Montel Hall is not one to let the unknown stop him. Whether that entails being a first-generation college student and NCAA Division I athlete, starting a fraternity, or now living and working in the country’s largest city, he is more than willing — and able — to blaze his own trail.

At the center of many of these firsts for Montel was Valparaiso University, and he would have it no other way.

Montel says that, when it came time to make his college decision, he didn’t know a lot about the process. A couple of high school friends had gone to Valpo; the college was about a two-hour drive from his hometown and, just as important, had a fully accredited business school.

And he had a dream of being a Division I athlete.Student Montel Hall wearing graduation cap and Kappa Alpha Psi sash standing in front of Christopher Center

Time to soar
Having played basketball all four years of high school, Montel says he had a few scholarship offers to play at the next level. But it was a sport he had taken up during his senior year at Waukegan High School that led to realizing his dream of combining academics and athletics.

“I went out for track for the fun of it,” Montel says.

While he did win a few meets in long jump and triple jump as a prep athlete, making the leap to college definitely was a step up in competition. Having just one year of jumping experience, he essentially had to start from scratch with his technique during his freshman campaign.

Montel then had a breakout year his sophomore season on the track. He set numerous personal marks and finished on the medal stand at the conference meet in both the triple jump and long jump.

Looking to make additional strides, Montel reached out to U.S. Olympian and two-time U.S. Outdoor Champion Kenta Bell and used his training program.

“I was always someone who studies his sport,” Montel says. “I watch countless videos. I talk to my competitors at meets.”

While injuries may have limited his overall medal count, it didn’t diminish his accomplishments, which included team captain, two-time Horizon League Outdoor All-Academic Team for 2016–2017, and Horizon League Indoor All-Academic Team in 2017.

His list of accomplishments off the track is just as long and distinguished, including graduating summa cum laude majoring in finance and minoring in business analytics as well as achieving dean’s list honors for all but his first semester.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to compete in track and field at Valpo,” Montel says. “I was able to meet a lot of great athletes, travel, and experience a number of things that I never could have on my own.”

Lasting Legacy
Montel’s name will be in the books at Valpo due to his athletic accomplishments, but his legacy will be felt by men of color for generations to come. He played an important part as a charter member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the first historically African American fraternity or sorority to be established at Valpo.

“Having a black fraternity on campus was very much needed for the community,” Montel says. “It was important to show when Valpo talks about diversity and inclusion it’s not just something they say because it’s the latest trend. Valpo was very receptive to establishing an African American organization on campus. They were very welcoming.”

It wasn’t without some effort by Montel and several of his classmates.

“Valparaiso University values diversity and inclusion, and this is demonstrated through a wide variety of campus initiatives and programs,” says Carrie Whittier, Ph.D., assistant dean of students for Greek life, leadership, and volunteer programs. “Undergraduate students had been working to establish a historically African American fraternity or sorority at Valparaiso University for many years in an effort to create a more welcoming campus environment for our African American students.”

The process to start the fraternity has multiple steps, Assistant Dean Whittier explains. The University has a Fraternity and Sorority Expansion Committee that reviews all requests to establish a new chapter on campus. There was a group of undergraduate men, including Montel, who had submitted a formal letter of interest in establishing a historically African American fraternity at Valpo. These men then met with the Fraternity and Sorority Expansion Committee, and the committee unanimously recommended that the University move forward with the process to add a new fraternity. The University invited two prominent historically African American fraternities to campus for an open presentation so the students could learn more about these organizations. The recommendation following those presentations was to invite Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. to establish a chapter at Valpo.

“Besides being a member of the track and field team at Valpo, Montel was a leader in other campus organizations,” Assistant Dean Whittier recalls. “His friendly demeanor and commitment to achievement both inside and outside the classroom are part of his legacy.”

Big Lights, Big City
Having graduated summa cum laude with a degree in finance in May 2018, Montel set his sights on the lights of Broadway — New York City. He had spent the summer before his senior year working as a financial analyst for Citigroup, and he accepted a role with the company after graduation.

He has had the opportunity to work directly for senior executives and present his analysis and financial models to countless executives. It was during his internship at Citi that he reported directly to Mark Mason, who would go on to become the company’s chief financial officer.

He credits his time at Valpo for preparing him for these opportunities.

With a business degree from Valpo, he knew he could go into marketing, consulting, etc., he says. He also knew that having a finance background would give him an essential edge over others with business or marketing degrees.

One contributing factor to Montel’s success was his experience as part of the Financial Management Association at Valpo, which he joined during his junior year. As part of the group, he was elected to be the manager of an investment fund for which Valpo’s endowment provided seed money.

Montel realizes now that he likely wouldn’t be where he is without his time at Valpo, as he was able to be part of so many great achievements.

“I may have taken for granted the culture of having gone to a smaller institution,” he says. “But I now realize how great it was to be able to communicate more with peers, faculty, staff, and advisors one on one and get to build relationships with them.”

Montel emphasized that Valpo enabled him to chase and fulfill his dreams and the success he’s attained so far, which also includes participating in the Harvard Business School Summer Venture in Management Program — another first for a Valpo grad. He has also participated in Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which emboldens high-achieving men and women from underrepresented communities — African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans — to realize their full potential and make a difference in their communities. Yet another first for a Valpo alum.

“Even though we may come from a smaller school in the Midwest, Valpo allows you to dream big.

“If you want to follow your dreams, you can. Explore what’s out there. The skills and knowledge you gain from Valpo allow you to compete with anyone.”

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