Resident proves the sky’s the limit for educational success

Dalvin Sejour, standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, has never let anything deter him in his quest for an education. Because of his efforts, he has visited numerous places around the world, including going to college in Australia, interning at Facebook and currently working for CNBC as a software engineer. He graduates from Montclair State University next month with a bachelor’s degree in information technology.

IRVINGTON, NJ — For some people, college offers a solution. It’s a way to define oneself, to earn money, to establish a career. It’s the bridge from dependent student to independent adult. Unfortunately, for far too many people, it is that Holy Grail, always sought after yet never attained.

And then there’s Dalvin Sejour. Born and raised in Irvington, the 22-year-old has always had his sights set on higher goals. For him, success was never a question of if, it was only a question of when.

“My parents are from Haiti,” said Sejour on Friday, Nov. 9. “I was born here. I’m the first-generation college student. I was kind of on my own. I have siblings, too. My brother graduated from Kean and my sister graduated from William and Mary in Maryland. I have another sister who went to school in Argentina. She now works in Paris.”

Sejour’s first step, after graduation from Irvington High School, was to attend college, and he chose Montclair State University.

“I took a loan out with Sallie Mae. I made a pact with the devil,” he joked.

Even with the loan, he found a way to quickly reduce his expenses.

“I was an RA at Montclair State University for a year and a half, so I got free housing and a stipend.”

For a clever and industrious student, opportunities are there, for those willing to seek them out.

“I had mentors, but not in my specific field,” he explained.

“I was in a career development program called ‘America Needs You,’ which I found through an on campus resource, EOF — Education Opportunity Fund,” Sejour said. “Thankfully, the EOF program would give me random book scholarships and funding for the cost of tuition.

“We would meet twice a month and you would get paired with a mentor who is in the industry similar to yours and they would help you tailor your resume and find opportunities. They gave a directory of opportunities and I found Sage Corps. Thankfully, there are multiple layers of help. My school was able to give me financial aid for it. Second, I got the Gilman Scholarship, which awards students $5,000 to go study abroad. And the third was a GoFundMe page. I’m in a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma. A lot of my fraternity brothers shared that link with me, as well as my friends and family.”

Sage Corps proved to be a door to a wide range of opportunities, of which Sejour was quick to take advantage.

“I did the (Sage Corps) program,” he explained. “It’s this amazing program that allows you to not only study abroad, but work for a startup company. I was out in Australia for six months, where I worked at a startup called Bonjoro. That was my first web development internship. I was building an internal application that tracked their marketing efforts. The funny thing about my degree is that you can learn a lot of your skills online. Montclair State University gives you the basics, but it’s up to you to work on the more industry-focused technology.”

Sage Corps was started in 2013 by Matt Meltzer, its chief executive officer. He spoke highly of Sejour, explaining he was someone for whom Sage Corps had actually been designed in the first place.

“Sage Corps started as a passion project,” said Meltzer on Friday, Nov. 9. “I was looking to pay it forward. After I graduated from an Ivy League school at the top of my class, I couldn’t find a job and wound up going to Argentina and learning a second language while working here. And it was such a wonderful experience. I came home and went to school at Northwestern and, thanks to my experience abroad, I got into the practice of law. It wasn’t a position where I felt my job was satisfying, professionally. So I came up with this idea that I can pay it forward to grads and undergrads, and that was the impetus.

“I uncovered a massive problem that, each year, 99 percent of college students stay on campus and only 1 1/2 percent get international experience. And you need to have global experience. Then the question becomes, if we are going to stay competitive, how are we getting global training? Sage Corps can help solve this problem. When we get people like Sejour, who wasn’t going to work abroad, suddenly it is appealing to a population of students who are never going to step outside of the country.”

Seeing the need, Meltzer said it was only natural that he act upon it. In no time, his startup bloomed into a full-fledged company demanding all of his time.

“Within 12 months of starting this program, I left my job at the law firm and I’ve never looked back,” Meltzer said. “We connected students with startups who needed help and the outcome was so wonderful … I put in my notice with my law firm. We now have sent 500 students since 2013. This past summer, we sent 160 students. It’s been growing at a tremendous rate. The model has held. The same core aspects have held. We’ve replicated it all over the world in developing countries and places such as Dublin, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia.”

He said when an offer is first made to a student, $1,000 is due within 10 days of the offer. Then, a $2,000 housing and insurance payment is due 60 days prior to the program start date. The balance is due 30 days prior to the program start date.

“The opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty is wonderful,” Meltzer said. “In this case, you can see up close this is what marketing does, this is what engineering does. For college students who aren’t committed to any particular role, you get exposure … and you get this outcome that matters.”

Program prices are based on housing type — dorm or student residence, homestay or share apartment — program duration and other customizations. Many “fellows,” as the students are referred to, receive grants. Scholarships or other financial support from their home university cover at least a portion of the costs of living abroad. Fellows may also be eligible to receive academic credit at their university. Even going to school in New Jersey has its price. But is it worth it?

“Institutionally, we see the data to show that this alternative goal experience yields really positive outcomes and we now have positive relationships with colleges that we didn’t have in 2014,” Meltzer said.

“We have an online applications and, from there, we evaluate candidates and we ask for a resume.”

As for Sejour, it was an important step in his growth process.

“I was able to take three to four classes while I was there at the University of Sydney, and do work,” he said.

And things didn’t end for him there. In fact, they were only just beginning.

“I’ve been able to travel a lot.”

“In my sophomore year, I joined America Needs You. They helped me get professional development. That’s how I got my internship with Facebook. Stitch Fix came through a program called Code2040. This program helps black and Latino engineers find careers in Silicon Valley. I worked in California this past summer.”

“I interned for two summers in Austin, Texas, for Facebook,” Sejour said. There, he was one of the few black engineers. Then he went on to Stitch Fix, a scaling startup. “Stitch Fix is a hyper-growth startup in California that I interned at this past summer.”

Between Sage Corps and the Education Opportunity Fund, he has found people who can help him and, in the same way, he says he’ll be helping others.

“EOF is a lifetime commitment, including alumni support. Once you join, it’s like a program for minorities where you get a counselor and they help for your duration of college.”

For Sejour, the opportunities keep happening. He opened his own design firm. Then, he recently wrote a paper about opportunistic browsing.

“I just got a paper published at a conference called the 21st (Association for Computing Machinery) Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. It was in Jersey City at the Hyatt Regency from Nov. 3 to Nov. 7,” Sejour said.

“I was able to speak on this paper I published with people in the human-computer interface field. There were a lot of Ph.D. students and professors. At this point, I have to be OK with my speaking in public. My professor and I co-authored the paper, ‘Encounter opportunity browsing.’ This app helps you find events and, at those events, you meet people like you. It shows you live events that are going on. In a way, it is like a dating app, but it’s for social encounters that are nonromantic.”

Despite how busy he’s been, Sejour has made sure to stay involved in things around Irvington.

“I still live in Irvington,” he said. “I went to Irvington High School. I usually blog about what I do as well. I try to inspire people. Councilman Vernal Cox invited me to the fourth annual Mayor’s Ball to take some pictures.”

Now, it seems the sky’s the limit for Sejour.

“Right now, by day, I work at CNBC as a software engineer. I work on location in Englewood at CNBC, on 900 Sullivan Ave. and, at night, I work at Dalvin Digital Design. I do web development, photography and web design. Since April 2018, I was officially incorporated as a (limited liability corporation).”

“Me and my girlfriend, Ashley Walker, she helps me a lot with planning and things of that nature. She helps me with logistics. I always confide in her with important decisions.”

“My intention is first I leverage my skills that I gained at my day job and then, ultimately, I want to work on my company full time, after I’ve spent a good five to 10 years in the industry. I’m considered a junior developer right now, trying to build up my skills.”

For Sejour, the future awaits, one where he seems destined for success.

“I get my diploma in January and I walk in May. My degree is in information technology, bachelor of science.”

None of this is a surprise to Meltzer. “Dalvin’s one of many who we’ve just had some phenomenal outcomes with,” he said. “Hopefully, he will inspire others who have gone through adversity.”

As for Sejour, he believes in staying with his feet planted firmly on the ground. “I have a belief in a higher power. I believe all these opportunities came to me because I was prepared for them. The opportunities have to be re-sent themselves. I put all things to God.”