Public 4-Year Schools

Montclair State University’s Presidential Scholars Program Puts Students in Stronger State of Mind

Montclair State University is laser-focused on preparing students for real-world success. Beginning in fall 2018, its new Presidential Scholars Program will offer accomplished first-time freshmen a $5,000 scholarship, as well as access to special academic and career preparation opportunities.

“Our new Presidential Scholars Program invests in the intellectual growth and success of New Jersey’s youth, effectively building a ‘stronger state of mind’ in the Garden State,” says Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole. “As a newly designated public research university, we are intent on leveraging the capacity of the extensive educational programs and facilities we have built to advance our mission of serving the needs of New Jersey. By making our outstanding education accessible to the state’s most valuable resource – talented, motivated students – this dynamic new program allows the University to make a positive contribution to the state’s economic and social development.”

The Presidential Scholars program will give its graduates an enhanced academic experience, positioning them strategically for post-undergraduate success – whether that means continuing scholarly pursuits or directly entering the workforce. “We anticipate that Presidential Scholars will be highly diverse and among New Jersey’s most ambitious and determined young people who are looking to maximize their college experience, explore opportunities and gain every possible advantage,” explains Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Indiveri-Gant. “This program encourages them to put a stake in New Jersey ground and establish themselves as the next generation of leaders and professionals.”

A New Jersey applicant who has achieved a 3.5 GPA on an unweighted 4.0 scale in a rigorous course of high school study that includes, for example, additional years of math, science and world language, AP or IB courses, or courses for college credit – will be automatically eligible for consideration.

All first-time freshman Presidential Scholars who maintain program academic standards will receive a $5,000 scholarship for each of four years of full-time study at Montclair State – for a potential total award of $20,000.

“The biggest benefit, beyond the financial support, is that the program will provide students with an intentional, guided path through high-impact educational experiences across all four years of their undergraduate study,” says Indiveri-Gant. These experiences may include opportunities to conduct undergraduate research for credit, hands-on internships and a host of workshops, seminars, and co-curricular programs and services developed to prepare them for personal and professional success.

Like all students, Presidential Scholars will study with the University’s world-class faculty in state-of-the-art facilities that include the new School of Communication and Media; the cutting-edge Center for Environmental and Life Sciences; and the high-tech home of the Feliciano School of Business.

“Providing an excellent and well-rounded education is what Montclair State does best. It’s important for the University to be accessible to all qualified students,” says Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Karen L. Pennington. “We want to serve as a catalyst for the success of students who have worked hard, taken rigorous courses and who have strong ambitions.

Groundbreaking Discovery by LIGO/Virgo Solves Cosmic Mystery

Faculty contribute to detection of neutron stars’ collision

When two neutron stars collided in a galaxy 130 million light years away, scientists detected the gravitational waves and light produced by the collision. The historic discovery on August 17 was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories.

Montclair State physics faculty members Rodica Martin and Marc Favata are part of the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration team that made the discovery. A national- and state-designated doctoral research university, Montclair State has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration since 2013.

“We are proud to have two members of the LIGO team at Montclair State,” says College of Science and Mathematics Acting Dean Lora Billings. “Their contributions in unraveling the information provided by gravitational waves is a great example of the cutting-edge, collaborative research done in the College. The project also provides unique opportunities for our talented students. We hope that their amazing success continues.”

This is the first time a collision of two neutron stars – small, dense stars formed when huge stars explode in supernovas – has been detected using gravitational waves. It is also the first time a gravitational-wave signal has been accompanied by coincident detections with conventional telescopes.

“It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the universe,” says France A. Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, which funds LIGO.

While averaging just 12 miles in diameter, neutron stars are so dense that a teaspoon of neutron star material has a mass of roughly a billion tons. In a distant galaxy, two neutron stars spiraled toward each other, emitting powerful gravitational waves before they crashed into each other, causing a burst of gamma rays. Their collision produced a “chirp” recorded by the LIGO and Virgo detectors that lasted nearly 100 seconds. This happened 130 million light years away, in a galaxy 50 times farther than the Andromeda galaxy – the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way.

A Momentous Breakthrough

“This is a really big deal,” says Favata. “Neutron star collisions are one of the key sources that LIGO was hoping to observe – and now we have. It’s also the loudest source that our network of detectors has found so far.”

According to Favata, the discovery has resolved a persistent mystery as to the origin of short-duration gamma ray bursts (GRBs). “It’s long been suspected that these GRB’s are due to the collision of two neutron stars, but that hasn’t been confirmed until now.”

The new observations also resolve long-standing speculation as to how heavy elements, such as gold and lead, are produced. A by-product of the collision of the two neutron stars, these elements are distributed throughout the universe.

Equally important, Martin says, “The discovery involved lots of electromagnetic astronomers, all working together with LIGO/Virgo. Making joint observations with these partners has been a key goal for LIGO.”

Confirming Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

On August 17, LIGO and Virgo detectors registered gravitational waves – or ripples in the geometry of space and time – at roughly the same time that NASA’s Fermi space telescope detected a burst of gamma rays. The discovery prompted follow-up observations by telescopes around the world.

Together, the gamma-ray measurements and gravitational-wave detections provide further confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which predicted that gravitational waves travel at the speed of light. In 2015, LIGO’s detection of gravitational-wave signals resulting from the merger of two black holes first validated Einstein’s theory and ushered in the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy. Earlier this month, LIGO founders Rainer Weiss and Kip Throne, as well as early LIGO Principal Investigator Barry Barish, received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Contributing to a Groundbreaking Discovery

As part of the approximately 1,200-member LIGO team, Favata and Martin helped contribute to its successes.

Martin helped to design and install various components of the upgrade to the detectors – called Advanced LIGO. “My role in the discovery was to help build the upgrade that enabled the recent discoveries,” she explains. “My current role is to develop and design optical components and instrumentation for future detectors. This will increase the sensitivity and allow us to observe even more distant events or sources that are currently too weak to detect.”

Favata helped develop some of the gravitational-wave models used to analyze neutron star collisions. He and Martin are also actively involved in education and outreach efforts on behalf of LIGO. These include the website, which is being updated with sounds from the new detections, as well as informative exhibits of LIGO science. Both professors work closely with a team of eight students on experimental, theoretical and educational aspects of gravitational physics. The team is comprised of undergraduates Valerie Avendano, Kevin Chen, Lita de la Cruz, Xavier Euceda, Nicholas Provost, Kevin Santiago, and graduate students Joseph DeGaetani and Matthew Karlson.

“This detection opens the window of a long-awaited ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy,” says Caltech’s David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory. “It’s the first time that we’ve observed a cataclysmic astrophysical event in both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves – our cosmic messengers. Gravitational-wave astronomy offers new opportunities to understand the properties of neutron stars in ways that just can’t be achieved with electromagnetic astronomy alone.”

Read more about the science behind LIGO’s gravitational waves research and discoveries in Listening to the Universe, a recent article in the Fall 2017 issue of Insights, the Research Chronicle of the College of Science and Mathematics.

About LIGO/Virgo

LIGO is funded by the NSF, and operated by Caltech and MIT, which conceived of LIGO and led the Initial and Advanced LIGO projects. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by the NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project.

More than 1,200 scientists and some 100 institutions from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration and the Australian collaboration OzGrav. Additional partners are listed at

The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and the European Gravitational Observatory, EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy, funded by CNRS, INFN, and Nikhef.

The Graduate School Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Commitment to growth inspires a culture of research and scholarship

At the 20th anniversary of The Graduate School recently celebrated, doctoral students, Fulbright Scholars, faculty, deans and pioneers in the creation of the School gathered to acknowledge the milestones achieved toward bringing research and scholarship to the heart of University life. Fittingly, the celebration took place in The Graduate School’s new home, which for the first time can be found on a map in the center of campus.

Recognition as a doctoral research university is putting Montclair State on the map throughout the state and nationally. “What we are celebrating,” noted Provost Willard Gingerich at the event, “is a serious advancement of higher education at Montclair State University.”

For the past two decades, The Graduate School has worked to meet the educational, career and intellectual goals of students – and the needs of the region. “The growth illustrates the wide-ranging research opportunities we provide for the next generation of scientists and professionals,” said Dean Joan Ficke in an interview prior to the celebration. In her toast leading to a slideshow highlighting 20 years of achievement, Ficke looked forward, acknowledging “the extraordinary excitement that is associated with our future.”

The Graduate School has been central to the transformation at Montclair State, said President Susan A. Cole. “To be a university, we need to have a strong graduate faculty, strong graduate programs and terrific graduate students. Graduate students bring to an institution something that nothing else can provide and it creates the synergies of excitement around research and scholarship, faculty and students, that enable us to create an institution that can achieve the vision we have for it.”

Richard Lynde, who served as Provost and academic leader when The Graduate School was created, sent remarks shared at the celebration. “The story of The Graduate School is really the story of people: the staff, the Graduate Council, the school and college deans, the graduate coordinators and advisors, and perhaps most of all the faculty,” he wrote.

It is also a story of firsts. Montclair State was the first New Jersey state college to offer master’s degrees, was the first to offer a doctoral program at a New Jersey senior public institution, and was the first state institution to offer multiple doctoral programs.

This year, nearly 4,200 students – about 20 percent of the University’s total student enrollment – are pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, post-baccalaureate certificates and certification in nearly 100 graduate programs. “It’s been the most transformative experience of my life,” said Janice Marsili, a PhD candidate in Teacher Education and Teacher Development, who was among the graduate students at the event.

Recognizing this momentum and growth, the University was named a research doctoral institution in 2016 by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In 2017, Montclair State was further designated a New Jersey public research university.

National rankings highlight the University’s strengths, including U.S. News and World Report, which placed the graduate education program among the nation’s top 100. Accolades also highlight the Feliciano School of Business MBA, which NJBIZ readers placed in the top three out of 25 New Jersey institutions.

There are a number of promising avenues for the future. Already, Montclair State physics faculty are helping to unravel the mysteries in space as part of the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration. It is among the examples of the University’s expanded research activity, funding and partnerships.

Twenty years from now, “one step, one year at a time,” Montclair State University will take its place as a major graduate institution, Cole predicted. “The reputation is beginning to be established. We are on the path. I believe in that path. And I believe we are going to get there.”

University Professor Identifies Origins of the Gender Wage Gap in New Book

Yasemin Besen-Cassino finds gap begins in teen years and widens with age

Despite numerous advances in gender equality, the gap in earnings between men and women has yet to be bridged. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2015 female workers were making only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men – a 20 percent gap.

In her new book The Cost of Being a Girl, Sociology Professor Yasemin Besen-Cassino contends that the gender wage gap starts in the teen – not adult – years. “The wage gap is a very timely topic and so far a very stagnant problem, but I think we are looking at it the wrong way,” she says. “Most explanations focus on motherhood, housework and childcare – but things start long before then.”

“Its most important finding is that when teens are 12 and 13 there is no wage gap, but once employee-type jobs are available, boys move into them and girls remain in freelance jobs like babysitting. This is the start of the gender wage gap,” she explains.

Using a nationally representative, large-scale longitudinal dataset, she has tracked the same girls for many years, to find that working as a teenager helps boys but not girls, who are paid less many years after they first entered the workforce as teens. “Even many decades later, women who worked as teenagers make less money,” Besen-Cassino says.

She identifies mixed messages as the source of the problem. “We tell kids they can be anything they want at home and school, but they don’t believe these messages, because they have experienced the biases of the market firsthand,” she says. “We socialize our teenagers into the gendered expectations of the job market and it has long term effects on their self worth.”

According to Besen-Cassino, the wage gap is even greater for teens of color and lower income girls who are less likely to conform to the look or image sought by corporate employers. “We obscure the structural barriers to finding and keeping jobs,” she notes. “These look requirements make it seem like it’s their fault for not having the right outfits.”

All teen girls who work pay a psychological toll as well, especially those who are employed by the apparel industry, where they are paid less and are often made to feel overweight. Ultimately, these teen workers internalize gendered and unfair workplace assumptions.

A gender equality advocate who spoke beside Lily Ledbetter to support the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Besen-Cassino sees reason to hope that things will change. “Yet as a society, we need to take active steps. Without changing the structural problems of the workplace, we cannot simply continue to tell our teenagers that it’s going to be okay.”