When the Atlantic City campus of Stockton University finally cuts its ribbon on Thursday at its 3701 Boardwalk address, it may seem odd, at first, to that town’s usual retinue of gamblers, carousers, revelers and casino habitués. That a hospitality, science and social-centric academic center of higher learning is opening along Jersey’s busy, chance-inspired shoreline is no surprise, however, to Dr. Harvey Kesselman.
He’s been this route before.
“I was really attracted at the start, to the “Stockton Idea” that students would be actively involved with the faculty in their education and in their community,” said Dr. Kesselman of a university with a main branch in nearby Galloway, New Jersey, and a curriculum focused on applied sciences, hospitality, tourism management, culture and more.
He should know. Now the university’s president, young Harvey was, in actuality, part of Stockton University’s debut freshman class in 1971, when that college was in Atlantic City where the Mayflower Hotel stood, and with a school motto of “Plant Yourself Where You Can Grow.”
“There were just 1,000 students,” he said. “We were all together with the new faculty in that one building, starting something new and exciting that we alone would create. There was this sense of community and involvement that continues at Stockton to this day. The current mayor [Frank Gilliam], and city council president [Marty Small Sr.] in Atlantic City are both Stockton graduates.”
When Stockton AC slices its ribbon in the Chelsea area (actually, classes began Sept. 5 for its 1,300 students) it will mark the beginning of a new era for this town, one filled with even greater expansion as Stockton double-down by readying to buy the beat up, nearby Atlantic Club Casino Hotel at 3400 Pacific Avenue for greater office, dorm and classroom space. With the Atlantic Club’s potential demolition and revitalization (currently owned by TJM Properties), one of the few last remaining vacant casinos will be cleaned up and recontextualized for the present day.
“When we first discussed coming to Atlantic City from Galloway, and adding to that campus, there was recession and serious issues with the casinos,” said Diane D’Amico, Stockton’s representative. “Putting Stockton in Atlantic City was seen as a way to revitalize the city and diversify its economy, so that the town wasn’t solely gaming and hotel based.”
As an a native and a graduate of that first university, Kesselman is dedicated to both Stockton’s Galloway campus, and Atlantic City, bringing them together, making them grow, and expanding its mass, both in terms of land and student body. ”Our campus here in the National Pinelands Reserve is fabulous, but our ability to continue to grow is limited,” said the Doctor of Stockton-Galloway’s nearly 10,000 students, 3,000 living of which live on said campus. “There’s siimply no more room,” noted D’Amico.
“So, Atlantic City provides a new and entirely different environment where our students can learn,” stated Kesselman. “The city offers so many internship and job opportunities for students in our business, hospitality and tourism, education, health sciences and social work programs. Atlantic City also has national and international recognition, which generates increased recognition for Stockton as well.”
D’Amico and Kesselman both mention that none of Stockton Atlantic City’s advances could happened without the public/private partnership among state, local and county agencies working with Stockton and the Atlantic City Development Corp. (ACDevco). “ACDevco developed the project and without them, this would never have happened,” noted Kesselman.
“South Jersey Gas is also a part of this, the Atlantic City Gateway Project, as they’re building its headquarters on top of our parking garage,” said D’Amico of the $220 million extravaganza, with $178 million of that money going to Stockton.
Keeping the students in Atlantic City
The students coming to Stockton AC are the sweetest slice of the pie, as it is they who will ultimately help in diversifying the city, and making sure that businesses beyond the casinos grow and thrive, if we are to extent the school’s motto. When I spoke with new Ocean Resort Casino owner Bruce Deifik — the Colorado-based real estate developer who bought Atlantic City’s famed Revel property — one of the first things he mentioned was bringing in student employees and interns from Stockton. “That’s the idea, especially for those in the hospitality and tourism business – get them here to live and work in the marketplace,” she said of its ‘live, learn and earn,’ ideal. Which is why Stockton offers 12-month, year-round student housing, so that Stockton attendees can live in their dorms (“some with amazing beach and oceanfront views”) during the summers while working. Doing as such makes them a part of Atlantic City’s community beyond the casinos. They shop at the stores, hit up the coffee shops, dine at the restaurants. “Our dorms don’t have a forced meal plan, but rather small kitchens in the apartment where you can cook or order in or do as you like,” stated D’Amico, who also confessed that dorm entry gift bags are generously stuffed with coupons to the local business so to win favor and create new regular buyers.
As there are shuttles going back-and-forth to the Stockton Galloway campus, there is as much of flow of people traffic as there is information. “We want to maintain a sense of community, that Stockton is not just in Atlantic City, but is part of Atlantic City,” noted Kesselman. “Stockton faculty and students have for years been involved with the schools and groups like the Boys and Girls Club and PAL. Our students run naturalization classes at the Carnegie Building. All of our preservice teachers either do a practicum or student teaching in Atlantic City schools. Our students provide after school tutoring to Atlantic City students. Now our students are also living in the city, shopping there, bringing new energy, and becoming part of the fabric of the city.”