Dr. Hubert Johnson '74, MA '75, MD, has always been busy. As a student at Binghamton University, he played three sports, had a radio show on WHRW, was an RA and even built his own major in biology and anthropology. After he earned his bachelor’s degree and then his master’s degree in anthropology from Binghamton, he received his MD from Rutgers Medical School, did his residency at Tufts Medical Center and completed a Harvard vascular fellowship at Beth-Israel Deaconess in Boston.
Now chief of surgical services at Beverly Hospital and attending vascular surgeon at Lahey Hospital Medical Center in Boston, Johnson has strong memories of Binghamton.
Originally from Rochester, Johnson was recruited to the EOP program by Mr. Mackey. Having done well in Regents courses, Johnson was awarded some scholarships and was considering Syracuse and Cornell universities when Mackey suggested he apply to Binghamton. A visit to campus did the trick. “I was sold,” said Johnson. “I liked the nice, quaint campus, so matriculated in September 1970, as one of the first EOP students from upstate.”
Johnson played soccer, in addition to other sports, and that’s how he met the people he considers the most influential during his time at Binghamton – longtime Binghamton soccer coach and fellow Rochesterian Tim Schum, and then-track coach Gary Truce. “Tim Schum came by,” Johnson said, “and he says, ‘You know you can play soccer here. We’ll recruit you and you can play for us.’”
Binghamton was Division III back then. “I think my first year I started and never expected that and had four good years of soccer,” said Johnson. “My second year we were No. 1 in New York state and got our first NCAA bid. I also ran track for Gary for two years and swam for Dave Thomas for two years.”
Schum and Johnson stay in touch and still get together for golf every so often. “Tim is one of those people, if I wasn’t starting, he would say, ‘If you’re not starting, it’s because I don’t think you should. Don’t make problems where there are none.’”
Johnson remembers a number of “really good” professors as well. “Batten was my biology teacher – I made my own major in biology and anthropology – Al Vos was English lit. Zach Bowen. They were all great guys and Bruce McDuffie was my analytical chemistry teacher. All great people.”
But Johnson was also a bit of a maverick when it came to the EOP program. “They wanted to put EOP students together so they would be comfortable, but I said I’ll live wherever they put me,” so he would be prepared for different experiences and the ability to work with diverse people when he went out into the world.
“I got a lot out of the University,” Johnson added. Because he played sports and traveled to away competitions, he had to work to keep up with his academics. “There were no fax machines or things like that back then, so I had to listen to tapes after road trips.
“I was an RA in Dickinson with Carrol Coates as master,” Johnson said. “He would sit down and talk about life and help me appreciate how things work. Then I moved to Cayuga in College-in-the-Woods as an RA. I had the full run.”
Johnson credits his ability to accomplish so much to discipline. “I went to Catholic school as a kid and you get a lot of discipline out of that. So when school demanded you would do the work, I was prepared for doing that,” he said. “It was never easy, but I had a goal from the time I started. I applied to dental schools as well. My roommate Dan Goldstein, probably one of my best friends, and I still get together and talk about all these things.”
Johnson went into practice at the North Shore Medical Center/Salem Hospital as associate chief of surgery after completing his medical degree, residency and fellowship. He served there for about 25 years before moving to Lahey and Beverly Hospital three years ago. He noted that Beverly Hospital is where part of the movie Manchester by the Sea was filmed.
Summing up Binghamton, Johnson said, “It’s just a great college and you have to immerse yourself in college life and examine yourself. Seeing that you can help other people is a great thing. It’s a tribute to the people who were there.
“My college prepared me for medical school. I was an anatomy TA, and I actually tested out of part of the year of anatomy because of my Binghamton courses,” Johnson said. “I thought medical school was going to be harder, but when I finished and went to residency, people would say they would take more people from my school because of the way I performed. You’re responsible for the people who follow you.”
He then said there’s a “tell” when people compliment you. “If they ask you, ‘Where did you go college?’ you know they’re impressed. They always ask that,” he said.
Johnson’s wife, Michele, is an active ob-gyn physician. They have four children -- three girls and a boy. One is a lawyer, Johnson said. “They have good role models. Good parents keep you heading in the right direction. We need to acknowledge them and the other people who have helped us along the way.”
The Parris Foundation
Not only did Tonya Parris ’92 have the drive to be the first in her family to graduate from college, but she had the drive to choose a profession that was male-dominated.
“At the age of nine, I saw and fell in love with my first computer,” she said. “It was in the school library and students were invited to explore at recess. I was intrigued and explored daily until the dean called home and expressed concern that I was not socializing.”
After that, the dean, Parris and her mom came to an agreement that she would split her time equally between recess and the computer. But that exploration time changed her life. “I decided that I was going to study how computers worked and I did,” Parris said. “I chose a high school that taught me four programming languages before I got to college.”
Accepted initially into Harpur College before transferring to the Watson School as a computer science major, Parris first learned about the EOP program when a package came in the mail explaining the Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP) that she had the option of attending the summer prior to her freshman year.
“I had earned a regents diploma and had a high enough high school average so that it was not mandatory for me,” she said. But she didn’t waste her summer: “I opted out and attended the International Federation of Keystone Youth Organizations (IFKYO) conference in Australia instead.”
Binghamton was unlike anyplace she had been. “Coming to Binghamton was definitely a culture shock, both as a brown person and as a woman. I grew up in the Bronx, and the majority of my interactions were with people of color – in my neighborhood, at school and at home,” she said. “On campus, there were very few people of color, but I found solace in the gathering of cultural SA-chartered organizations as well as EOP.
“Even though I didn’t attend BEP, I used the Tutorial Center as a resource to support me with connecting to other EOP students,” Parris said. “As an engineering student, I noticed that not only was I the only African American, I was often the only woman. I slowly gained my footing and assimilated as best I could.”
She also relied on a number of support staff who made a difference in her life.
“My EOP counselor, the late Louie DeValle, was the Watson school liaison and as an EOP student I was a general admit and had to transfer,” she said. “He stood by me every step of the way and believed in me as much as I believed in myself.
“That was a new experience for me,” Parris added. “I grew up with so many people telling me what I could not do and my belief system was built around the general expectation that he would do the same. But he didn’t; he was my strongest advocate and I had no trouble at all getting into Watson – faster than expected, according to Louie!”
Linda Lisman, the head of the EOP Tutorial Center, “welcomed me with open arms and gave me a home away from home,” Parris said. “I spent an inordinate amount of time at the Tutorial Center and Linda always greeted me with kindness. I never once felt like I overstayed my welcome and I really appreciated feeling welcomed and accepted.”
The late Ira Tolbert was also an advocate. Then assistant provost, Tolbert instilled in Parris the importance of applying to the Ronald E. McNair Fellowship program. “Dr. Tolbert was the reason for my experience to have an opportunity to work with Dr. CK Cheng, a well-respected computer science professor at the University of California, San Diego. He also expressed how important it was to attend graduate school and because of him I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
“And Bobbie Friedman, who was then director of the Career Development Center [now the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development], taught me about professionalism, the power of networking and creating results through kindness,” Parris said.
All of the support paid off for Parris, setting her on the path to becoming a leader. She involved herself on campus in a number of organizations, co-founding the University’s chapter of National Society of Black Engineers. In addition, she was social action chair of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and participated in the Gospel Choir, BSU Youth Program, Big Sister, co-rec football as quarterback, intramural basketball as a shooting guard and intramural softball as a short stop.
Parris cherishes her memories of Binghamton. “Being in service to others as social action/public service chair as a member of Delta Sigma Theta; creating on- and off-campus events that supported the student and local community; serving as a big sister in the BSU Youth Program were all memorable,” she said. But so was stepping into responsibility. “Writing my own checks to pay bills and getting my very first credit card,” she said. “Building life-long friendships and co-rec football; showing up teams who didn’t think girls could throw a football more than five feet!”
She’s now CEO at The Parris Group, Inc. in NYC, overseeing a foundation that focuses on providing programming in the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM) to middle-school students. S.T.E.M.ulating Minds exposes young people to possibilities at an impressionable stage.
Her leadership has paid off for her family as well. She showed her family what was possible and her four younger siblings followed her to Binghamton.
“Earning a degree meant that I was the first in my family to graduate from college. It meant that as the oldest of five, I had made my family proud,” Parris said. “It was more than just earning a degree. It was earning a degree from the Watson School of Engineering in computer science as an African American woman who grew up in public housing and was part of the EOP program.
“It changed me because I showed me that I can defeat all odds no matter what circumstances or obstacles are placed before me,” she said. “It was my baseline for success and it gave me the confidence to pursue whatever I imagined.
“I had such a wonderful experience at Binghamton and received an excellent education for the cost. I wanted to share that gift with each of my siblings.”
The Binghamton University Educational Opportunity Program recently benefited from one of its earliest graduates. Mabel Payne ’71, who started in the EOP program before it was even called EOP, has made a six-figure donation to the program to support students and program activities.
Persistence and perseverance are apt words to describe Payne.
Offered the choice in the late 1960s to attend a community college in the Bronx tuition free or to attend Binghamton University as part of the fledgling program, she opted for the four-year degree at Binghamton, thinking about pursuing a career as a teacher or in the helping professions.
“I had never heard of Binghamton, knew nothing about it and didn’t know if I wanted to go to a school that wanted me just because I’m black,” said Payne. “My counselor said, ‘So you’d rather go to Bronx Community?’ So I thought about it and said, ‘I’ll go there [Binghamton].’
“The first night there I went outside and sat and cried my eyes out,” Payne said. The next day, she learned that she didn’t have enough money to cover the entire year at Binghamton. “Mr. Benson asked how I would be dealing with the rest of the money, so I started boo hooing. He increased my loan and my work study so I was able to go to school. I worked in the post office and then became an RA for my junior and senior years and got free room and board, so I didn’t need work study after that.”
Although she did work in the Upward Bound program during the summers. “I had been in Upward Bound in the Bronx,” Payne said. “Since I was an Upward Bound alumna I worked in the program in Binghamton with students who came from Mississippi the summer of my sophomore year. Another summer I went to Los Angeles to visit my cousin and take a course at UCLA. As luck would have it, UCLA had an Upward Bound program and I got a job and moved on campus.”
Payne loved the upstate atmosphere and the Binghamton campus, she said. “It’s phenomenal and I loved to walk in the snow. When it would snow, I would sink down and enjoy being the first person to walk in the new snowfall.” She further said that, “There were fewer than 20 of us. We were the chocolate chips in the milk.” There wasn’t an official EOP program until the next year.
“Mr. Benson was the program as far as I knew,” Payne said. “There were financial aid advisors as well, but that first day I immediately took what he said to heart and understood what was what for my future and what I was getting.” Payne was a good student and applied herself. “To me, I didn’t need any academic assistance and found out from my Upstate white roommate that I had better preparation than she.”
Her Binghamton experience did change her. “It made me more outgoing being in Binghamton. In high school when you’re in the honors school in a city school, it’s a small group that travels around in a little bubble and rarely associates with others, except in non-academic things,” Payne said. “The degree opened up my experiences and I associated with a lot of different people and was accepted by them.”
“Initially, I thought I would be a counselor because I was an RA and found I was good at helping people,” she said. So she took a civil service exam to help her get into the workforce, first in public assistance in the home relief area, working with adults with no children. “The kind of help I could provide was very limited and I realized I would need a graduate degree to provide better help. That led me to do a master’s degree,” she said, earning her master’s degree and professional certificate in counseling and student personnel services from SUNY Albany. “I thought it would help me get a better job in the helping professions.”
After earning her master’s degree, Payne worked as a career counselor in a program in a grant-funded non-profit to help train and reorient people who had been out of work for a long time. “I conducted trainings and helped people get certification to work with the NYC Department of Education,” she said. “We were helping public high-school students gain internships in industry and I worked to certify our internship professionals so they could be part of the NYC Board of Education system.”
Her position was grant funded, so eventually the program ended and Payne became a freelancer, but the civil service system came calling again when Payne took a city-wide exam that would utilize her work in management of grant-funded programs to full advantage.
Still, she needed steady money and knew education was the road to a better position, so she went to Teachers College at Columbia University on a fellowship, and earned her master’s degree in organizational psychology.
Happenstance while earning her master’s brought her together with a young woman from the NYC Board of Education, and she started working for the Department of Education. In early 1987, the results of the city-wide exam came out and included a title in the section of the Department of Education where Payne was already working as an Education Officer. “I was the first person hired off a civil service list in that area – now the Office of Accountability – which was established to administer and score city-examinations and conduct program evaluations of all the grant-funded programs in the city schools. That’s how I started at the Department of Education.”
“It came to pass that my director wanted to leave and I had risen to assistant manager by then. When he left, I became in charge of our unit and moved into the management aspect and titles in civil service.”
No Child Left Behind came along next and Payne’s unit was responsible for interfacing with the state and figuring out how to do the assessment of non-traditional schools for the state standards, and evaluations and reporting all of the schools’ achievement data to the state. “I was one of the liaisons with the state and the people doing the standard setting and I became known as the trainer and data reporter for all of the schools in the city on state standards and how to meet them,” she said.
Payne remained in the state accountability training and data reporting NYC Department of Education position until her retirement in 2013, and now she does research on teaching and learning in grades K-16, looking at the impact of globalization and the focus on STEM achievement with some emphasis on secondary education in the Caribbean. She consults for the NYC Department of Education, works on National Science Foundation grants, and provides career and educational counseling and development services – and she also travels the world and has fun.
“We go to Singapore quite often, that’s our favorite place to travel. It’s a tropical, small, island city state that is quite advanced,” said Payne. “My family comes from the Caribbean and to see the contrast of the advancement of Singapore versus the Caribbean islands is quite inspiring.”
“I also did my DNA ancestry and I’m traveling to different countries in Africa because that’s from where all my DNA comes. This year I’m going to Togo. The Togo/Benin region is from where 39 percent (the highest amount) of my DNA comes.”
Previous Alumni Spotlights
When José Magdaleno graduated from Binghamton University in 1978 with dual majors in political science and Latin American studies, he took away with him much more than a degree and fond memories.
He took a love of learning and a passion for education that remains with him today.
And he owes it all to his cousin.
“I learned about Binghamton and EOP through a cousin who was enrolled in the EOP program at the time,” he said. “I was born in Manhattan and largely raised in the Bronx. I attended public school – Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx.“My first higher education experience was at Lehman College (City College of New York),” Magdaleno said. “I was a first-year student and it was a bit of a bumpy path, so when my cousin told me about EOP and life at Binghamton, she suggested I consider applying.” Magdaleno felt as if he was a freshman when he arrived at Binghamton because he had been unsuccessful in his year at Lehman. “The EOP representative invited me to meet him at a hotel in Manhattan to interview me and I vividly recall the conversation, he said. “I essentially told him about my interest in EOP and Binghamton and he saw something in me, thank god, and gave me an opportunity to attend Binghamton through the EOP program. It really was a pivotal moment in my life.”
Magdaleno came from very modest, humble beginnings, and, as many EOP students, was the first in his family to attend college.
“I was the oldest of three and growing up did not leave New York City at all,” he said. “I thought you needed a passport to go to New Jersey! Among the myriad of teen jobs that I had, I was a messenger and once I was sent on the PATH train to New Jersey and I just marveled that I was on it and going there. I knew Manhattan and the Bronx, and thought Staten Island was an international destination, which was fairly typical for people like me. There hadn’t been an opportunity to see much of our world – or our country.”
Saying that arriving at Binghamton was a major culture shock for Magdaleno is an understatement. “For a young Hispanic kid like me who grew up in a minority community?” he said. “Even though the Bronx was changing demographically and I lived in it at this time of great change, it was a very black and brown community. Traveling to a place like Binghamton was indeed a culture shock, with fewer people, different ethnic backgrounds, a different rhythm of life that was slower and with a lot less distraction.”
But the change ended up part of Magdaleno’s success formula, he said. “Being in a quieter, slower-paced life with less distractions from family, friends and others – in the final analysis is part of what made my journey successful.”
Magdaleno navigated his life at Binghamton by connecting with a supportive cohort of older students, most from the NYC area. “They were very encouraging and they taught me the ropes,” he said. “I learned that you want to hang out in the library, not the student union. Folks who spend more time in student union and not the library, may not be as successful. They talked to me about success strategies.
“Also, my EOP counselor, Leo Fields. He was my counselor and I really, really connected with him,” Magdaleno said. “I’m fond of saying when I needed a swift kick in the head he gave it to me, and when I needed words of encouragement he gave to me. He saw my strengths and problems solves and was an instrumental person in my life. I’m forever indebted to him.”
Getting involved on campus with organizations like the Latin American Student Union also helped anchor him to Binghamton, Magdaleno said. “I attended meetings and events regularly. Networking with other students and meeting people with common interests and values was very helpful. It helped to create a home away from home and to bond me to the University.” After moving off campus, he used the OCCT bus system and has fond memories of camping at Lake Empire. “The college provided a bus to get there,” he said. “And I remember Stepping on the Coat and hanging out in the pub between classes over a pitchers of beer. I connected with a lot of people, made a lot of friends.”
Magdaleno also took advantage of studying abroad – twice. Calling the opportunities transformational for him, he spent a semester in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which was a requirement for his academic program, under the guidance of the chair of the Latin American studies program, Adalberto Lopez. He also spent a semester in Puerto Rico. “Having the opportunity to see how other people lived was a valuable experience for a kid who never left NYC,” he said.
“My first trip ever was essentially to Binghamton, so traveling to other countries was an eye-opening experience that helped my self-reflection, growth and development and shaped a broader world view,” he said. “I link that opportunity to me attending Binghamton. I had great learning experiences and in my career in higher education I always talk very positively to students about trying to take advantage of studying somewhere else.”
Among the jobs Magdaleno had while at Binghamton was working at Chenango Valley State Park as a seasonal park ranger. “A kid from the Bronx who grew up with a lot of cement – can you imagine that?” he said. “I was a seasonal park ranger and walked the trails and communicated with the campers, so following graduation they kept me on for about eight or nine months and I stayed in Binghamton. I also stayed in Binghamton summers and worked, so once I left NYC I didn’t come back until I graduated and came back to NYC for grad school at Columbia, which offered the best deal. Tuition free and I earned my master’s in social work.”
After graduation and working as a social worker for a few months, the same cousin who told him about Binghamton and EOP and who worked at Montclair State University and told him about an opening there as an academic advisor. He got the job and hasn’t looked back since.
And now, Magdaleno has completed the full circle: He’s back where he started his higher education journey – at Lehman College. But rather than a rocky path, he worked his way up and has been Lehman’s vice president for student affairs since 1999.
Now, he’s able to help students like him, who didn’t grow up with a community or family structure that was familiar with college or college life. “My family was working class, migrants. My father worked on assembly line for GM and my mother did not finish high school,” he said. “I grew up watching “Leave it to Beaver” but our house didn’t look like that. I dreamed about going to college, but my family couldn’t give me the advice that someone who had had that experience could.
“So it really was attending Binghamton that showed me the sort of success model that higher education is supposed to be. The Binghamton experience put me on a path to success and allowed me to dream and see that a lot was possible if I continued on the path Binghamton helped me get onto,” he added.
His position at Lehman is rewarding, he said. “We are an urban commuter institution serving many immigrants and many, many first generation students, so it’s truly rewarding to give back in a community I know well, an experience I know well,” Magdaleno said. “In all of the students we serve I see bits of myself and know the journey they are on. I try to do everything I can to coordinate services to help students succeed here and provide models and paths to success.
“It’s more than just a job for me; it’s a life’s mission. “I’m very blessed and fortunate to be in the role to shape policy and practice at an institution like Lehman that really serves as a model of success for the American dream,” he said.
Magdaleno is also grateful for the support that the SUNY board and state legislature have given to the EOP program. “It does make a difference in the lives of many people,” he said. “I trust that in the years ahead, the legislature will continue to support EOP at Binghamton and throughout the state.
“I’m not sure how it would have shaken out for me without this opportunity, and now I have three children who are all college graduates,” he said. “Talk about the impact on families and future generations! I know part of their success is linked to the fact that I’m a college graduate and can talk to them about the experiences one tends to have in college and how to develop positive coping strategies for the challenges of college life.”
Raedell Wallace graduated from Binghamton University in 2001, from the program in Philosophy, Politics and Law. For the past eight years, she has worked for the NYC Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York (CUNY) where she is Director of Career Development. In her role for the public/private non-profit organization, Wallace helps provide free, comprehensive career development services to all current and aspiring early childhood professionals.
Wallace learned about the Educational Opportunity Program and Binghamton University from her high school counselor. “I went to A. Philip Randolph Campus High School – one of the high schools located on a college campus affiliated with City College of New York in Harlem.
“A big focus of the school was to make the college connection for students. It was designed to be a college preparatory school and that goal is always part of the trajectory of many student,” she said. “The end goal is to get you to college, so it had a college office and advisor and there was a lot of interaction with that office.”
Like many students, Wallace had two main reasons for choosing Binghamton – one financial, the other logistical. “Binghamton was the most financially feasible and its proximity to New York City helped,” she said. “It wasn’t too far away from home and the campus had a really great look, size and feel to it. All of that weighed into my decision.”
Even so, Binghamton was unlike anyplace she had ever been. “I always knew I wanted to go to college away from home, but I didn’t really have a concept of what that meant. Binghamton wasn’t so close that I could quickly get home any time I wanted, so being away from family and out of New York City was hard, especially being in close quarters with people I didn’t know.
“It was a big learning experience for me, but the Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP) really helped ease that transition. Because I came through BEP, my freshmen year start wasn’t as much of a culture shock as it could have been,” she said. “I felt a lot more comfortable than other new freshmen at the time. Still, that summer was hard because I basically went right to Binghamton from high school graduation. It was a big change.”
When she arrived, her intent was to major in business, but she quickly changed her mind, and relied on her EOP counselor, Steve Duarte, for help in deciding on an alternative.
“He was definitely a good advisor and a good person to bounce ideas off of about what you really want to do and what that looks like after Binghamton,” Wallace said. “He was also really helpful when I was finishing at Binghamton, helping me to figure out what I wanted to do next.”
Her BEP instructor, Katrina Huffman, and Teaching Assistant Natalie Bledman, were also a huge help, she added. “They helped me know what would be expected of me as a college student both socially and academically. They challenged all of us in BEP to think a little broader about learning; what critical thinking means and what it looks like in action. They also talked about the importance of being involved what that meant both to us and to the campus community.”
Hearing from Huffman and Bledman – students who had gone through the process – and getting the inside scoop was what Wallace needed. She learned which offices to utilize, what people to know, and what things to do so that she could keep on top of her academics, financial aid and be an active participant in her time at Binghamton and her education.
“These people were the most impactful in terms of shaping my experience and how I entered school,” Wallace said. “I’m the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t have an understanding or perspective of what it would be like, so having that help as soon as I got to Binghamton, initially, instead of somewhere down the line was what I needed in order to be successful.”
Wallace became involved in the Black Student Union, including serving on its e-board for two years. She also worked in admissions and EOP. And her eyes remained on her goal of earning her degree.
“At the time I went to college I wasn’t thinking beyond earning my bachelor’s degree,” Wallace said. “That was the goal. But having the experience and having the types of relationships that grew out of my time at Binghamton inspired a commitment to continued learning and a dedication both to inspiring that in others and continuing to pursue that for myself.
After Wallace graduated from Binghamton, she earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University, and continued to look for opportunities to be involved with her community and organizations, and to be impactful in her work.
“That all stemmed from opportunities I had at Binghamton,” she said. “Because it was so impactful for me, it became the thing that I wanted to do. My career goals changed over that time and I became very focused on policy- specifically education and social policy. I was very interested in how programs like EOP even came about and what it would be like to develop programs to support students in the same ways that shaped where I went and what I do.”
And it all started with BEP, she said. “My biggest memory is of my BEP experience. I feel like everything that came after that was rooted and grounded in that experience. It was part of the foundation of my career choices, and where I met many of the people who traveled with me through my college experience and beyond.”
From the time she was a young child, Bethaida (Bea) Gonzalez has been connecting dots – and people. As the first English speaker in her family, she frequently translated and made appointments and connections for her migrant-worker parents. She remains a “connector of people” today.
Growing up, Gonzalez frequently moved back and forth between Syracuse, N.Y. and Puerto Rico, where her family was from. In fact, she made 11 transitions between the two places during elementary school alone. “Through all of that moving around I learned to adapt pretty quickly,” she says.
The oldest of six children, Gonzalez found the Educational Opportunity Program (then called Transition Year Program) through her Upward Bound experience. “Five of us went to Upward Bound and they did a really good job working with us as first-generation kids, to help us figure out the systems and get us connected into higher education,” she says.
“I’m a product of the war on poverty and living proof that it works,” she says. “So that’s how I found out about EOP. I went to Binghamton sight unseen. It was within the drive range.”
It wasn’t only Bea who experienced culture shock when she arrived. “I tell this story to other first-generation students now so they won’t be embarrassed by their families, because I arrived at Binghamton in a station wagon full of people and the cat! Dropping me off at the University was a family affair,” she says. “It was exciting for entire family.
“But the culture shock was on multiple levels. My father was like, ‘Why are all these men in this building?’ I never told him the truth that they lived there,” she says. “I told him they were helping girls move in because I didn’t want him to take me home. Culture shock #1 was my fathers’ expectations!”
Her culture shock came when she moved into the multicultural corridor of her residence hall and nobody believed she was a real Latina. “Downstaters didn’t believe anything existed past the Bronx and I was from Syracuse, so I had to earn credibility. But I wasn’t alone; there was one other Latina from Buffalo.”
Gonzalez would often bring her friends home to Syracuse for a home-cooked meal, and by the time she graduated, the Latina/o student organization honored her parents with an award for their support of students. “My dad still has it up on the wall at his house,” she says.
A political science and Latino American studies major while at Binghamton, Gonzalez says she “totally blew” her freshman year and nearly had to leave the program. “I got suspended after freshman year for grades,” she says. “In the program, we had John Yedell, who was on loan from IBM if I remember correctly. I went to him in tears and he let me work for him for the summer and said he would see what we could do in the fall. I never failed another course.”
And her successes continue. Currently the dean of University College at Syracuse University, and special assistant to that school’s chancellor for diversity and inclusion, Gonzalez is a national leader in her field, having served as president and past-president of the University Professional and Continuing Educators Association, the leading association for professional, continuing and online education. She has also been elected to office three times in Syracuse, including serving on the Syracuse City School District Board of Education and for nine years as the City of Syracuse Common Council president.
“This is part of my wanting to provide service and access,” she says. “And I have done both in higher education and as an elected officer. It’s part of how I see myself.”
Not surprising, given that she was always working to make sure the clubs and organizations for students of color at Binghamton worked together. “We were pretty tight as a group of students,” she says. “I made lifelong friends and we’re still celebrating our birthdays together. Some of them I met freshman year and we’re all still hanging tough, including a number of us in higher education.”
When asked about some special memories, Gonzalez recalls bubbles in the fountain that used to be located in front of the Bartle Library Tower where the Pegasus statue now stands. She also remembers camping on weekends at Empire Lake with friends (with their clothes on), including one time in particular: “One spring it was beautiful day and we thought we should go camping to Empire Lake, and there was a foot of snow when we got there! Instead of turning around, we trudged through the snow and set up camp,” she says.
That determination is also what helped Gonzalez right herself after her freshman year, and set her on the path of being an educator herself. “Going back to John (Yedell), he got me engaged with peer advising and I caught the bug,” she says. “I realized I was good at it and built genuine relationships with people. I could really support them in their goals and I’ve been doing it ever since on multiple levels.”
Gonzalez stayed at Binghamton following graduation; she had been working for the Upward Bound program during summers and then worked on campus for eight years as an EOP advisor. She left for Syracuse in 1984, where she began as an academic advisor and has never looked back. “I’ve stayed in continuing education my entire career,” she says. “It’s a perfect fit for my values. Not too shabby for the daughter of migrant workers.”
Gonzalez gives her parents a lot of credit for her successes, but she also recalls the support she had while at Binghamton. A few years ago she bumped into Ted McKee, who was the admissions officer and signed her admissions letter to Binghamton. “He’s a judge in Philadelphia and on the board of trustees at Syracuse,” she says. “We connected here and he said, ‘I know I did the right thing bringing that skinny kid from Syracuse to Binghamton.’”
There were a number of counselors Gonzalez was close with and she also remembers the serious side of Binghamton. “I met some of the most critical Black and Latina artists in the country while I was there,” she says. “We were really blessed with the kind of people we could attract to help us develop our own identities and social political agendas. We had Santana and so many others. We were really lucky in terms of the people we drew to help educate us and round us out.
“Earning a degree meant those people who thought we weren’t capable were proved wrong,” Gonzalez says. “But it also meant I had a responsibility to make sure that I was available for others the same way these programs and people were available for me.”
Richard Marmolejos ’07 is a firm believer in education – and he credits the Educational Opportunity Program at Binghamton with helping him earn his bachelor’s degree with a double major in political science and sociology.
He’s such a believer that he became a teacher, and is currently teaching history to 10th graders at Manhattan Bridges High School in New York City. With block scheduling of 72-minute periods, classroom preparation is no simple task as Marmolejos prepares lessons for the 142 students he sees over the course of each school week.
Manhattan Bridges is a school similar in size to the high school Marmolejos attended – the High School for Law and Public Service in New York City – where his guidance counselor and a college advisor suggested he apply to Binghamton University and to the EOP program.
“My guidance counselor and my college advisor suggested it, and I visited on a college tour and liked it a lot,” Marmolejos says. “There were a few people at Binghamton I knew from when I played football in high school and my coach always spoke about people who went to Binghamton.”
But Binghamton wasn’t the only school on his list. Marmolejos had even had been offered a partial scholarship to play football at another school. “Binghamton was definitely one of the options, and I also applied to Syracuse, Albany and a few others,” he says. “I liked a few of the schools and Binghamton was one of them. I liked the Nature Preserve, but wasn’t too sure because there was no football team. I love football, but I wasn’t going to go pro so I decided Binghamton was a better academic school and I should just go there.”
Marmolejos attended the Binghamton Enrichment Program the summer before his freshman semester at Binghamton. “It was very helpful to be there a little early and get lay of the land,” he says. “Everyone was super supportive and it was my home away from home.”
His counselor, Kim Allen Gleed, “was awesome and very supportive,” Marmolejos says. “I also always talked to Wes Van Dunk. He took on the role of a father figure and was very straightforward and always spoke with sincerity. He offered the male perspective. Kim was my go-to and was lovely. It was a good balance.
“I was the first in my immediate family to go to undergraduate school and it was a big change. The EOP program helped support me in getting through it because it was a new experience,” he adds. “The process of engaging in an environment I was never in before – EOP helped me navigate that. I would have failed or flunked out or decided it was too much if weren’t for them.”
In fact, when Marmolejos thinks specifically about what the EOP program meant to him, it comes back to education. “They helped facilitate my enrichment,” he says. “That word really applies to them.
“If anything, they definitely tried to foster education,” he adds. “Education is definitely very important and I try to communicate to my students now that no matter what your background, education provides you with access. They helped me realized the importance of education and how it is the key to doors and it provides you with the access to opportunities.”
Now that Marmolejos, who worked as a college advisor at Pace University before becoming a teacher, has seen the administrative side of higher education, he hopes more resources can be provided to EOP and similar programs. “There are certain reasons why people attend universities and if an institution where you’re supposed to gain knowledge and education provides access, we need to make sure all facilities and departments that help students gain that access are well funded – not just with money – but with people acknowledging that educational programs are very helpful and necessary.
“EOP is a very important program and people are beginning to realize it,” he says. “There are great people out there not from well-to-do families and they have a great deal to offer; we need to support them.”
Mara Sanchez ’78 recalls sitting with a group of about 75 other prospective students in the Susquehanna Room on the Binghamton University campus and being asked, “What makes you think we should pick you above any other applicant [to attend Binghamton]?”
“I looked around and said, ‘Of all these people here, I am probably the one who will graduate,’ Mara responded. “It was a bold move to get in this place.”
The bold move worked, and Mara made it in, but still had to find her path to becoming a theatre major with a focus on dance. “I applied for the voice department and wasn’t accepted,” she says. “Then I tried theatre and that didn’t pan out either. Then I went to the dance department and Percival Borde said ‘come on in!’”
Sanchez calls attending Binghamton “the sparkling, saving force of my life.” She left a very dysfunctional home and applied not knowing where Binghamton was or what to expect, but after moving off campus made great friends and loved the school. “I had huge support and felt a lot of love,” she says. “I had friends from all races – Binghamton and the townies – you can’t get any more redneck than that!
“I had great mentors and advisors and people who would help me out,” she says. “With no money it was a struggle because I was there by myself, but on graduation I was one of only two of those 75 who made it to graduation that year.”
Most of her mentors were older students, she recalls. “For me, Louis Del Valle and Mimi Del Valle were like my touchstones. We used to gather in their room and make rice and beans. They spread the culture and through them connected me to my culture. And Michael Boyd [EOP director at Binghamton from 1986-1994] was a great buddy of mine. I came back and sang at a function when he was still alive.”
Sanchez is paying the opportunities she had forward through her many years as an arts and education activist in the New York City. She calls herself a Teaching Artist and has worked for several organizations on grant-funded projects over the years. “I’ve been teaching schools how to integrate the arts and whenever I see kids, I tell them they are natural born leaders,” she says. “I am a leader and have been able to survive.
“I’m proud of that work because it’s a sacrifice,” she says. “The financial benefits are low, but the benefit to me is four years later some young person will reach out to me on Facebook to tell me he’ll/she’ll\ never forget how I helped him. If there isn’t that shining beacon of light, where do they go?”
Now in the top inner circle of voiceover artists, she has done commercials and toured internationally as a singer as well. When she was brand-new in NYC, she also danced with Bill T. Jones in a waterfront performance on sand. “That was the most difficult and rewarding summer. Bill is tough,” she says.
Moving forward, Sanchez is hoping to fulfill her dream of getting back to full-time music. “I always think there’s a second chance,” she says. “I was shy went I first started at Binghamton and could only express myself through movement, but I had a voice and now it’s time to express that.”