RVCC Celebrates 50 Years of Creating Opportunities, Transforming Lives

Monday, August 27, 2018
old photo of students in classroom

Celeste Onka wasn’t interested in attending a four-year college after graduating from Somerville High School in 1968. She didn’t want to get lost in a giant sea of freshman, or spend four years focusing on one subject when she was still unsure of her career plans.

But then a new idea emerged. The newspapers began writing about a two-year College being launched right in her neighborhood: Somerset County College (SCC). It was a perfect solution for Onka, who became the first student admitted to SCC. She joined the first class of 229 students on September 12, 1968 at the College’s temporary home: Green Brook High School.

For Onka, it was definitely the right choice. “The quality of the professors that were hired to work at the College definitely matched what I would have experienced in a four-year college. The size of the classes allowed us to really get to know the professors and learn more from them on an individual basis.” Onka worked part-time for Professor Irving Horowitz, head of the Computer Science program. After graduating from SCC in May 1970 with a degree in the new field of Computer Science, she began a very successful, 42-year career working in the IT field.

“The first class of students launched many programs that are still active today. We had a basketball team, started a cheerleading squad, and began to mold how the College would grow. At Somerville High School we were known as the Pioneers; at SCC we were the Pioneers.”

Onka, a resident of Branchburg, is just one of the tens of thousands of “Pioneers” and graduates whose lives have been forever changed by Somerset County College and its successor—Raritan Valley Community College. With the start of new academic year, the College is launching a yearlong celebration of its 50th Anniversary. After Hunterdon and Somerset County Freeholders approved co-sponsorship of the College in June 1986, Somerset County College was renamed Raritan Valley Community College in July 1987. It was the state’s first bi-county college.

“We are so proud of Raritan Valley Community College’s 50-year legacy of being the College of opportunity for students of all ages and backgrounds. RVCC literally transforms the lives of its students—whether it’s an 18-year-old spending the first years at the College before transferring to a four-year school, a student planning to enter the workforce directly after graduation, or an adult retraining for a new career. RVCC is our community’s college, not only offering accessible, innovative education at an affordable price, but also serving as a cultural and educational center for the community. RVCC is a place where adults can get assistance starting a new business or developing professional development skills, or where children can be introduced to live theatre, explore the wonders of the universe in the Planetarium, or take a class in robotics,” said RVCC President Michael J. McDonough.

“Singular vision”

The College’s 50 years of service to the community would not have been possible without the hard work and determination of the late Raymond H. Bateman. As a member of the New Jersey State Senate, Bateman co-authored the 1962 legislation that created New Jersey’s community college system. He dedicated many years to RVCC, serving 38 years as a member of the College’s Board of Trustees and 26 years as Chairman.

“Senator Raymond Bateman’s singular vision and compelling initiative led to the creation of New Jersey’s comprehensive community college system. His tireless efforts have enabled hundreds of thousands of citizens—past, present, and future—to access an invaluable and affordable higher education. The career start and success of so many here in our state can be traced back to the advocacy of one larger-than-life public servant, Raymond Bateman,” said Robert P. Wise, Chairman, RVCC Board of Trustees.

A Gala celebration

Beginning this fall, RVCC will embark on a yearlong tribute marking 50 years since the College began holding classes in September 1968. Throughout the academic year, RVCC will engage the community at large and hold events on and off campus to showcase the College’s commitment to academic excellence and service to the businesses and people of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties over the past five decades.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary, the RVCC Foundation will host the Golden Harvest Gala on October 25 at The Palace at Somerset Park. During the event, which is open to the public, RVCC will honor key community partners for their investments in the College and their creative collaborations with the College’s faculty and students. The honorees’ efforts have helped RVCC advance its mission and earn national recognition for academic innovation and excellence, diversity and inclusion, civic engagement, environmental sustainability, and more. The honorees include Steve Kalafer, Founding Chairman, Flemington Car & Truck Country, Family of Brands, and the Somerset Patriots (Civic Leader); Raymond L. Hughes II, President, New Jersey Risk Managers and Consultants, Inc., and President, Hughes-Plumer & Associates (Community Leader); Johnson & Johnson (Corporate Partner); and the Martin Luther King Youth Center (Nonprofit Partner).

The Golden Harvest Gala will feature music, high-end raffle gift items, and so much more. Net proceeds from the Gala will provide the resources the College needs to meet the growing demand for scholarship support; to build and support state-of-the-art facilities and upgrade technology; and to provide other programs and services that benefit RVCC students and faculty and members of the larger community.

To learn about Gala sponsorship opportunities, ads in the program journal, and tickets, contact Ronnie Weyl at rweyl@raritanval.edu or call 908-526-1200 ext. 8349. The deadline to purchase tickets to the Gala is October 4. The deadline for sponsorship or ad opportunities is September 14. For additional information about the Gala, visit www.raritanval50.org.

The history of RVCC

The College has grown significantly since the first class of 75 students celebrated commencement in the Green Brook High School gym in May 1970.

The College found its permanent home in July 1968 with the purchase of a 240-acre site in Branchburg. The College’s first building—the current Arts Building—housed all of the College’s operations. Students finally moved into new facilities, which included the current Hunterdon Hall and Somerset Hall buildings, in September 1973.

A second round of construction was completed in 1975 with a new College Center—featuring a dining hall, bookstore, counseling, and Student Activities area—and a Physical Education building with a full gym, fitness center and swimming pool. The campus continued to grow with the 1985 opening of a new library and a 1,000-seat Theatre.

A new era was born in 1986 when the Hunterdon and Somerset County Freeholders approved co-sponsorship of the College. In July 1987 Somerset County College was renamed Raritan Valley Community College: the state’s first bi-county college.

The years that followed were exciting times at RVCC. March 1990 marked the official opening of the 100-seat Planetarium. In 1993, as part of the College’s 25th anniversary celebration, the library was named to honor founding trustee Evelyn S. Field and the Theatre was named for founding trustee Edward Nash.

The growth continued in June 1993 with the opening of a campus Child Care Center. When the Center for Advanced Teaching and Technology brought multimedia resources into the classroom via fiber optics in 1994, RVCC became NJ’s first community college to offer the new technology. Four years later the Conference Center opened, bringing the corporate and academic communities together.

Other additions to the College include the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Paul Robeson Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Social Justice. September 2002 marked the opening of the Christine Todd Whitman Science Center, featuring biology, chemistry, physics and engineering laboratories, as well as a lecture hall providing interactive centers for teaching using technology. An Academic Support Center opened in September 2005, giving students centralized tutoring services for all academic areas. The 18-classroom West Building opened in fall 2007. The 3M Observatory, located next to the RVCC Planetarium, opened in spring 2013 and the Ray Bateman Center for Student Life and Leadership opened in 2014. The College continued to grow during the 2016-2017 school year, with openings of a Science Center expansion in fall 2016 and a new Workforce Training Center in spring 2017.

RVCC today

Today the College serves 8,000 students in credit programs, along with 500 people pursuing professional certification and career training programs. In addition, 1,400 individuals enroll in corporate training and professional development programs at RVCC. Every year 75,000 people visit the College’s Planetarium, Theatre and Conference Center for educational and cultural programs.

The College has received national accolades for its service to the community, environmental stewardship and commitment to diversity. RVCC has been ranked by BestColleges.com and Niche.com as the #1 community college in New Jersey.



August 27, 2018

Media contact: Donna Stolzer, 908-526-1200, ext. 8383

PR #15