Former “Trenton State College” Returns to Its Roots

If you have ever gotten the chance to travel through downtown Trenton, N.J., you might have noticed that the city’s transformation can be observed through its architecture.

With buildings dating as far back as the 18th century, one magnificent edifice holds particular significance to the present-day The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Once known as the New Jersey State Normal School, it had temporarily established residence in Trenton’s original City Hall. Decades after migrating just outside of city limits, the historic site can still be viewed from the windows of TCNJ’s new satellite office, TrentonWorks.

Though the college moved out of the capital in the late 1920’s, it never severed ties with the city. Through TCNJ’s Center for Community Engaged Learning & Research (CELR), the school in fact continued to develop its service to the city by man-dating first-year students to participate in service opportunities that primarily take place in Trenton. In addition, several upper-level courses participate in community engaged learning projects that also assist various nonprofits and public schools in the city.

In the spring of 2014, TrentonWorks was established in order to further develop this relationship.

The incubator space boasts a multimedia design lab, a storefront, as well as multiple workspaces. One of which has become home to Passage Theatre, a regional program that produces educational and socially conscious plays for the community. Additionally, the three- story building offers classes, guest lectures, movie screenings and workshops for students.

Madeline Urbish, the Policy and Public Relations Coordinator at the CELR, spoke to the potential educational opportunities.

“Being downtown provides a direct connection to the cultural resources in the city,” said Urbish. “For example, a political science class could have a lecture here and visit the statehouse, or an arts course could have a discussion and tour one of the many different art galleries.”

In addition to providing a venue to learn and collaborate, TrentonWorks also operates as a channel to drive traffic back into the city. With a downtown area that hosts many government and office buildings, the city becomes deserted after work-hours.

From facilitating lectures in social media’s rise in the corporate world, to citizenship assistance sessions for inspired immigrants, to professional development workshops for motivated teachers, TrentonWorks provides opportunities for everyone in the community.

“It is a two-fold. In addition to hosting expanded programming opportunities for TCNJ students, we are also building activity to keep people downtown after work hours,” said Urbish.

The Trenton Downtown Association (TDA), which is the lead partner with The College of New Jersey in the TrentonWorks initiative, is hopeful that these efforts will generate interest and, in turn, the much-needed progress for the downtown area.

As quoted by the Times of Trenton’s Jenna Pizzi, Christian Martin, the Executive Director of TDA said, “What better way to improve the atmosphere of downtown Trenton than to have an influx of engaged young people. As we try to define ourselves as a city I think education and medical are going to be a big part of the rebirth.”


Article written by Raj Manimaran for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall