This past October, Binghamton University’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) celebrated its 50th anniversary during the University’s Homecoming. Officially recognized by SUNY in 1968, EOP provides students from low-income backgrounds a chance to fulfill their academic potential through the use of resources. EOP’s pre-college transition program, academic counseling and tutoring, among other resources, have played a part in the success of many EOP students for 50 years. And with a retention rate of 98 percent, which is higher than the University’s, EOP students are taking advantage of the resources they are receiving from the program.

Providing students with the resources they need to succeed has always been EOP’s way of doing things. An example is Vanessa Young, a senior academic counselor for EOP. Young graduated from EOP when it was called the Transitional Year Program, and saw the program as many students do now — a way to attend college with financial and academic assistance.

“Without EOP I would not have been able to attend college,” Young wrote in an email. “My family did not have the finances to pay for college … The support I received as a student at Binghamton was amazing! It was the EOP staff who made the difference for me. The counselors were role models and provided sound advisement. The tutoring I received was wonderful as well as the recognition for my academic achievement.”

Young’s story is one that can be found among many EOP students over its 50 years, but even with some students sharing a similar background, there is no EOP student archetype. There are many distinct things that EOP students bring to BU’s campus. Karima Legette, interim director of EOP at BU, said that diversity is one of these aspects, along with providing another way of thinking.

“They are asking questions that other people may just accept to be the truth and because of our experiences being raised differently, we just have a different mindset, so we’re going to ask different questions,” Legette said. “And I think the University as a whole needs to welcome that intellectual curiosity. There are different ways to understand the knowledge base that exists, and I think our students are the ones that ask questions on that knowledge base.”

Prince Wireko/Contributing Photographer
EOP honors alumni and donors at its annual EOP Banquet.

EOP students work just as hard as general admission students and provide a new way of thinking for the University. They do not just fill a quota, but add new perspectives on the educational system they are a part of, as well as the world at large. This progressive way of thinking is embodied within the program. On campus, EOP can be seen as an innovator with the EOP Campos Robeson Tutorial Center, which is a center for students to come together and engage academically and socially.

“In addition, we have added to the innovation of the campus as we have historically served as a model for numerous initiatives and other programs that came to life at Binghamton,” Josue Quinones, ‘12, a graduate of EOP at BU and a current EOP academic counselor, wrote in an email. “We also have student groups with their roots starting in EOP, which demonstrates the fostered leadership and advocacy for social justice.”

Many multicultural groups such as the Latin American Student Union and the Black Student Union have roots within the EOP program. Both were started by EOP students and continue to be led by EOP students. EOP fosters leadership within its students, which is demonstrated by Aminata Jaiteh, the president of BU’s NAACP chapter and a senior majoring in sociology. Jaiteh attended the Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP) the summer before she embarked on her journey at BU, where she received a sample of what life would be like as a student here. And by taking classes, she also had a chance to interact with leaders on campus and understand what leadership means to her.

“We had peer counselors assigned to us from day one that are there to answer any questions we have,” Jaiteh said. “They have also been immersed in the Binghamton community and are already in organizations, so you’re directed to where you might feel most comfortable in the beginning … Because of EOP, I was introduced to a lot of different organizations, and I don’t think I would have found those organizations as easily if I wasn’t an EOP student because I have regular admission students who weren’t even aware that those organizations exist.”

EOP has helped Jaiteh, as well as many other students, find their place on the BU campus. Being a part of EOP allows students to gain the resources they didn’t have before while attending high school. As education inequality continues to be an issue, opportunity programs like EOP are a necessity to help level the playing field and bridge the gap. For 50 years now, and 50 years later, EOP will be here to help each and every student reach their full potential during and after college.

As EOP academic counselor Akeem Samuels would say: “Once EOP, always EOP.”