Opportunities to excel

Eighty-eight percent of Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students who arrived at the college in fall 2007 returned for the fall 2008 semester. This outstanding level of student retention reflects the program’s commitment to nurturing students inside and outside of the classroom. The program serves students from a variety of circumstances that may present barriers to academic success. Most EOP students are first-generation college students.

Antonio Bonilla, director of EOP, credits the program’s family-like atmosphere and focus on developing the whole student with its success, which comes from a combination of a number of factors, including classroom performance, civic engagement and a strong support system, he said.

“Once students have bitten into the idea that a college education is attainable, success breeds success,” Bonilla said.

Recently, the New Paltz program was lauded for its mentorship role and the high graduation rate of its participants. Faculty and staff alike demonstrate that meeting student needs is vital to the institution’s success.

“Part of our teaching responsibility is assessing whether students are in fact learning and growing at the high levels envisioned by our curriculum,” said Bonilla.

Winner of a Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award (2004), New Paltz’s EOP is an academic program designed for capable students who, because of inadequate financial resources and academic preparation, have not had the same opportunities as other students to realize their academic potential for a two- and four-year degree.

With an annual enrollment of more than 500 (about 8 percent of New Paltz undergraduate students), New Paltz’s EOP is one of the largest in the State University of New York system. A personalized, highly structured academic support program, it offers admission to the college and provides academic, personal and social counseling, as well as financial aid advisement.

Jeremy Acevedo, a first-year student, said he learned a lot from participating in activities outside of the classroom. Those activities included attending lectures from experts in study abroad programs and diversity training.

"EOP has made an excellent contribution to my education because through their initiative program and other resources, EOP has made my transition from high school to college a both stimulating and enjoyable experience,” said Acevedo.“The mentorship and love that I receive from the EOP family of staff and students is immeasurable; I am beyond grateful to be an EOP student at SUNY New Paltz.”

The group’s dedication to one another and enthusiasm for the work they do is evident at any event they host or participate in. In 2006, EOP launched the Student Initiatives Program to provide students with fun and enriching activities outside the classroom.

“The program was created because our students wanted to see us (EOP advisers) outside of our offices,” said Rita Celariste, assistant director of EOP.

EOP advisors attend volleyball games, historical site tours, hikes, lectures and more with their students throughout the academic year. The program is open to all EOP students and certificates of completion are awarded for those who attend all initiative sessions.

Since the inception of the Educational Opportunity Program, more than 40,000 students have received degrees. The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) brings closer to fulfillment SUNY’s policy that "…every student capable of completing a program of higher education shall have the opportunity to do so."