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Alumni will help the EOP move forward

By Cait Anastis Alumni will play a key role in helping Binghamton University’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) continue to move forward.

After marking its 35th anniversary in October during the University’s annual Homecoming celebration, the EOP staff is now looking to the future. One of their next steps is to increase the number of alumni involved with EOP by finding the most effective ways for them to support the program.

“It really has to be done in a way that is salubrious to the program,” said James Pogue, the program’s director. “Just being involved is not enough. It’s critical we be on board with the current vision. We need to make sure that we are all on the same path.”

EOP’s landmark anniversary was celebrated with four events during Homecoming — an alumni reunion, an alumni/student networking lunch, a display of memorabilia commemorating the program’s 35-year history and a memorial dinner held in tribute to the late Michael V. Boyd, who served as the program’s director from 1986 until his death in 1994.

Pogue said one of the most amazing things about the weekend was that many of the alumni who returned to campus had not maintained an active connection with the University. For many, this was their first trip back to the University since graduation.

However, not all of the alumni joining in the celebration were coming back to campus after a long absence. Vanessa Young, the program’s senior associate director, is a graduate of the program.

Young worked with Yulanda Whyte, coordinator for enrollment management and development, and Christine Lee, EOP professional support staff, to create the program’s memorabilia display. During the celebration she spoke to a number of alumni who were overwhelmed to see former EOP classmates and friends.

“They were elated to meet again and reminisce about their days as students,” she said. “Our alumni and former students share a special bond with EOP staff members and other EOP students. We call it the ‘EOP family.’ ”

The reunion also served to emphasize the strong connection alumni have with others who are part of the program. Many returning alumni asked about fellow graduates and members of the staff who were unable to attend, Young said.

In addition to Young, EOP staff members Westley VanDunk, coordinator of counseling services and Louie DelValle, who retired in late October, are also graduates of the program.

“We also have one staff member, although not an alumnus, who has been with Binghamton’s EOP for 30 years and another staff member, not an alumnus, who has been with the EOP for 13 years. Because of their longevity, we have many alumni and former students who keep in touch,” Young said. With more than 400 people in attendance at one or more of the Homecoming events, Pogue had the opportunity to speak with a number of graduates.

“I asked them to respond to two questions — ‘What is it going to take to get you to come back to Binghamton?’ The second — ‘What can you realistically give to the program?’”

The questions are not just about financial support, because not every graduate is in the position to do that, Pogue said. Instead, the focus was on the many different ways alumni could support the program, including serving as mentors to students or offering internships through their businesses.

“I look forward to being able to offer more leadership opportunities for students,” he said.

EOP assists students from school systems that may have lacked the financial support needed to offer all the advantages of wealthier districts or whose families may not have had the resources to provide them with the extras that can enhance a public education.

While the program’s students are capable of the work expected of them at the University, they often don’t have the same educational background as other students.

“These are the kinds of students we try to bring here,” Pogue said. “Students who can be successful. We know that there are going to be adversities but we try to level the playing field.”

In exchange, the EOP students bring a different perspective to the classroom and the campus community, which benefits the entire student body.

There are about 570 EOP students on campus, a number that has remained consistent for some time. The program enjoys strong retention and graduation rates, but one of the issues the EOP will face as Binghamton’s enrollment expands is whether it is possible for the program to grow as well. EOP provides tutoring, limited financial resources and moral support for its students.

“I can tell you that if (a student) needs a place to rest and recharge, they will find it here,” Pogue said, adding that when needed, he will also send them back out to get to work.

One of the challenges faced by EOP supporters is the misconception that students economically have a free ride.

“That’s not the case, often our students graduate with a higher level of debt.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08