April 2, 2018

When Jerry Kuziw lost his 26-year-old son, he was lost, too.

The debilitating grief over the death of a child led him to sell his Manhattan brewpubs and left him adrift, struggling to find meaning in a life that now seemed devoid of it.

Centenary University helped him find his way.

“After my son died, I sold the business,’’ Kuziw said. “I just couldn’t continue with that. It was just too heart-breaking.’’

He briefly tried to start another business brewing his own beer and selling it to retail outlets.

“I quickly realized I had a lot to learn,” Kuziw said. “I had no experience in manufacturing and distribution. That also pushed me into making my decision to go to Centenary.’’

Through an advertisement, he discovered Centenary University’s School of Professional Studies, which helps adult learners return to college, with programs tailored for students with different goals, learning styles and personal experiences.

“The school treats each adult learner as a unique person, helping students build on their personal and professional accomplishments and providing a support system so all students meet their academic goals and individual commitments,’’ said Anthony Yacullo, assistant professor/director of faculty services.

The school offers associate and bachelor degrees in business, accounting, social media marketing, sociology and liberal arts. An accelerated MBA program also is part of the academic offerings, as are certificates in social media, leadership and health administration.

Reluctant to attend classes with young students, Kuziw first tried the School of Professional Studies’ online courses, but quickly discovered that this method of teaching did not suit his style of learning. Discouraged, he considered abandoning his plans to pursue a degree, but then he received a call from an academic counselor at Centenary’s School of Professional Studies, encouraging him to try attending classes in-person at the Parsippany learning center.

“They said why don’t you give it a try,’’ said Kuziw, 64, whose son, Ivan died in 2009 from a prescription overdose. “They were so encouraging. Their trusting sincerity, compelled me to give it a shot and a big part of that was my son.’’

So he enrolled in classes and discovered that he loved the interaction with other students, the chance to learn different points of view — and that this growth also helped him process the grief.

“The class discussions were so stimulating and accepting,’’ he said. “There were a lot of opposing views. And, Centenary allowed this open discussion, which allowed you to understand other people. I started to come out of a closed shell and began to understand other people’s views. It was exhilarating.’’

“I started to excel,’’ he said. “I started to immerse myself in the work. I was acing everything. It was like some kind of door unlocked.’’

After earning an Associate Degree in Liberal Arts, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management. In May, he will walk to receive his Master of Business Administration and Management, graduating summa cum laude.

“I couldn’t have done it without the passionate and genuine support of the Centenary staff,’’ Kuziw said. “They were like loving arms around me. I felt like it was my family and I still do. They kept the wind under my wings. That was not something I ever imagined or expected to experience. I wasn’t just a number or someone who took up a seat.’’

Not only did he forge close bonds with Centenary staff, he also formed close friendships with his fellow classmates – some of whom hail from different parts of the world.

“I met people from different walks of life,’’ said Kuziw, who lives in the Towaco section of Montville with his wife, Olga. “I have friends now from different countries and I know we will be friends for life.

“This education has help me refocus my business objectives,’’ said Kuziw, who also has two daughters, Alexandra, 33, and Natalia, 29. “I don’t have a Swiss cheese, pocked-marked type of education or knowledge base. I now fully understand all aspects of the business world and I feel I could go anywhere in the world and operate any kind of business with total confidence.’’

Not only has his Centenary education given him a new outlook on his business prospects, it has given him a new perspective on life and the way he wants to live.

“It’s knowing that whatever you’re going to touch, you’re going to succeed in,’’ Kuziw said. “Centenary University helped me with my grief. Centenary gave me the skills and tools I needed to find my way home.’’

— Nancy Parello