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EOP group takes on the big issues

By : Rachel Coker

James Bruno, left, a junior human development major from the Bronx, and Robert Balan, a junior computer science major from Queens, work in a small group during an Educational Opportunity Program weekly Menís Meeting.

At 7:15 a.m., when most students are snug in their beds, a small but determined group of young men gather for breakfast and a discussion of important issues. They’re dressed like they’re headed to a job fair, but they’ve come for the weekly Men’s Meeting, a new initiative of the Educational Opportunity Program at Binghamton.

The group, which started meeting last semester, has discussed issues such as healthy relationships, dressing professionally and financial literacy. Guests such as Provost Mary Ann Swain have spoken to the group as well.

“To me it’s of less consequence what we talk about than that they know that I care about them,” said James Pogue, EOP director. “As long as we’re having these conversations, I know what’s going on with them.”

Binghamton’s EOP graduation rate — 77.3 percent — is among the highest in the country, Pogue said. (The average for opportunity programs is about 27 percent.) But nationally and at Binghamton, young men of color are the focus of some special attention. That’s because they enroll in colleges in small numbers and, even when they do, their retention and graduation rates tend to be low.

More than two-thirds of black men who attend college do not graduate within six years, the lowest completion rate of any ethnicity and gender, Pogue noted in a recent report. The morning meetings — and, yes, there’s one for women, too — are just one way the EOP helps students succeed and stay engaged with campus life. The program also offers academic and career counseling as well as tutoring.

One morning in November, about 15 men sat down with Julius Johnson, a graduate student who leads the meetings with Pogue. They discussed plans to serve as mentors to students at Binghamton High School.

“In order for them to learn how to identify who would be a good mentor for them, they need to have gone through a similar process,” Pogue said. “We talk a lot about ‘When you were in high school, what would you have needed to help you get here?’ And then a year from now, we can say to our students, ‘You need to give some serious consideration to finding yourself a mentor. What do you think you need to succeed?’”

Johnson said the Men’s Meeting took off better than he expected it would. Early in the fall, the participants were mostly freshmen, he said. “It got to a point where it impressed the upperclassmen,” Johnson added, noting the meeting now draws a mix of students in terms of class years and majors.

Johnson, who received his bachelor’s degree from Binghamton in 2005 and is now a student in the Decker School of Nursing, said surviving sophomore year is a big challenge for these young men. Freshmen have a certain amount of support, he said, and juniors may be more focused on their career paths. But sophomores need some special help making connections.

Freshmen Juan Taveras of the Bronx and Wanthony Cruz of Washington Heights said it’s definitely a hassle to wake up early enough to attend the meetings.

But Cruz said he enjoys meeting more people and getting a broad sense of the campus. The group has also given him some opportunities to give back to the community, he said.

Taveras said the meeting isn’t just a meeting; it’s a brotherhood. “I consider these guys my brothers,” he said. “I could pretty much talk about anything at this meeting.”

SUNY-wide View

SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program, the second-oldest program of its type in the nation, celebrated its 40th anniversary late last year.

At 84.5 percent, first-year retention rates for SUNY EOP students outrank the national public average by 11.5 percent and six-year graduation rates for SUNY EOP students, 62.6 percent at doctoral degree-granting institutions, outpace the national average by more than 7 percent. 

More than 10,000 students on 43 SUNY campuses are enrolled in the EOP. Since the program began, more than 50,000 EOP students have earned degrees from SUNY campuses.

Binghamton’s EOP will mark its 40th anniversary this year.


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Last Updated: 10/14/08