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EOP student excellence award winner Brianna Hicks ’23 reflects on journey as student leader

Arriving at SUNY New Paltz in the fall of 2019 was something of a culture shock for Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student Brianna Hicks ’23 (Black Studies; Sociology), but through the mentorship and friendship she formed with EOP advisors and fellow students, she rose to prominence on campus.

Without EOP, I would not be where I am today,” she said. “They took a chance on a girl from Harlem, New York, to come upstate and make something of herself.”

That journey came to a beautiful culmination this spring, as Hicks was recognized by SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr., and the state university system as a recipient of the Norman R. McConney, Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence for academic excellence and strength in overcoming personal obstacles. 

She’s demonstrated that strength throughout her time at New Paltz and especially in the last year, during which she has served as president of the Student Association.

As Student Association President, Hicks works to raise awareness the work EOP does to provide academic, social and emotional support to students. She also sees herself as a role model for other EOP students and has volunteered her time in that role as an EOP Peer ALLI.

“Being president is an honor because it shows other EOP students that they can do it,” she said. “Also, since I am a Peer ALLI, I like to take in students from EOP and show them what being a part of the Student Association is like.”

The Student Excellence award is named in memory of Norman R. McConney, Jr., a graduate of the University at Albany and former assistant dean for special programs at SUNY. McConney, alongside former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, helped create the EOP as a statewide program.

“When SUNY was founded 75 years ago, the mission was to create an educational environment where all are welcome,” said SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. in a statement. “For over 50 years, SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program has worked to make that a reality by helping students, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college, access higher education and see their degrees to completion.”

Hicks was honored alongside 45 other SUNY students who overcame hardship to achieve great success in their college career.

“I was very excited by the opportunity to represent the New Paltz community amongst all other SUNY schools,” she said. “It’s been a humbling honor.”

Coming from a low-income background with big dreams of becoming a lawyer, Hicks wasn’t sure she would be able to achieve her ambition, but The EOP program was there to help guide her through her academic journey.

“I was worried I might not graduate on time and how doing two majors would affect my financial aid,” she said, “but my advisor encouraged me to take classes that were right for me. Today, my GPA is hovering around 3.6.”

Over time, Hicks found another calling. Post-graduation, she plans to continue working to serve students in higher education.

“I found my love for higher education by working for student government and EOP, and I want to stay in higher education, primarily working with students,” she said.

More information about the Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY New Paltz is available online.