When 1,000 students began taking classes in the former Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City in September 1971, they couldn't know that the college they were forming would become an academic and cultural powerhouse.

Now, 40 years later, there is hardly an area of life in southern New Jersey that has not been touched by the institution that began as Richard Stockton State College and is now known as The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Thousands of Stockton graduates still live and work in our area. But the college's influence goes beyond its classrooms.

Partway through that first school year, the college moved to its current location on 1,600 acres (later expanded to 2,000 acres) in the pinelands of Galloway Township. Buildings were added, and the college never stopped growing. By 1983, when the Housing III dorms were opened, Stockton had more residential students than any other public state college.

In 1999, the college awarded its first master's degrees. In 2006, the state approved its first doctoral program.

Yet, as it has grown, Stockton has maintained the feel of a small college. Almost 70 percent of Stockton courses are taught by full-time faculty. That small feel masks the large influence the college has had in so many southern New Jersey communities.

The Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, which opened in 1990, has been a leading force in education about the Holocaust and genocide. One of its most important projects is a video and audio archive of the histories of Holocaust survivors. The center has trained local teachers to bring Holocaust studies into their schools.

The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy, established in 2007, provides a forum for examining public policy questions.

Area elementary and high schools have benefited from the Education Technology Training Center, which, beginning in 1997, has trained teachers in the use of technology in the classroom.

The Performing Arts Center opened in 1976. It has brought world-class musicians, dancers and theater troupes to our area. This year, the college signed an agreement to bring such programs to Atlantic City's Dante Hall.

The Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism business was formed to help develop policies on gaming and tourism.

In 2002, the Stockton men's soccer team rode a 25-1-1 record - the most wins in NCAA history - to a Division III championship. Coach Jeff Haines was named Division III NCAA coach of the year.

The women's soccer team made the NCAA Division III Final Four in 1995. Last month, the women's volleyball team was selected as the top team in the New Jersey Athletic Conference's coaches poll.

In just the past year, the college formed a partnership to bring satellite classes to downtown Hammonton and purchased the Seaview Resort, which will allow it to expand its hospitality and tourism classes.

As Stockton grew, so did southern New Jersey. And, with Stockton's help, the area grew in sophistication as well as population. By encouraging scientific inquiry, liberal arts studies and an appreciation for culture - and by reaching out into the community - Stockton's faculty, staff, alumni and students have enriched us all.