The College of New Jersey’s Alumni Association will honor four distinguished alumni who have gone above and beyond in service, leadership, philanthropic efforts, and career advancements. The honorees will be recognized during Alumni Weekend on April 22.
“The alumni awards are truly an honor bestowed on the recipients for their exemplary service to others and the college,” says Ian Ruderman ’89, board president. “This year’s group of honorees are outstanding and bring tremendous pride to their alma mater. It will be my honor to celebrate them during Alumni Weekend.”
Young Alumni Award
Jennie Sekanics ’16, MA ’18
English and cultural studies PhD student and researcher, University of Iowa
Betty Greene Blackwell ’72
School counselor and former member of the Trenton Board of Education
Distinguished Service Award
Deborah Simpson ’84, MA ’88
Former director of intramurals and sports clubs, The College of New Jersey
Alumni Citation Award
Lamont Repollet ’94
President, Kean University
Jennie Sekanics ’16, MA ’18
Jennie Sekanics is a dual graduate of TCNJ, earning her bachelor’s (magna cum laude) in English literature and gender studies and her master’s in English. Throughout her undergraduate career, Sekanics developed a passion for analyzing productions of agency and autonomy in marginalized communities. She served as president of the Women’s Center, executive chair of the Women in Learning and Leadership program, an anti-violence peer educator, and a community advisor. Her dedication to the humanities and activism was recognized by the Alice Paul Award for Activism, the Community Advisor of the Year Award, and the Elizabeth Allen 1869 Award for Excellence in the Humanities as well as by her induction into both the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and the Blue and Gold Hall of Fame.
Upon graduation, Sekanics worked as an admissions counselor in TCNJ’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and supported the development of TCNJ’s test-optional admissions policy and academic scholarship efforts. She also served on the Blue and Gold Hall of Fame Committee and on many Staff Senate committees. Sekanics was a faculty member of the college’s English, writing, and liberal learning departments and an instructor for the George Washington Carver Education Foundation summer bridge program; she continues to mentor TCNJ students who apply to graduate programs. As an instructor, she practiced trauma-informed pedagogy and challenged students to interrogate markers of identity through literary reflection and collaboration.
Sekanics is currently at the University of Iowa, pursuing her PhD in English literary studies with a cultural studies concentration and a certificate in gender, women’s, and sexuality studies. She will present her research at the upcoming International Society for the Study of the Narrative and Northeastern Modern Languages Association conferences.
Betty Greene Blackwell ’72
Betty Greene Blackwell’s commitment to service, activism, social consciousness, and leadership began at an early age. As a child and then as a young adult, she was extensively involved in numerous areas of the Methodist Church and participated in various ministries, committees, and programs.
In 1968, Blackwell entered Trenton State College. When she and her African American counterparts were confronted with bigotry, racial strife, and inequality, they became change agents, utilizing the philosophy of Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and adopting a peaceful approach. Their efforts — ranging from roundtable discussions to “Black Student Demands” to a sit-in — helped to prompt corrective actions at the college, including curriculum enhancement; inclusive programming; an increasingly diverse campus community; and the revision of discriminatory policies.
Blackwell understood that to institute real change, one must “have a seat at the table.” She joined Student Government (serving as senior class vice president), the College Union Board, the Student Finance Board, the Student Grievance Committee, the Academic and Social Review Committee, and the Governor’s Student Liaison Committee; she also served on the committee that selected Clayton R. Brower as the college’s 13th president. Her greatest honor was being selected as a leader of The Alliance of African American Students, Administrators, and Faculty, and her greatest accomplishment is being one of 14 charter members of the Zeta Sigma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Beyond college, Blackwell’s professional and community service activities are lengthy and exemplary. She was a school counselor for Trenton Public Schools for 34 years and also served as debate coach, facilitator for the Fine and Performing Arts program, advisor to the National Junior Honor Society, and union representative. She received the Mercer County Professional Counselors Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, among other school and community awards and governmental citations for her professional achievements. An activist, Blackwell held elected office as a committeewoman as well as multiple mayoral-appointed positions and was a board member for the Urban League of Metropolitan Trenton, Womanspace, and North 25 Housing.
Highlights of her extensive community service include being a charter school founder, a member of Leadership Trenton, and a campaign volunteer for three first-time African American mayors and former President Barack Obama. Blackwell has been honored by the Trenton community for her work with the Trenton Ecumenical Area Ministry, Bo-Rietta, Mercer County Community College, Kidsbridge, and the National Association of University Women. She also received awards for humanitarianism, involvement, inspiring women, and service and appreciation. U.S. Sen. Frank D. Lautenberg commissioned an American flag to be flown over the nation’s Capitol in her honor on June 30, 2010.
Betty Greene Blackwell is a prime example of a life well lived. Her approach is that “there is a starting point and an ending point. It is up to each of us how we fill in the middle.” Her daughter, Rukiya A. Blackwell, Esquire, is carrying on the legacy of her mother and grandmother, Annie Hodges Greene, with an impressive resume of leadership, service, and benevolent pursuits.
Deborah Simpson ’84, MA ’88
Deborah Lynn Simpson graduated from Trenton State College in 1984 with a degree in recreation administration. As a child, she was involved in the McGuire Air Force Base youth athletic activities, her high school’s varsity sports teams, and coaching. This instilled in her a love of recreation. In her freshman year of college, Simpson joined the softball team (and would later be named captain) as well as the field hockey team. She endured the tragic loss of both her parents during her college years and credits her teammates, coaches, and professors for the tremendous support they provided during this time.
Simpson played for several regional fast-pitch softball teams, including the Trenton All- Americans, the Staten Island Pandoras, and the Linden Majors. She began her career as the head softball coach at Rutgers University’s Livingston College and soon became the intramural coordinator. Simpson went on to coach softball in various capacities at William Paterson University, TSC, and Rider University; she tallied numerous conference titles and four NCAA national championship appearances, winning three with TSC.
In 1988, Simpson became the intramural and sport club coordinator at TSC. During her 28-year career at the college, the program went from two club sports teams and four intramural sports to more than 23 club teams and 22 intramural teams. Simpson’s teams have participated in several state, regional, and national championships. Notably, her “Six and Chix” flag football team appeared in the national championship game, and the cheerleading team won the national championship in 2012. She served as the athletic department representative at many NCAA tournaments. A recipient of the TCNJ Helen Shaw Staff Excellence Award, Simpson also taught outdoor recreation, leading thousands of students in trips that included skiing, rock climbing, deep-sea fishing, and horseback riding.
An inductee and committee member of the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame, Simpson is the active representative of the TCNJ rugby and softball alumni chapters and often attends varsity and club sport competitions. She has been involved with the Special Olympics for more than 30 years and also enjoys traveling, fishing, playing cards, photography, the Phillies and Eagles, and spending time with her friends and family.
Lamont O. Repollet ’94
Lamont O. Repollet received his Bachelor of Arts in communication from The College of New Jersey in 1994. He went on to earn his master’s degree in educational administration from Kean University and his doctoral degree in education from Nova Southeastern University. Repollet was selected as the 18th president of Kean University in May 2020 and remains devoted to fostering equity for all students.
Before becoming Kean’s president, Repollet served on the Kean Board of Trustees from 2011 until 2018 and served two and a half years as the New Jersey commissioner of education, overseeing the shift to remote education amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was superintendent of the Asbury Park School District for three years and principal of Carteret High School for nine years. Repollet began his career as a mathematics teacher and coach in the East Orange School District.
Repollet is Kean University’s first Black president; he was also New Jersey’s first Black commissioner of education and the first Black principal of Carteret High School. He has vowed to elevate Kean University to Carnegie R2 research status within five years. During Repollet’s second year of presidency, Kean was designated as the state’s first urban research university. This distinction raises Kean’s profile across the nation, enhances faculty and student recruitment and increases both tuition aid grants and research grants.
In his first year as Kean’s president, Repollet oversaw health and safety measures, including remote education, to curtail the spread of COVID-19. He established the Division of Student Success and Retention to support students on their path to graduation; the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to put equity into action at all levels of the university; and the Equity in Action Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship to diversify the faculty and boost research. He also established the Office of Governmental Affairs to collaborate with local government as well as the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean, which works with mayors from urban centers to research community issues and find sustainable solutions. To improve transparency and strengthen student voices, Repollet created the President’s Advisory Council and established Student Town Halls each semester.
Repollet has earned honors and recognition from numerous organizations. Recently, he received the 2023 Chester Holmes Humanitarian Award from the Union County Board of Commissioners, the 2022 Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award from the Urban League of Union County, the 2022 Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award from the Greater New York Council Boys Scouts of America, and the 2022 Leadership and Vision Recognition Award from EdgeCon.
Repollet and his wife, Darlene, have two daughters, Lauryn and Taylor.