Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell took over this academic year for former President Susan Cole, who stepped down after serving in the role for 23 years.
Koppell is a nationally recognized scholar of policy, organization and management. He is married to Jennifer Steen; they have two children.
Montclair State is the second largest public university in New Jersey, after Rutgers.
What are some of the main challenges you’re facing at MSU?
There’s so much excitement on campus about how great the university is, but the strength of our program is not always well recognized externally. It’s like a hidden gem in some ways. For example, our musical theater program is one of the strongest programs at the university, and it draws students from across the country. Education is also highly ranked nationally and extremely good. It’s pretty impressive.
What are some of your goals for the school?
We’re going to elevate our visibility. We’re also going to define this university by its service to the community. We’re going to create a set of opportunities to let students learn through public service. For example, we have education students teaching and working with schools; nursing students working on the front lines, vaccinating. And entrepreneurship students working with small businesses in Paterson. There’s a real opportunity to learn through service. We want to become New Jersey’s premier public service university and define students’ experiences here.
What are some changes that MSU faculty and students will see going forward?
The key is to figure out how to make campus accessible. We’ve talked about how we can improve the traffic flow, and alternatives to cars as a way to get to campus. Part of the solution is meeting people where they want to be. Students’ desire for alternative ways to engage the university is sparking the future of Montclair is Unbound, in which we’ll mix some face-to-face classes with some online classes.
Was it hard to follow in the footsteps of Susan Cole, who was president for two decades?
She left a legacy that we can build on. Dr. Cole did a lot in terms of changing the scale and redefining the possibilities of what Montclair can do, and it’s a great foundation to work from. I’m very grateful that she was a really effective fiscal steward for the university, and we’re in great shape compared to other institutions across the country.
How did your upbringing shape who you are now?
Growing up, my father was in public service and my mother worked in education. I always had the idea of making a difference in the world. I was attracted to leading this university because there was the potential to do so much in the world—not just teaching and research but improving the well-being of the community. I went to Arizona State with the idea of working on that model. I learned a ton about working with the community and taking advantage of their intelligence and energy. We accomplished a lot in Arizona and I’m so excited to do that here in New Jersey as well.