2023 Education Power 50: I – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//September 18, 2023//

Education Power 50
Education Power 50

2023 Education Power 50: I – Z

NJBIZ STAFF//September 18, 2023//

Listen to this article

Tony Iacono

As the third president of the County College of Morris, Iacono is widely recognized as one of the most esteemed leaders in New Jersey higher education. Since his arrival in 2016, he has been instrumental in building partnerships that help promote career education, including tie-ups with the Morris County Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. A community college graduate himself, Iacono believes the institution has the ability to strengthen lives and communities through academic programs that are affordable, as well as for being able to create a pipeline of highly skilled workers for business and industry. In addition to involvement with numerous associations, both in education and business, Iacono has served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, Florida Department of Education and various national educational reform organizations. Before becoming president at CCM, Iacono spent 17 years at Indian River State College in Florida, starting as an associate professor of history and rising to become vice president of academic affairs.

Cindy Jebb

Ramapo College of New Jersey’s first woman president, Jebb began leading the Mahwah-based public liberal arts institution in 2021, succeeding Peter Mercer. Appointed unanimously by the board of trustees, Jebb is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general whose 39-year-career in the service included being the first woman dean at the United States Military Academy at West Point. So far, her tenure at the state’s premier liberal arts college has included the development of an operations plan to ensure a healthy, safe and vibrant student experience while embracing a culture of dignity and respect. Moreover, under Jebb’s leadership, the college is launching its next strategic plan, Boldly Ascending, focused on fostering academic excellence and student success, an inclusive com-munity and stewardship. Jebb believes the 54-year-old college “has an essential role as a public institution that promotes the liberal arts” and “the idea of thinking from all different angles and having an interdisciplinary take on those challenges that require innovative solutions.” As such, Ramapo has leaned into new programs and opportunities, while exploring ways to become more affordable, accessible, diverse and equitable. Post-pandemic, Jebb thinks it’s more important than ever to become attuned to the needs and well-being of its community, capitalizing on technology and finding new ways of accomplishing its mission of ensure students are prepared to thrive in a changing world.

Jonathan Koppell

Koppell took the helm as Montclair State’s ninth president in August 2021, following a successful stint in leadership at Arizona State University. He is known as a visionary leader and nationally recognized scholar on policy, organization and management with an emphasis on public service and solutions-oriented community engagement. Koppel described joining the school as the opportunity of a lifetime. “At a pivotal moment in higher education, this university – with its deep commitment to serving the public interest and advancing student success – has an opportunity to define the future,” Koppel said in his welcome message to the MSU community. “I am confident we can build on the University’s strong foundation of excellence in bold, imaginative ways to contribute to the prosperity, health, and well-being of New Jersey and the nation.” Evidence of his innovative thinking was on display as he helped spearhead the Montclair State and Bloomfield College merger, which was announced last October. “Students enrolled at Bloomfield College will benefit from a distinctive educational environment offering a supportive, small college experience enhanced by the resources of a comprehensive public research university,” Koppell said at the time. “This partnership would serve as a new national model for how institutions with similar missions can innovate through integration and become partners in ensuring student success instead of competitors.”

Patrick Leahy

Since joining Monmouth University as its 10th president in 2019, Leahy has been a busy man – leading the school through the throes of the pandemic while also securing record philanthropic hauls and implementing an ambitious five-year strategic plan – “Access. Excellence. Ambition.” He led Monmouth’s move to join the Coastal Athletic Association last year – one of the top mid-major athletic conferences in the country. And Leahy has overseen efforts to physically transform the West Long Branch campus through a number of investments and projects while Monmouth also continues to shoot up the rankings of top colleges in national publications. “Our remarkable coastal location is the perfect launching point for students to reach beyond their own perceived potential. As we embrace the privilege and responsibility of becoming a university on the leading edge of learning and research, our future is even brighter,” Leahy writes in his welcome message on the school’s website. “We will continue to build on Monmouth’s reputation for excellence – especially through our nationally recognized centers of excellence, including the Urban Coast Institute, Monmouth University Polling Institute, and the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music.” Leahy serves as chair of the Springsteen Center.

Reginald Lewis

Since 2020, Lewis has served as the executive director of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University. The Center, which moved to Seton Hall in 2019 following a national search, is the leading international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the awareness, understanding, and practice of servant leadership. Lewis brings extensive experience from the philanthropic, nonprofit, government, and higher education sectors to the role. His career has spanned a number of notable chapters and roles, including being appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on Presidential Scholars and being appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy to serve as co-chair of one of five working groups for the implementation of the New Jersey Higher Education Plan. “When I reflect on the opportunities I’ve had across various sectors, I feel grateful,” Lewis said in a 2020 Seton Hall spotlight on his arrival at the Greenleaf Cen-ter. “Because we’re here in the New York/New Jersey Metro Area, we have an opportunity to build and strengthen our regional constituency base of people interested in servant leadership. And Seton Hall has longstanding values around servant leadership and creating graduates who are not just competent in their chosen disciplines but are also conscious about creating a better society. So, considering the values that we profess at Greenleaf, I see only synergies moving forward.”

Mark McCormick

Since his appointment as president of Middlesex College in July 2018, McCormick has focused on providing wider access to college, improving student success outcomes, and preparing graduates for success. Under his leadership, Middlesex College has significantly lowered the tuition rate, doubled participation in dual enrollment and created pathways to a degree while students are in high school. He has also championed the transition to free and low-cost alternatives to high-cost textbooks, including the development of Open Educational Resources. An advocate for student success, McCormick encouraged and supported faculty in the reform of developmental education, leading to improved success rates in gateway courses in English and mathematics, shortened time for students to complete an associate degree, and higher graduation rates. He also believes in the value of preparing students for careers by engaging them in experiential learning and equipping them with skills that are valued by employers. Over the summer, Rutgers Athletics and Middlesex County entered into a letter of intent that includes designating the future Multipurpose Community Venue on Middlesex College’s campus as a home field for Rutgers Baseball, starting in 2026.

Margaret McMenamin

Since becoming the first female president of Union College of Union County in 2010, McMenamin set an agenda centering on improving student outcomes. She revitalized student services, strengthened advising, and joined with faculty to improve teaching and learning. As a result, the college has more than quintupled its graduation rate. This year, the school was named one of the top 25 community colleges in the U.S. by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. In 2020, McMenamin was named the Marie Y. Martin CEO of the Year by the Association of Community College Trustees. In 2019, she served as chair of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Currently, she serves as vice chair of the Advisory Board of the Higher Education Research and Development Institute, and a member of the executive committee of the NJ Presidents’ Council, the NJCAA Presidents’ Advisory Council, and the board of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Outside the college, McMenamin is involved with community organizations, including the boards of Trinitas Hospital, Union County Crime Stoppers, Elizabeth Development Co., the NJ-PBS Community Advisory Board and other organizations.

Patrick Murray

Buckle up, political pundits and other polling fans – the next two years are going to be wild. All eyes will be focused on the presidential campaign next year and a gubernatorial campaign for an open seat in 2025. And of course, there’s are legislative elections this year and another set of contests in 2024 over some of the most highly competitive congressional districts in the country. So for the foreseeable future, the state will be awash in a sea of public opinion surveys. And Murray runs the gold standard Monmouth University poll, one of the most highly regarded measures of opinion in the country. In fact, it is one of a handful of top polls; Monmouth is recognized as rigorous and reliable, consistently receiving an A rating from 538.com. Murray himself routinely appears on television news programs covering national elections and is a go-to source for political journalists. Each month, the pollster and his team survey hundreds of people on topics from politicians to pandemic woes to spending plans.

Saymah Nah

Nah is the executive director of Gateway U, a hybrid college experience that offers one-on-one support to learners enrolled in Southern New Hampshire University’s accredited degree pro-grams and is committed to supporting students traditionally underserved by the post-secondary system. A Newark native, Nah saw the recurring cycle of poverty within a large segment of the Black community, the trauma it inflicted and its connection to systemic racism. She dedicated herself to finding methods that increase upward mobility in the Black community and to maneuver the system in ways that would verily change it. Gateway U is the first of its kind in New Jersey and Nah’s work is divided into three sectors: administration, community engagement and student development. Unlike other hybrid colleges, Gateway U offers a community-based approach to challenging the notion that degrees attained virtually are not accredited. The hybrid college model exemplifies that there is more than one way to achieve a four-year degree, one that is more accessible and more affordable than traditional institutions.

Chris Reber

Reber is the sixth president of Hudson County Community College, taking on the role in one of the most densely populated and diverse areas in the U.S. in 2018. Under his guidance, the school serves more than 18,000 credit and non-credit students and employs over 1,000 people across three urban campuses. And from his post, Reber has been instrumental in connecting HCCC to its communities through a series of local, regional and national partnerships. In the spring, the school signed an articulation agreement with Felician University to streamline degree access for ac-counting and business students. Other partners include New Jersey Reentry Corp., which announced with HCCC at the start of the year a new program for Phlebotomy Technician Certification. HCCC has shown progress in gaining back students lost during its virtual pivot due to the pandemic, with Reber telling NJBIZ in February that the college was up about 4% overall for enrollment with a 20% increase in new students. Last May, HCCC had a record 1,500 graduates. Reber has said the school is working on the way it delivers its courses – with online and hybrid formats – and on building services for students. All work that is being done intentionally. “Here, we have the opportunity where we’re able to grow … progressively,” Yeurys Pujols, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion at Hudson County Community College said during a recent NJBIZ panel discussion, calling attention to the role Reber has played in making that happen. “The board wanted a president who would promote diversity, equity and inclusion, who would champion diversity, equity and inclusion. When Christopher Reber was appointed president, he quickly framed the guiding principles for the college as student success and diversity, equity and inclusion. And every plan that we have at the college is framed from those angles.” Pujols’ position – in fact – is proof of that commitment; a product of an advisory council recommendation that Reber acted upon, in addition to launching an office dedicated to DEI. “This position is the first one-of-its-kind in the State of New Jersey for a community college,” Pujols noted.

Lamont Repollet

Since becoming president of Kean University in 2020, Repollet has launched several initiatives to not only raise the profile of the Union County-based public institution, but build a stronger, more vibrant community. During the second year of his presidency, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation designating Kean as the state’s first urban research university. Now a state-designated public research university – joining a group that includes Rutgers, NJIT, Rowan University and Montclair State – Kean’s status has been given a boost. Along with enhanced faculty and student recruitment, the designation increases student Tuition Aid Grant awards and helps steer research grants to the school. Other achievements include the College of Business and Public Management’s recent accreditation by the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, as well as more than $18 million in grant funding secured by faculty over the last year. During his annual Opening Day address earlier this month, Repollet said Kean is “on a transformational journey” along a path “full of innovation, progress and success.” As he begins his fourth year leading Kean, Repollet, the institution’s first Black president, said he is “filled with a renewed sense of purpose and determination” and believes the university will “continue to break new ground” in a “new era marked by growth, innovation and equity.” Among the next initiatives on tap are the creation of a Student Bill of Rights for Advising, a revised general education curriculum, the launch of the Moon Shot for Equity initiative to close equity gaps in higher education, and additional resources devoted to ongoing health and wellness programs.

Jeffrey Robinson

Speaking at the reopening of JBJ Soul Kitchen at Rutgers University-Newark last fall, college provost and executive vice chancellor Robinson remarked that the venture from Garden State rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorethea was “a fantastic example of social entrepreneurship in action, when you build a restaurant that is meeting a social need, you demonstrate the power of a double bottom line.” And entrepreneurship in action is something the academic, author and advocate knows well. Robinson’s research is focused at the intersection of business and society, with projects and initiatives addressing diversity, economic inclusion, inclusive entrepreneurship, and innovation. At Rutgers, the school’s recent collaboration with Fiserv on the Fiserv-RU-N Program for Inclusive Innovation is just one example of such practical applications at work. Robinson is also a professor at Rutgers Business School, the co-founder and academic director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development and serves as Prudential chair in business at RU-Newark, a position he assumed last fall that employs a multidisciplinary approach to business education. Upon his appointment in the latter position, RU-N Chancellor Nancy Cantor said Robinson was the “perfect match” for the role, describing him as “a pioneer in social entrepreneurship and a steadfast builder of inclusive innovation.”

Anne Huntington Sharma

The president of Oradell-based Huntington Learning Center – the nation’s leading tutoring and test prep provider – Sharma oversees business strategy and growth initiatives, including partnerships, marketing, digital and technological transformation, as well as franchise development. Since taking the role in October 2019, she has led the launch of the company’s virtual tutoring and test prep platform, as well as continued expansion of several of Huntington’s signature programs, including Study Hall and Academic Performance Coach. Founded in 1977 by her parents, Eileen and Ray Huntington, the business now has over 300 franchise and company-owned locations across the U.S. The second generation family leader of the company, Sharma joined the business nine years ago as a director. She went on to hold positions as head of public-private partnerships and then as vice president of business development, a role in which she worked to develop and execute programs and partnerships that positioned the company to help more students. Additionally, Sharma is active within arts, education and business organizations, including the Learning Disabilities Association of America, NYC’s Coalition for the Homeless, Women’s Franchise Committee for the International Franchise Association, International Director’s Council at the Guggenheim Museum and the Future Leadership Council at the Whitney Museum. She is also involved in the arts as a collector, producer, philanthropist, curator and founder of AMH Industries, a creative agency for contemporary art and culture. In addition to curating more than 30 exhibits across the U.S. and raising over $30 million for philanthropic causes, Sharma served as an associate producer for two documentaries, “The Art of Making It,” and “The Price of Everything,” which scored an Emmy nomination.

Monika Williams Shealey

Previously the inaugural senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rowan University, Shealey was appointed in July as dean of Temple University’s College of Education and Human Development. Her departure comes after a decade at Glassboro-based Rowan, where she began as the first African American dean of the College of Education. She was then tapped in 2019 by President Ali Houshmand to lead a new Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a first-of-its kind initiative in the region that strives to be a model for systemic change in higher education that results in equitable outcomes for students, faculty and staff. As senior vice president for DEI, Shealey worked directly with the Division’s leadership team to facilitate and oversee a DEI council and support the development of departmental strategic action plans. Earlier this year, she was named as chair of the board of directors for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Considered the leading voice on educator preparation, the organization represents more than 800 postsecondary education institutions. In announcing the successor of interim CEHD dean James Earl Davis, Temple University Provost Gregory Mandel described Shealey as “the perfect person” for the role and cited her past experience with strategic planning, innovative program development, community engagement and higher education leadership. He added, “At Rowan, she led a 3,000-student college with a mission that aligns closely with our College of Education and Human Development. At Temple and CEHD, we promote education as a primary mechanism for social mobility and social justice for all learners. Monika’s vision and career track record as a leader in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion align beautifully with that.”

Sean Spiller

As president of the New Jersey Education Association, Spiller leads the largest and most politically influential union in the state, with 200,000-plus members. After being reelected to the post by acclamation – which occurs when only one candidate files petitions required to run – Spiller began his second term in office Sept. 1 and will helm the union through August 2025. While testifying before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Spiller outlined several organizational priorities in the coming fiscal year, including the need for increased investment in community colleges, financial support for retired educators who have not received a cost-of-living adjustment for many years, and more resources for educator recruitment and retention. Spiller also addressed the need for emergency assistance for districts affected by S-2 state aid reductions. After completing undergraduate studies at Rutgers University and earning a master’s degree from Ramapo College of New Jersey, Spiller taught at Wayne Valley High School for several years. Also the mayor of Montclair, Spiller is an up-and-comer in the Democratic party and widely rumored as a 2025 gubernatorial candidate. In October 2022, Spiller launched Protecting Our Democracy, a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization that he says aims to “restore confidence in government and unity in our country.” The issue advocacy group’s founding donor is the NJEA.

Catherine Frugé Starghill

As vice president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, Starghill leads a statewide coalition of industry and education partners for the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities initiative aligning education to the needs of the workforce to build a stronger economy. Created in 1989, NJCCC provides statewide leadership and support to the 18 community colleges across the state. With over 180,000 students enrolled annually in credit, non-credit and workforce development courses at more than 70 campuses throughout the state, community colleges are uniquely positioned to help the economy grow, industries thrive and people succeed amid an era of rapid economic, social and technological changes. Starghill is also executive director of the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, which is a subsidiary of NJCCC that works to bring together community colleges as a collective to provide workforce development training and solutions. The consortium also administers the renowned Workforce Literacy and Basic Skills training program at no charge to employers for current employees statewide. Before being named to those posts in September 2022, Starghill was director of strategy, outreach and communications at NJCCC, as well as the consortium’s senior director of strategy and workforce partnerships.

Brian Strom

As chancellor of the Rutgers School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, Strom is at the center of a major development project in New Brunswick. Back in March, the Rutgers University board of trustees cleared the way for construction to begin on first of three buildings in the transformative New Jersey Health + Life Science Exchange, better known as HELIX. The move followed approval from the university’s Board of Governors for a tentative $567 million funding plan covering the school’s contribution to the public-private endeavor that will house the Rutgers Robert Wood John-son Medical School and a Rutgers translational research facility. Funding also includes a $200 million state appropriation from American Rescue Plan dollars and $367 million of long-term debt, of which state authorized tax credits – under the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Aspire program – will amortize approximately $190 million. Rutgers said it will finance the remaining $180 million of the cost through tax-exempt and taxable bonds. In total, the HELIX effort is estimated to cost $732 million. “With the boards’ approval, we will begin to bring together higher education institutions, health systems and the life sciences industry to revolutionize clinical and translational research – turning our groundbreaking research into care and cures,” Strom said at the time. “Moving the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School into one state-of-the-art campus will improve medical students’ experience through holistic medical education and opportunities for clinical experiences in all four years of medical school.”

Antonio Tillis

After assuming the post of chancellor at Rutgers-Camden in July 2021, Tillis initiated a five-year strategic plan, “15 in 5,” focused on enhancing the student educational experience and sup-porting growth and development of faculty and staff. As part of that plan, the university launched the Chancellor’s Mayoral Internship Program, which offers students the opportunity to work alongside civic leaders. Rutgers-Camden also rolled out expanded course offerings and international initiatives, as well as new graduate programs in finance wealth management and prevention science. A Carnegie R2 research institution, Rutgers-Camden brought in $22.6 million in research funding last year, a 16% increase over funds awarded during the prior year. Despite a challenging economic climate, Tillis reported during his Spring 2023 address that the university is experiencing a sharp increase in new student applications and that he’s confident it will achieve stronger enrollment in coming semesters because of efforts by deans, their teams and the school’s enrollment managers. Before Rutgers-Camden, Tillis was interim president of the University of Houston–Downtown. His background also includes serving as dean of the School of Languages, Culture, and World Affairs at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, chairing the Department of African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College and serving as the inaugural director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Purdue University. Regarded as a noted scholar in Afro-Hispanic studies, Tillis is also the co-editor of several books and publications, including the Afro-Hispanic Review.

Oya Tukel

Tukel is dean of the Martin Tuchman School of Management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, having been named to the post in 2019. “I wanted to try the dean position before I re-tired,” she told NJBIZ earlier this year. “I had 10 years of being a department head, and then I became an associate dean and I wanted to see what opportunities were out there for me to actually have a say in how the school will move forward.” Now, she runs a school training a new generation of business leaders, including young women seeking the same opportunities Tukel had. “Our priority is, of course, placing our students in the right jobs. Not any job, but the job where their background relates to the requirements. So, the quality of the job matters and the quality of the student background matters. That match is very critical for us. That’s the big thing right now – the perception [of] higher education,” Tukel said. She joined NJIT after 27 years at Cleveland State University, where she developed considerable expertise in supply chain management, a subject now recognized as being critically important to the state and national economy.