EOP: Helping Students AIM High

By Alex Vasile
The Greene Team

Rae, an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, strolled through the halls of the Wang Center on the college’s campus this summer acting as a guide to a group of 127 pre-freshmen students, to help them get acquainted in their new academic environment.

A graduate of Uniondale High School, he was in their shoes and seats just a few semesters earlier when he was accepted to Stony Brook University and received the same kind of help from older students through a program designed to help economically disadvantaged students succeed.

Now, he feels a sense of duty – and honor – to return the favor.

AIMing high

AIM/EOP students at Stony Brook Univeristy

“I wanted to help because when I was a freshman a lot of people were doing it for me,” Rae said. “I wanted to do it for other people.”

Rae is one of thousands of students who have been served by Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit, a 42-year-old program at the Long Island campus.

The counselors who run the program say their mission is unique: to reach and help young people with more potential than financial resources.

“These are the people who would have been low-income workers,” said Dorothy Joy Corbett, an 11-year veteran academic adviser in the program based in Stony Brook’s main library.

The program’s mission is to place students on the path to success in life from their Pre-Freshman Summer program to commencement.

“Whatever their needs are while they’re here — to help them adjust, to help them make their way to graduation — is in my job description.”

EOP/AIM is a state-funded program that started in 1968 as a product of the Civil Rights Movement. It draws 15 percent of its funding from Stony Brook University and recruits high school graduates who probably would not have the chance to attend college otherwise.

AIMing high

Dorothy Joy Corbett

“Basically, people realized in the sixties that there was a certain population of students who were not gaining access to universities” Corbett  said. “Seeing my students become doctors and lawyers and nurses and engineers and mathematicians and get Ph.D’s is amazing because we know that if it wasn’t for this program they wouldn’t have even gotten to college at all.”

Students qualify for the program by applying on their college applications and meeting income and grade point average criteria. From that point on, students are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis up to the maximum number that funding allows.

Each of the six counselors mentors to 100 students throughout their four years in college. The program serves around 600 students from freshmen to seniors, and its students study all disciplines and take part in all activities on campus.

EOP/AIM students are among the most active on campus, participating widely in campus life, such as student government and the social, athletic and fraternal organizations. They routinely make the Dean’s List and lead their peers in various roles.

In fact, Corbett said that the student body president has been an EOP/AIM student in at least seven of the 11 years she has worked as a counselor.

But the program has had its own ups and downs. In the past, due to cutbacks in the state budget, counselors have had to mentor dozens more students.

“When I first came to Stony Brook I had close to 200 students,” said Director Cheryl Hamilton, who still mentors students.

Hamilton is in her 17th year in the program since entering as a counselor in 1994, the year when Corbett said the state began reducing the program’s budget.

“They cut opportunity programs so severely that we have never recovered,” Corbett said. “Our budget is lower than it was in 1994 still.”

New York State’s current budget crisis has reduced the number of students the program can take in, plummeting from 175 students two years ago to only 127 this year, Corbett said. There have been times in the past where the program’s funding has threatened to dry up.

“We do well because we are resourceful as a program,” Pamela Matzner, another counselor, said. “Even if we do have to cut back a little, we make sure the students never notice.”

Regardless of caseload or funding, Hamilton said she and the counselors give their all to the students so that they can go on to succeed as doctors, attorneys and even social workers, a trend that is gratifying to EOP/AIM counselors, who view it as a display of thanks that students want to do for others what has been done for them.

“That may be the biggest compliment to us as counselors,” said Corbett.

A current Stony Brook student, Yanio, is an example of that. An EOP/AIM student herself, Yanio is committed to helping the incoming class of students gathering information about academic majors as they walked through the Wang Center a few weeks before the start of fall classes —  just like her classmate, Rae.

“I saw myself grow in the summer program so I wanted to contribute to the growth of the kids who are coming in now,” she said.