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University News

University Joins First Scholars Network

Montclair receives national designation for commitment to ensuring first-generation college student success

Posted in: Homepage News, Press Releases, University

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Showcasing its commitment to providing life-changing educational opportunities for all populations, Montclair State University has been named to the First Scholars Network for 2023-2024, joining only 10% of American colleges and universities that have earned the designation.

The First Scholars Network is part of the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and The Suder Foundation. It is a four-phase approach that allows higher education institutions to advance first-generation student success through establishing communities of practice, gaining knowledge of resources, and establishing peer networks.

As an institution develops more comprehensive programming for first-generation students, it can advance to the next phase, with the ultimate goal to become a First Scholars Champion Campus.

More than 40% of Montclair’s most recent record-breaking incoming class are first-generation college students, making this a critical initiative to help ensure student success at the University.

“The importance of this designation is monumental. We are now part of an elite cohort of colleges and universities that are laser-focused on supporting first-generation student success,” says Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Dawn Meza Soufleris. “The ability to access training materials, understand best practices and to network with other institutions that have this designation will fully enhance the experience these students will have at Montclair State University. We are proud to be recognized by the First Scholars Network as part of their Class of 2023.”

Created in 2022, Montclair’s Office of Student Belonging provides cohort-based experiences that promote a strong connection to the University for students who are first-generation, freshmen, transfers, international and military-affiliated. The goal is to create an environment that recognizes and supports the unique needs of these populations in relation to their immediate and long-term educational and personal goals.

The Office has established year-round programming for first-generation students. Initiatives include on-campus events solely for first-generation students, the expansion of the University’s Delta Chi Chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for First-Generation College Students, and partnerships with academic departments to engage with the population on the academic side.

As Montclair progresses in the First Scholars Network, future programmatic goals include a comprehensive peer mentoring program that will pair new incoming students with current first-generation students as mentors, working with the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) division to facilitate programming that will address the mental health impacts of being a first-generation student and other expanded programmatic offerings.

“Our goal in First-Generation Initiatives is to continue developing a space within the campus community where our first-gen students feel welcomed, where their needs are heard, and where they can form a sense of belonging,” says Assistant Director of First-Generation Initiatives Jasey Bedoya. “We are committed to providing resources and engagement opportunities to continue increasing retention amongst the first-generation student population.”

“The Center is pleased to welcome Montclair State University into the First Scholars Network,” says Sarah E. Whitley, a vice president with the Center for First-Generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that Montclair is not only taking steps to serve first-generation but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”

For more information on the Office of Student Belonging at Montclair State University, visit