Sam Sussman, an 18-year-old from Orange County, coolly delivered an address supporting gay rights in October 2009 at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C. The politics, philosophy and law major had earned the spot in the march by winning an “Equality Idol” contest on YouTube in which he discussed the importance of gay rights.
By Mandy Boyle
Despite the ever-growing demand for a college degree, students everywhere face difficulties and challenges that can prevent them from meeting their goal of obtaining an education. For many, education is the saving grace that allows for them to better their lives and maximize their future potentials.
The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at Binghamton University is known for its ability to give those students who face challenges the key to a successful future through education. On Oct. 18, during Homecoming 2008, EOP celebrated its 40th anniversary at a reunion luncheon in the Susquehanna Room, bringing together staff members, founders, students, counselors and alumni to remember the mission and success of the organization.
At the ceremony, several key figures in EOP’s history shared their thoughts and experiences throughout the program’s development, lending experience to a deeper dimension of what the program does for students and what it has become.
Vanessa Young '78 (at left of photo with first EOP director John Benson), an alumna of the program and its current interim director, shared her memories of being an EOP student as well as the history of the organization.
The program’s roots lie in the mid-1960’s, as the landscape of the world and of education were undergoing constant change. In the fall of 1966, the university developed a special admissions program to discover talented students who lacked access. That year, six students were admitted. Today, that number has grown to near 150 students, selected from an applicant pool of 4,000.
Hundreds of EOP alumni have emerged from the program as driven, successful, and motivated individuals that look to better the world and the community. Binghamton University’s program is consistently regarded as the top EOP program in the state, an accomplishment that it looks to continue on for another 40 years.
“I think one phenomenon we sometimes fail to recognize is the impact of EOP on the community,” said Wes Van Dunk, a long-time counselor of EOP that has impacted a great many students who have come through the program. “No one ever thought they’d settle here after graduation, but look at the impact they’ve made.”
Many alumni have pursued careers both worldwide and in the community at large, feats that Van Dunk recognized during the event.
“We have so many alumni who have accomplished so many things,” said Young. “[The 40th anniversary] is a proud moment for me and for the staff.”
In addition, many alumni have gone on to achieve advanced degrees, continuing on a mission of receiving the highest level of education possible in order to better one’s life.
Left to right in photo: Lisa Marshall '04, Latoya Jackson '02, Carianne Johnson '02, Sharise Sanders '02 and Precious Dapaah '04.
“EOP, as cliché as it may sound, taught me to shoot for the stars,” said Shameeka Mattis '03, an alumna of the program who actively served as a peer counselor and teaching assistant for the Binghamton Enrichment Program 2001-04. In 2005, she received a master's degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, a success which she attributes to EOP’s commitment to her education. “EOP showed me how to be eloquent, to take charge, and to be equipped with the leadership skills I need to succeed," she said.
Other students, like Mattis, have also been driven by EOP’s encouragement to accomplish great feats in education. Orlando Harris '07 was the first student to have ever graduated from the university with three degrees, a remarkable feat that was backed by the support of the EOP program.
“It was a support system that I could bank on,” said Harris, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Rochester. “I saw how the staff interacted and that’s how I knew that they weren’t just a program, they were family.”
Even as the educational landscape continues to change and develop, programs like EOP can often be overlooked or cut because of funding difficulties. For an organization like EOP to be successful for over four decades is a remarkable feat and one that will continue to be met for years to come through the accomplishments of the program’s students, staff, and alumni.
Last Updated: 11/12/13