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Office of Supportive Services programs produce ‘diamonds in the rough’ who beat the odds
Office of Supportive Services programs produce ‘diamonds in the rough’ who beat the oddsApril 29, 2009Susan Feightnersfeightn@syr.edu
Imagine reviewing applications from students graduating from the poorest school districts in New York State in an effort to identify strong academic potential despite outdated facilities, limited resources and communities plagued by social problems-applicants who would otherwise be excluded from higher education. Admit these students to Syracuse University, provide them with appropriate resources and support, and what do the results reveal? Year after year, on average, more than 30 percent of these students complete semesters with better than 3.0 GPAs, more than 20 percent make the dean’s list and their graduation rates equal or exceed University rates.
These figures are the results of the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which began on the SU campus 40 years ago. Since 1969, the HEOP program at Syracuse has sought out students who are ‘diamonds in the rough,’ creating opportunities for students even when they might not make the admissions cut. In doing so, HEOP has helped create a student body that has contributed significantly to the diversity of SU in terms of retention and graduation rates, post baccalaureate employment and entry into graduate and professional programs.
“Through HEOP, we identify and recruit students who possess potential and initiative but don’t necessarily meet traditional admission requirements,” says Denise Trionfero, director of the HEOP program at SU. “We give them a chance when others may not. We believe in them.”
Working alongside the HEOP program for 30 of the past 40 years is Student Support Services (SSS), a federally funded TRiO program through the U.S. Department of Education that provides academic support to students once they are admitted to the University. Both programs are housed in the Office of Supportive Services (OSS), under the administrative responsibility of Dean Douglas Biklen and the School of Education, and serve an average of 400 students each year. Many HEOP and SSS students are first-generation college students with little or no exposure to college life, nor the rigors of higher education. OSS provides academic counseling and advising, tutorial services, financial support and for many, an extended family.
“Providing access for underrepresented, first-generation students without supportive services is self defeating. Nationally, only 21 percent of these students make it through,” says Robert C. Wilson, director of SSS. “We provide a comprehensive experience that facilitates success.”
In recent years, nine OSS students have been selected as Remembrance Scholars, one of the highest honors the University bestows upon students. A closer look at the lives of HEOP alumni is even more telling. Ariba Chowdury ’07 is currently in medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University; M.J. Idani ’01 is completing a Ph.D. in Oxford, England, comparing U.S. and U.K. area-based poverty initiatives; and Teneka Frost ’98 is a lawyer and director of affirmative action programs for the New York State Department of Civil Service. Artists, teachers, professors, engineers, an opera singer and even a professional athlete are among the many HEOP/SSS alumni.
This year’s graduating class is no exception. Out of the 84 students in the HEOP/SSS programs who will graduate this year, nearly 60 percent will graduate with a final semester GPA of 3.0 or better. The graduates are members of SU’s Honors program, McNair program and many are high achievers.
Curtis Eatman ’09 (SSS) (left), is dually enrolled in The College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Visual and Performing Arts and is a 2008-09 Remembrance Scholar. Stephanie Zuniga (HEOP) has been named a 2009 University Scholar, won the iSchool Undergraduate Award and has been selected as the iSchool Convocation Student Speaker.
“We are enormously privileged to have worked with so many talented young people, like Curtis and Stephanie, who possess the strength and resilience to overcome the challenges of higher education and the barriers that can prevent success,” says Wilson.
The Office of Supportive Services will honor its graduating seniors at an annual dinner reception at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center. To find out more about HEOP and SSS, contact OSS at (315) 443-3867.