June 13, 2024
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Feeling Connected: How one Binghamton student found her footing

Zaliyah Vernon, human development undergrad, intertwined her passion for mentorship with campus life

Zaliyah Vernon will graduate with a degree in human development during the May 2024 Commencement ceremony. Zaliyah Vernon will graduate with a degree in human development during the May 2024 Commencement ceremony.
Zaliyah Vernon will graduate with a degree in human development during the May 2024 Commencement ceremony. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Zaliyah Vernon came to college in a COVID-19 year, and all that it entailed — little to no face-to-face contact. Lucky for her, a program that led her to a host of student organizations and connected her to staff and faculty at Binghamton University put her ahead by leaps and “bounds.”

“I was a part of the Upward Bound program, which is a college readiness program,” Vernon said. “Had I not been an Upward Bound student and had these resources available, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know if I’d be in Binghamton. I probably would have stayed in the city!”

The federally funded Upward Bound program automatically routes its students into the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides support and advocacy for its students from enrollment through to graduation. For students like Vernon, who will graduate in May with her bachelor’s in human development from the College of Community and Public Affairs, connections with these programs became pivotal to defining her Binghamton experience by taking active roles with organizations across campus.

In her first year on campus, Vernon began working with the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development as a student experience consultant, where she learned important career skills and stepped outside her comfort zone.

“It really prepared me to go into the real world after I graduate,” she said. “It’s helped me progress in all the fields: as far as resume building, cover letters and interview tips, even applying to jobs.”

In her junior year, she joined the staff of the Tutorial Center, welcoming students into the space. This role felt natural to her, as it was a common study area for EOP scholars. By mingling with her classmates and fostering connections, she was able to prepare for later mentorship roles.

During the pandemic, Vernon said that these two positions and EOP are to thank for connecting her to other students whom she had less opportunity to meet with in real time. Vernon also said that taking part in the Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP) — a mandatory pre-freshman summer orientation of sorts — introduced her to friends she remains close with today.

“As a woman of color, you need those groups to make you feel like you’re accepted and that you’re seen on campus,” Vernon said.

Those groups also introduced her to many of the mentors who would help her succeed in her four years at Binghamton. For example, Raymond Fryc, an academic counselor for EOP, has worked with Vernon since his arrival on campus and has seen her hard work and dedication firsthand.

“Zaliyah has always been a strong student with a passion for helping others, which fits perfectly with her human development major,” Fryc said. “She truly showcases the difference Binghamton students can make in their local communities.”

Vernon’s biggest role, however, and where she feels she most excelled and connected with the Binghamton community, didn’t come until her junior year. It was through her involvement in the Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP), which she had previously joined as an intern.

Voted in to serve as vice president of the program, more colloquially known as JUMP Nation, Vernon’s main responsibility was organizing the weekend event the group hosts each year, where a group of at-risk eighth graders from New York City are provided an all-expenses-paid trip to Binghamton University to experience the college lifestyle. Vernon’s event was the first to return to campus since COVID-19, and the first to return from a two-day virtual event to the traditional four-day adventure.

In the end, it was a great success.

“When we saw the impact that we made, it felt like we brought a large community of Binghamton people together,” she said. “Everybody has to work together to make JUMP weekend happen; to see that plan come to fruition was really rewarding.”

This year, Vernon switched to a senior advisor role to provide insights to the new e-board, a far cry from her initial involvement —she selected JUMP on a whim to explore mentorship opportunities for youth. In fact, she initially felt out of her comfort zone attending the general body meeting.

“I usually had a friend who was going to come with me, and JUMP was the first time that I had done something by myself,” Vernon said. “That kept translating into everything else I did at Binghamton, and I started realizing that I don’t need other people to make things happen; I can do things as an individual and still make something good come from it.”

After realizing this, Vernon also became treasurer for Pretty Girls Sweat and joined Sigma Gamma Rho. Both organizations focus on women’s empowerment, making sure that individuals feel comfortable on campus as women and women of color, while also prioritizing health, and enhancing the lives of women and their families through community service and civil social action.

“I knew that I had a passion for helping women and helping children, and it just kind of all came together,” she said. “There’s also the sisterhood aspect that I hadn’t experienced. When I’m able to speak to the women in the organization, they have genuine care for me.”

Although she is nearing the end of her time at Binghamton, the communities she has cultivated here are more like family to her. She expects to return to campus, whether it be to help the JUMP e-board or alumni network, attend the bi-yearly JUMP reunions with past mentees or serve as an example for the newest Greek life recruits. She dreams of being a mentor to the next generation of students, no matter the age.

“Zaliyah’s unwavering dedication to fostering academic achievement is evident in her pivotal role within the EOP Academic Success Network and Tutorial Center. It is matched by her broader commitment to uplifting the entire campus community,” said Karima Legette, the EOP director. “She sets a high standard for her peers, motivating them to give their best to positively impact the campus environment. But her influence extends beyond campus — her efforts touch young adolescents intending to pursue a college degree. She is shaping a brighter future for them as well.”

Vernon said her experiences with Upward Bound, EOP, human development and JUMP have made her consider a position in counseling. While she is considering returning to Binghamton for her graduate degree, she is looking to work in secondary schools as a guidance counselor.

She has even thought about taking what she learned here and applying it in her own unique way to bring a program like JUMP to a new audience.

“I speak to a lot of students, and when they hear college, they just hear more school, more homework — and don’t really know if they want to do that,” Vernon said. “But it’s so much bigger than that. It’s a huge network of people that you’re going to meet, and it leads to so much growth that you don’t even know is possible for you.”

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