The College Hall bell rang for the first time on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 15, 1908 to greet 187 future educators. Two years later, The New Jersey State Normal School at Montclair would have its first graduating class of only 45 students. Although it was a small school, “the Harvard of Teachers College” was a nickname.
As the decades passed, the school began to grow and evolve to something bigger than just a four-year, $50 teaching program. What started as a state college has now evolved into one of the largest and most diverse universities in New Jersey. Thousands of students attend the school and discover their passions, choosing from a variety of different career paths to venture through.
From the very beginning, Jana Polsky Deneroff, from the class of 1980, knew she wanted to work in broadcast. In high school, she had the opportunity to take a trip to the NBC studio in New York City, and by her senior year, she applied early decision to Montclair State College. It was her top choice, and she was overjoyed to find out she got in.
“That was it,” Polsky Deneroff said. “It’s like falling in love.”
Polsky Deneroff arrived at the college the first day of her freshman year in 1976 and found herself in Broadcasting 101, a class she could never forget. She remembers racing up and down the hill from the black and white TV studio in the basement of College Hall to the fourth floor of the Student Center, where the WMSC radio station was. She was fascinated with the number of career opportunities that a program of only 100 students could offer.
“The ‘little engine that could’ really provided us with a lot of insight, education and opportunities that allowed for so many of us to have great careers,” Polsky Deneroff said. “It was a unique situation at the time.”
Polsky Deneroff, now the Director of Communications at Westwood One Radio, comes back to Montclair State at least once a year to check up on the new state-of-the-art School of Communication and Media, visiting students who have the same passions and dreams that she did.
“The kids are so smart and engaged with energy and ideas we could have never imagined,” Polsky Deneroff said.
Another thing she does when she is back on campus is participate in WMSC’s Alumni Takeover Week, which has been going strong for the past decade. It takes place during finals week so that current students can focus on their studies and former students take their place. This gives alumni the chance to relive some of their favorite moments from their years at Montclair State. Polsky Deneroff was an active member of WMSC from 1976 to 1980 and could not be more grateful for the opportunities and careers that her education allowed her to have.
“I love being back on campus,” Polsky Deneroff said. “I can close my eyes and feel like I’m back in the late ’70s hanging out in the quad on a sunny day or making the trek from our studio in College Hall to the Student Center for the radio station.”
Montclair State alumni, like Polsky Deneroff, come back every once in a while to encourage students to make the most of their college education and to seize each day. Some current students also try to help others and live by the school’s motto: carpe diem.
Kayla Drozdowski, a senior psychology major, is always the first to volunteer. In her final semesters, she tries to use the motto to its fullest, not just for herself but for others too. She is an active participant on campus, including being a part of the Center for Student Involvement, the president of Montclair State’s The Odyssey, a CAPS mental health ambassador and a long list of other roles in the campus community. What is most important to her is that she does it all with kindness and compassion.
“My whole life is to help others,” Drozdowski said. “Seeing others be happy makes me feel successful.”
Drozdowski believes that when she is given an opportunity, she has to make the most of it. She admits that she does a lot at the university. Along with her resume, she has gotten a lot of recognition, including being a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success and a dean’s list student. With her success, she never forgets about those who helped her get there. Drozdowski understands that others may have trouble, which is why she leaves time to help the community.
“Yes, I do a lot at [Montclair State], but it all means nothing unless you are kind,” Drozdowski said. “You can be highly involved, but it all means nothing if you treat others poorly while you do it.”
Drozdowski hopes that current and future Red Hawks will follow her lead. She believes that students should sign up for everything they are interested in, even if they are unable to attend every Wednesday meeting or Friday night event. Most importantly, she wants students to love what they do. With only four years and a lot of money put into higher education, she hopes that just like her, students will find their place in the campus community and make the most out of what Montclair State has to offer.
“People will not remember every word I said or everything I did with them, but they will always remember how I made them feel,” Drozdowski said. “I hope when I leave [Montclair State] they remember me because I made them feel happy.”
One hundred and ten years later, the same bell continues to chime every day, catching the attention of hundreds of students as they make their way up the same hill as students who came before them. With their futures ahead of them, students at Montclair State will continue to seize each day. The bell is a reminder that there is no stopping them now.