion Programs Jane Sanchez Swain, right, talks with a student during a networking event.

Swain also talks to them about the importance of asking for help if facing mental health issues. “When you’re sick, you go to the doctor. When you don’t feel well mentally, it’s kind of the same,” Swain says. “Mental health is a part of your overall health. Some people may say, ‘Therapy doesn’t work for me.’ Okay, well, how else are you coping? As long as you’re finding a way to cope with how you feel, it’s a good thing. Whatever you feel you need to be well, right?”

Swain reminds them that they are never alone and to take advantage of University resources and practice self-advocacy.

“You may not always get what you want but it’s always worth a shot,” she says. “You win or you learn something because you never lose when you bet on yourself.”

Samantha, Jaylen and Daniel
Samantha, Jaylen and Daniel participated in this summer’s Pre-College Access Institute at Montclair.

Among the students betting on their academic futures is Daniel, a Jersey City rising senior. Daniel, who is interested in studying finance and considering Montclair, participated in the HSCI in mid-July. He admits that his parents influenced his decision to attend both HSCI and PCAI but that he’s glad he did. “I honestly like the college life experience, dorming, having a roommate,” he says, adding that he picked up more information about financial aid during the PCAI experience. “It’s exciting. It’s good to know more about essay prompts, financial aid. It prepares you well.”

Jaylen heard about HSCI on the news but couldn’t attend so decided to participate in PCAI. The rising senior from Jersey City says he found the motivational speakers and financial aid presentations especially helpful. “I like the connections they made with the audience. They kept the audience entertained and kept me engaged,” says Jaylen, who is interested in studying business and possibly real estate. He says Montclair is one of his top five schools. “I just want to come here.”

Samantha has participated in PCAI twice, last year and last month. “It’s fun, that’s why I came back,” she says, adding “Even though you’ve done it before, it feels new because there’s new people, you’re in a new kind of environment now, you have new mentors and new speakers.”

The Hillside rising senior, who wants to study exercise science, says she found the FAFSA information presented by Nicole DeZerga, a counselor in the Financial Aid Office, particularly helpful. She also enjoyed presentations by sorority and fraternity members, something new to the students this year.

The three students agreed that seeing diversity among current Montclair students was also important to them when weighing college choices.

“You wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like I belong here,’ but subconsciously you have that reminder that there’s ‘nobody here I can relate to’” says Samantha. “So, when you’re surrounded by people that are like you and unlike you, there’s a balance that makes you comfortable. You know you’re not the only one that’s out of the box.”

Photo Gallery

Tim White
Director of International Academic Initiatives Tim White visits with students during a networking event.
Richard Steiner-Otoo speaking at a podium on stage
Student Government Association President Richard Steiner-Otoo addresses PCAI participants.
group of four students speaking with Montclair faculty member
PCAI participants network with Montclair faculty and staff during their three days on campus.
Katia Paz Goldfarb
Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb, whose office organizes the Pre-College Access Institute, speaks to students during a networking event.
Madeleine Morrow speaking with a PCAI attendee
Madeleine Morrow with the Department of Management in the Feliciano School of Business talks with a student during a PCAI college fair.
Professor Jonas Zhang speaking with students at a table
Jonas Zhang, professor of marketing in the Feliciano School of Business, visits with students during a PCAI networking event.
PCAI participant Olga networks during a PCAI event held on campus in late July.
group of students walking on camups with PCAI backpacks
PCAI students tour the Montclair campus.

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters and Shantal Proano.

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