Centenary University: Educational Heart of the Skylands Region

The Skylands Region of Northwestern New Jersey is a special place, with rich history and beautiful scenery. The educational and cultural heart of this remarkable area is Centenary University. 


Centenary’s enduring educational tradition spans more than 154 years—just slightly longer than Mount Olive’s—and the two entities have presented boundless opportunities for local residents to lead fulfilling lives. Today, Centenary enrolls many students from Mount Olive, providing important skills and connections for area residents to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world. 


“Centenary University offers unparalleled educational opportunities, providing students with experiential learning they wouldn’t get at larger universities,” said Bruce Murphy, Ed.D., who was recently inaugurated as Centenary’s 14th president. “In the last year alone, Centenary students have won an international science competition—besting students from Harvard, Yale, and other leading research institutions—and a statewide history award, earned impressive internships, and have taken part in important research, including collecting and analyzing
COVID-19 masking data for the CDC. Centenary has truly emerged as a small university with a national reach.” 


Founded in 1867 as a preparatory school by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary first evolved into a junior college for women, then a four-year women’s college, and is now an independent, four-year baccalaureate institution. The University now offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, as well as career advancement programs for working professionals through the School of Professional Studies in Parsippany. 


The University’s history was so fascinating to Centenary student Sean Graham ’21 that he opted to conduct a four-year study of the motivations of the original founders who lobbied to locate the University in Hackettstown. For this work, presented as his Honors Program capstone project, Graham was recognized with the prestigious Paul A. Stellhorn Undergraduate Paper in History Award by the New Jersey Historical Commission. Noting that the previous year’s winners were from Harvard and Princeton universities, Graham said, “I feel really proud to represent Centenary in such a great way. This University has given a lot to me.”


The opportunity for undergraduates to conduct meaningful research is an integral part of the academic experience at Centenary. Earlier this year, the research and development team from Mars Wrigley worked with nine Centenary seniors in an Analytical Chemistry class to demonstrate how scientific research provides practical solutions for global companies. The project—to analyze the sugar content of a single M&M — gave students the opportunity to work on a real-life problem while gaining professional lab experience.


Additional scientific research at the University could have a meaningful impact on the environment of the Skylands Region. Assistant Professor of Biology Amanda Tokash-Peters, Ph.D., and two Centenary students are currently breaking new ground in studies to halt the spread of the spotted lantern fly, an invasive species that is destroying trees and crops in northwestern New Jersey, while students under the direction of Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Julie LaBar, Ph.D., are examining microplastics in the sediment of the Muscontecong River. 

Even during a pandemic, passive learning is not the norm at Centenary. Last fall, Professor of History Raymond Frey, Ph.D., assigned an independent research project to students in his African American History course using the digital archives of the Truman Library in Independence, Mo. Students were asked to analyze original documents to study U.S. President Harry Truman’s call for racial justice in a 1947 speech. “Rather than passive learning through lectures and textbooks, I wanted students to get their hands dirty like real historians, searching through the archives and coming to their own conclusions,” said Dr. Frey.


In the field of Sports and Entertainment Management, Centenary students get hands-on experience with major league sports franchises in the metropolitan area beginning freshman year. The students shadow professionals in the industry and run events, including a major annual Sports and Entertainment Management Symposium. Centenary graduates go on to work at a host of major and minor league organizations, from the New York Jets and New York Red Bulls, to the Philadelphia Eagles, Portland Trailblazers, New York Yankees, and New York Mets.


At the Centenary University Equestrian Center in Washington Township, the University offers a nationally recognized Equine Studies Program, with outstanding opportunities for students to pursue careers in equine-related fields and graduate degree programs. In fact, the University has achieved a near-perfect record in the past several years for placing students in competitive veterinary schools through its excellent Equine Studies and Animal Health majors. 


While the pandemic has presented educational challenges to universities across the nation and closed many campuses to in-person learning, Centenary has offered on campus learning since the fall 2020 semester. One important initiative was the launch of Centenary Choice, which allows students to attend courses in person, online, or in a HyFlex format combining the two. As a result, Centenary completed its fall semester, as planned, with no interruptions to in-person instruction. This flexibility led to a 17% increase in new students for the fall 2020 semester. Dr. Murphy said, “At a time when students need more support than ever to continue their studies, small colleges have stepped up with enhanced academic programs and personalized support systems.”


Today, Centenary University is building on its rich history to prepare the next generation of students for emerging careers, with new programs of study in medical laboratory science, health science, physical therapy, and other growing fields. In addition, the University is strengthening it partnerships with county colleges to increase educational access, as well as with area businesses and national educational organizations to bring a broader array of professional opportunities to the Skylands Region. Dr. Murphy said, “We’re taking a long-term, institutionalized approach to ensure that Centenary moves forward in a very deliberate way to serve our students while meeting the needs of businesses for well-trained professionals.”

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