Calvin Gantt '92 is the new director of Binghamton University's Educational Opportunity Program.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Q&A with Calvin Gantt
September 3, 2015Tweet
Q: You were an Educational Opportunity Program student here at Binghamton. Can you tell us a little about your experience in the program?
A: For me it started early, coming out of high school and being introduced to this program, because I wasn’t aware of EOP at that time. Learning there was a program that provided support for a young man from the inner city whose parents or siblings had never gone to college? I applied and luckily I was accepted. So I was the first in my family to gain a college degree, and still to this day the only one.
Wes Van Dunk was my counselor when I was a student and my time here was not without bumps in the road. Should I go back home to do what I need to for my family, or stay and get my degree? He helped me get my focus back and I didn’t look back from that point. I knew what I needed to do and that I would be more of a benefit to my family with a degree than without.
Once I got involved with EOP, I worked for a couple years in the summer program as a peer counselor while I was here. I felt that need to give back and outside of three years of my entire career, I’ve been working with EOP in some capacity. In fact, it was Vanessa Young who placed in my hand information about the Counselor Education for Multicultural Counseling program at SUNY Brockport. It was the turning point for me in terms of pursuing a counseling degree as opposed to law school.
The big thing for me was the mentoring from Michael Boyd – just the conversations I had with him as a student, those informal talks that people don’t know have an impact, had an impact. It’s important that I’m making time for those personal conversations with students, because you don’t know how that conversation might have helped that student. That connection to the students – that’s been very central to who I am as a director. Seeing how Michael operated and the passion he had for the job and how he wanted to challenge and encourage students to be better than they expected themselves to be. That’s the cornerstone of EOP.
Q: What has happened in your position since you joined our campus?
A: The one thing I will share is that in coming back to Binghamton, I was very aware that I was going to be the first director of EOP since Michael Boyd who was also a graduate of EOP at Binghamton University. That’s kind of an eerie yet challenging step to take. And literally, the second day I was here, I received a telephone call from an alum and the only thing he wanted to do is say welcome and we need to start raising money for EOP.
One of the big initiatives I’m working on now is a major fundraising campaign. Our 50th anniversary is in 2018, and we have a goal of raising $1 million by then. Alums want to go for the gusto, so that’s how the number has grown. We have 4,500-plus alumni and many are out there doing extremely well for themselves. I want the fundraising to happen so we can be more self-sufficient, but I’m really more interested in connecting the past, present and future, in getting our alumni connected to our current students in a systematic way.
I’m interested in creating a mentoring program and doing things of that nature first, to get students to connect to the history of this program and to understand that it’s been built on people being successful and always keeping the program’s best interests in mind.
The official kickoff of the fundraising campaign will be on Jan. 4, 2016, as part of Binghamton in the City week in New York City (Jan. 11-15, 2016).
Q: What is your vision for the future of EOP at Binghamton?
A: We have two specific areas we’re looking at for the funds we raise to support. One is to endow our EOP book fund. Books can be the most costly for students and with state funding at status quo, it’s a major issue for our students in not being able to afford their textbooks. We don’t want that to hamper their ability to pursue their education.
The second area I would like to support is for professional development, so our students can buy business suits, have funds to travel to interviews and those kind of endeavors.
I have a third area as well, but for later. I’m personally invested in trying to increase the number of our students who are studying abroad. We’re looking at more immediate needs now, but opportunities to study abroad would add to our students’ global awareness, and they would clearly see that there is less than six degrees of separation in our world. I believe students who study abroad also come back more focused academically.
And my personal vision? Increasing our STEM students. One of the areas I’m really focused on is improving our retention of students in the STEM fields. We offered chemistry this summer for the first time and are looking at continuing it next summer, and maybe nursing in the future.
Q: Are you planning any major changes to realize that vision?
A: To some degree, adding these additional areas is going to be important. My concern with major changes at this point is that I feel I need a full-year cycle before embarking on something major. As the program continues to grow and has grown over time, that opportunity for interaction between student and staff starts to dissipate somewhat, and it was my cornerstone, so I am taking a look at the amount of time and quality of the interactions students have with their assigned counselors.
What’s unique about EOP is that we keep caseloads reasonable so students have the opportunity to know their counselor, so we have to grow our staff equal to our student growth.
I’m also looking at doing a complete program evaluation including more focus groups with students to get a sense of how we’re doing. It’s important as we look at these initiatives to ask the students ‘Is what we’re doing really benefitting you?’ and not just assuming it is. It keeps us on the edge and making positive changes.
Q: What do you see as the strengths/weaknesses of EOP at this point?
A: Our strength is our alumni and their respect for the program. I can’t even begin to tell you in comparison to other institutions. It’s very, very strong here. That all the staff in our department are EOP alums speaks volumes to the fact that the program works and we have a commitment that you must always be giving back.
In addition, to my knowledge, University support is unprecedented than at any other SUNY campus. It’s one of the things that was extremely attractive to me. The support is present, evident and spoken of consistently.
Our graduation and retention rates are also nothing to sneeze at. Something is working right for that to be the case.
What we don’t do is celebrate our success in the way we should. We’re one of the most successful programs in the SUNY system. We have a 76 percent graduation rate and we don’t even mention on the website. I’m taking a look at how we can celebrate better, write more and publish more. I’m challenging the staff to consider how to celebrate.
Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned or that has happened to you since you arrived at Binghamton?
A: What is unique for me is the number of people still here at the University from when I was a student who are still very active and pushing the envelope and still challenging. Their energy and vibrance is still there and lot of times you don’t see that. It speaks volumes to the culture that is here that people feel like they want to continue to be an active part of something bigger, growing and changing. It’s very exciting.
Q: Do you have any particular success stories about students you’ve worked with so far?
A: There was a young lady here for the summer program. She was always happy, always smiling and made a point to come and talk to me. She was struggling with one of her courses, and I encouraged her. She ending up getting a B-, but what I found out was that her dad had died the day before she was to come for the program and she never told us. She knew this program was that important to her. She even won the Arel Moodie Award for the most creative thing a student can come up with.
When you have students like that how can you not love what you do? It’s rewarding work. Every day I learn just as much about tenacity and integrity from the students as I hope we provide for them.
Q: And now that you’re back at Binghamton, what are your final thoughts?
A: The biggest thing is that I came back because I felt a calling to come back and see if I can help the program – not to be successful because it is – but to move in a direction and grow in a direction that maybe it hadn’t considered. I’m a student of learning and ready for the long haul. I purchased a house and I’m invested in the program.