BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Mayor Frank Gilliam, one of the highest ranking African-American politicians in South Jersey, and Dr. Donnetrice Allison, Stockton University’s Faculty Senate President praised school during the official ribbon cutting of Stockton’s new Atlantic City campus Thursday, Sept. 20.
Gilliam, a graduate of Stockton, became just the third African-American mayor in the history of Atlantic City when he was elected in November. As one of 13 speakers addressing a large crowd on the school’s Boardwalk area, the mayor said Stockton played an indelible mark on his career.
“I would not be standing here if it was not for the education that Stockton enabled me to receive,” Gilliam said to the crowd. “Because of the work Stockton has done throughout the region to have a footprint in this city, this is only the beginning of the rebuilding of Atlantic City.
“I am so proud and excited about the potential of Atlantic City. We heard people talk about why would (Stockton) do that in Atlantic City? Why not Atlantic City, I say. Atlantic City offers any and everyone the same opportunity that any other community has.
Gilliam said that Stockton has the ability to make the dream of a higher education real for the city’s youth, which is more than 50 percent black and brown, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.
“Stockton is something that is near and dear to me,” Gilliam said. “The children of Atlantic City is important to me. This exemplifies children growing up in an environment that’s not only going to change the way they look at life, but also create a better avenue of live for them because education is the key to success.”
Allison, who is also involved in Stockton’s Council of Black Faculty and Staff, said that her coworkers are excited to see what not only the presence of the Atlantic City campus, but what the potential holds for the future.
“We are so excited to become an integral part of this city,” Allison said in her ribbon cutting speech. “As faculty, we are truly excited about the possibilities this union can bring. We are excited for our students and their opportunity to integrate themselves into this city to learn more about themselves and about others.
“We as faculty pride ourselves in hands-on learning opportunities to provide for our students. We know that Atlantic City will bring so much more. It will bring more diversity into their lives, more compassion and more understanding of people,” she continued.
Allison joked that the university may have to hold “American Ninja Warrior” type games to see what faculty will win offices along the beach.
“We want to just say there are so many great possibilities on the horizon,” Allison said. “… Once the secret gets out, it will become a lot harder to get into these buildings and a lot harder to get a faculty office.”
Brian Jackson, the highest ranking African-American on Stockton’s staff as the chief operating officer of the Stockton Atlantic City campus, said the buzz about it has been overwhelming. He also pointed to the completion of the South Jersey Gas offices in the area, adding more synergy in the section.
“Having Stockton in Atlantic City is really a game-changer for the entire region,” Jackson said. “To have thousands of students, faculty, and employees of South Jersey Gas moving in later, it’s reinvigorating. We’re excited to extend our roots to the shores of Atlantic City.
“The start here has been phenomenal. The response we’ve gotten from our students has been beyond our original projections. We’ve got 1,300 students taking classes here. We’re at 99 percent capacity in our residential building, plus the several hundred employees coming in to work at South Jersey Gas to all the employee we’ve hired, it’s beyond our wildest expectations. This really sets the bar for us as we start to talk about the next phase of growth for Stockton Atlantic City.”
The $178.3 million campus is the only four-year institution in Atlantic City. Atlantic Cape Community College, a two-year institution, has had a long presence in Atlantic City as well.
While students will attend both the Atlantic City and Galloway campuses, students can earn an undergraduate degree in Atlantic City – LIBA, in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement.
Students can also earn master’s degrees in social work and education exclusively at the Atlantic City campus as well, according to university documents.
“The true legacy of Stockton has yet to be realized,” Christopher Paladino, president of the Atlantic City Development Corporation, or AC Devco, which developed the AC Gateway project, which includes the Stockton campus and a new headquarters for South Jersey Industries still under construction said. “We are just getting started.”
Stockton President Harvey Kesselman told the nearly 1,000 people attending the ribbon cutting that the new campus was more about the students than the building.
“We do everything in support of our principle of students first,” Kesselman said. “This is a transformational moment in Stockton’s history.”
Madeleine Deininger, chair of the Stockton Board of Trustees and a Stockton alumnus, said she enjoyed seeing the campus grow “from a dream to an idea to reality,” recalling that the building was the site of the old Atlantic City High School.
“It is a stroke of good, karmic luck that Stockton’s new building has landed here,” Deininger said. “It was an unwavering belief in Stockton’s future that brought life to this project. What a long, positive way we’ve come in three years. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.”
Leo Schoffer, Stockton’s incoming chair, made a proclamation: “There is a new college town on the scene and it’s Atlantic City New Jersey. The seashore welcomes the mighty osprey.”
Schoffer thanked all the trustees for their tireless efforts during many special and emergency meetings. He said if you now Google “oceanfront universities in America” you won’t find Stockton, but he predicted that would change quickly.
Information from Stockton News and Media Relation was added to this story.