The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) is celebrating its 50-year anniversary by holding a student leadership conference on March 22. Some EOP scholars shared how the program contributed to their successes.
According to the Seton Hall website, the EOP was established in 1968 “to provide educational and financial assistance to eligible New Jersey students of academic promise from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Brenda Bekarogullari, a senior sports management and marketing major, said she is the daughter of two immigrants who didn’t get a chance to complete their education.
Bekarogullari said that for her attending college was a must, simply because she wanted a better life for herself and her family.
“But I never knew the full scope of the financial obligations that came along with it,” Bekarogullari said. “My family could not cover the cost of tuition and I was truly doubtful of going to college before I discovered that Seton Hall University had a supplemental program for first-generation college students.
“The Educational Opportunity Program made it possible for me to attend and succeed at Seton Hall through their financial and academic support services.”
Bekarogullari said she is convinced she wouldn’t be in the position she is in today if it weren’t for the EOP’s commitment to furthering the development of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Ryan Johnson, a junior marketing and management major, said he grew up in a low-income household, but had always taken up leadership positions in high school.
“It was always a passion of mine to make it into college,” Johnson said. “So, when I applied to Seton Hall, I found out about the EOP, and it definitely gave me the opportunity to come to college and achieve my goal of becoming college-educated. This way becoming one of the first people in my family to get a degree.”
Ronia Khalaifeh, a sophomore political science and economics major, also noted the rigorous, six-week pre-freshman program that every EOP student goes through.
Khalaifeh said that her grandfather died when she was in the summer program, so it was hard for her to continue. However, after the EOP gave her time off, she said they helped her pick up like nothing had happened.
“It just felt like I was at home,” Khalaifeh said. “Like I was with my family, and they were dealing with it, and I was dealing with it.”
Khalaifeh said she had finished the summer program with a 4.0 GPA and thought that if she could get through that, she was ready for college.
She is currently the president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Association (MLKSA), vice president/secretary of the Educational Opportunity Program Student Organization (EOPSO) and the Public Relations Chair for Skooled Inc.
Johnson added that it was rewarding when he had received his certificate at the end of the summer program.
“At that moment, I knew that I could go through college and be able to succeed in college,” Johnson said. “It really started a domino effect to me becoming an RA, the president of the Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC), and an MLKSA scholar. All of those things definitely were attributed to my EOP experience because it gave me self-advocacy and strength.”
Bekarogullari said she appreciated the vital guidance the EOP provided for her as a first-generation college student.
“They guided me through everything from formulating a four year plan, applying for student loans, filling out the FAFSA, to applying to scholarships and more,” Bekarogullari said. “EOP has taught me to seize every moment and capitalize on every opportunity.”
Bekarogullari said she currently serves as the Treasurer for EOPSO, as well as the vice president of the Internal Affairs of Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity, a position she has held for two years.
Kristel Domingo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.