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Edp looks back on 45 years of life-changing guidance

Jeffrey Wallace, ’68, served as Fredonia’s second EDP Director from 1972 to 1981 and changed the
program’s name from EOP, to stress the developmental role he and his staff had for students.

Rachael James is as accomplished as any student at Fredonia. In May, this Bronx native will complete a bachelor’s degree in Communication-Public Relations with a minor in Political Science. She has completed internships with the New York State Assembly and at Ralph Lauren’s corporate headquarters. She has served as a Fredonia Student Ambassador, supporting campus administrators in a variety of event management capacities. As vice president of the Black Student Union, she has coordinated the annual People of Color Concerns Conference, assisted with the group’s annual fashion show and organized peaceful civil rights demonstrations. She has been an EDP peer advisor and was even elected Homecoming Queen in 2014.

As impressive as these accolades are, they nearly never happened.

Ms. James’ story is shared by nearly 120 students on campus today — and more than 800 alumni since 1970, all of whom only became Fredonians thanks to the Educational Development Program (EDP) and its generations of caring counselors.

Then again, Rachael’s story is unique — and it has an irony and connectivity that can be traced back to the program’s very beginnings, known statewide as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

The late 1960s marked the nation’s Civil Rights Movement, a pivotal time in U.S. history which saw a variety of social and policy changes. Among them was a federal agenda which strove to increase the numbers
of minorities enrolled in universities, and to improve their ability to access such an opportunity. Another was an increase in minorities elected to key positions in government.

One of those politicians was Arthur O. Eve, an African American representing Buffalo. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1966 and remained in that role for a remarkable 35 years. His career was filled with impressive undertakings, ranging from assisting with negotiations during the 1971 Attica Prison Riot to standing up to Governor Nelson Rockefeller and state unions as an advocate for minority union apprenticeship. He ascended to Deputy Speaker of the assembly, and when he retired in 2002, he had served longer than any other incumbent.

In 2011, Dr. Wallace (center) returned to award the first Dr. Jeffrey J. Wallace Sr. Leadership and
Excellence Scholarship to EDP student Dorena Johnson, ’11. They were joined by current EDP
Director David White (left) and then-Present Dennis Hefner.

 

However, one of his first initiatives — and perhaps his most defining — was his founding of the statewide EOP in 1970. Modeled after a similar program in New York City, it was designed to assist students who might otherwise be unable to attend college because of educational and financial circumstances. While it was not exclusively for minorities, it reduced a number of barriers that many minorities faced.

Jeffrey Wallace knew of those barriers and how hard they were to overcome. Although the 1968 Fredonia graduate didn’t have the financial challenges that a typical EOP candidate would have, he did experience some of the social ones. He knew how hard it was for an urban minority student to succeed at a rural college. The Buffalo native — coincidentally, a neighbor of Assemblyman Eve’s and a member of his district — came to Fredonia in 1964, just before the program’s launch.

“There were many civil rights issues happening across the nation, and at the time Fredonia had very few students of color,” recalls Dr. Wallace, who went on to earn his Ph.D., and ultimately retired from the University of Akron in 2011, after serving as Associate Provost and Special Assistant to the President, as well as a Professor of Social Science. “There was a bit of a culture shock.”

It was hard being different from most of the other campus residents. It created a feeling of isolation at times, although he insists he always felt comfortable and welcomed on campus. He was especially supported by then-President Dallas Beal and Vice President for Student Affairs Robert Coon, which made it easy for him to accept the job offer he received from them following impromptu comments that he gave at a Long Island alumni reunion. Wallace was hand-picked to work with Admissions Director Bill Clark and lead efforts to increase campus diversity, focusing on New York City, Buffalo and other urban centers across the state.

“I think [President Beal and Mr. Coon] were ahead of their time,” says Wallace. “They understood the need and value of diversity on a college campus.”

Part of that value was financial, as federal incentive programs began to appear which encouraged and rewarded minority enrollment growth, but Wallace insists that the tenor of the campus was sincere.

“The college’s administration was very supportive of these types of efforts, because they all had a clear sense of what the Civil Rights Movement was all about,” attests Wallace, who refers to Coon as his mentor and friend. “I have the utmost of respect for Fredonia, even today, for what they’ve done in this area.”

And for Wallace, the job seemed custom designed. After all, he had just experienced what so many of these new students were about to, and he had succeeded. Who better to guide them to — and through — Fredonia?

“As a former student, I knew everything there was to know about Fredonia, so I was a natural fit,” he says. “They needed counseling. They needed support and, most importantly, someone to talk to. So I took on an additional role, on top of my admissions role.”

That new role was essentially that of an EOP director, and while Fredonia would begin its formal program in 1970 with Al Whittaker as its first director and LaPearl Haynes as its first staff counselor, Wallace began an informal extension to that program with what he termed his “Full Opportunity Program.”

“I just sort of began doing it,” he says. “I had a sense of duty, and a sense of support from the college. I developed a program out of my own experiences in which I provided counseling and tutorial support for students of color, regardless of whether they met the EOP guidelines.”

That pro-activeness made Wallace a logical choice when the EOP director’s role became vacant in 1972, and Beal, Coon and others knew that they didn’t have to look far for a replacement.

Wallace quickly evolved the program. Most credit him with the vision and dedication which laid the foundation for its growth and development — including, most notably, its name change. It was his recommendation to change the word “opportunity” to “development,” a change that has lasted ever since. He believed “development” better represented the process that students go through in becoming successful and contributing citizens.

“Having the opportunity was wonderful — but now that they were here, they had to actually succeed,” he explains. “Our job was to provide the resources and support so that they could be successful. Our job was to develop them.”

That philosophy has been appreciated by many students throughout the last 45 years, but perhaps none more so than Kevin and Satoria Donovan. Both came to Fredonia as EDP students, he from Syracuse and she from Buffalo. With seven siblings each, the financial roadblocks alone would have made attending college impossible for either of them. However, the personal support they received from the EDP staff was even more critical to helping them graduate.

“They were our support system, since we were away from home,” says Mrs. Donovan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 1996. “They were our guidance when our parents weren’t around.”
“People like (former director) Kathleen Bonds and (secretary) Barbara Yochym helped us mature from being young adults into young professionals,” agrees Mr. Donovan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1994, and a master’s in English in 1996. “EDP was the bridge between our parents and the real world.”

That bridge was life-changing for the Donovans. Kevin has gone on to enjoy a career as a financial services representative. The one-time regional vice president with AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company is now the co-founder and director of The Benefits Consulting Group, a financial services organization which serves the Western New York and Greater Rochester markets. Satoria is an educator at The Academy School within the Buffalo Public Schools. She serves as a special education consultant, working with over-aged and under-privileged youth who have encountered adversities.

The Donovans so benefitted from EDP that they’ve held the many values and lessons it taught them at the forefront of their minds throughout their lives, be it as professionals or the parents of three boys. Then, in 2008 — 12 years after they left Fredonia — EDP once again served as a source of inspiration.

That’s when they founded Urban Professionals of Western New York, a non-profit, professional development organization designed to assist urban business professionals with networking, education and resource development. Its members also serve as mentors to young people, guiding and inspiring students to succeed in school and make good choices to keep them on a path toward success — just like their EDP counselors did for them at Fredonia.

“Urban Professionals was a way for us to give something back,” says Kevin. “It gives [members] a network of people to lean upon, which helps with their success.”

“One of the reasons that we are successful now is because we had people to help us who were not in our family, like the people at EDP,” echoes Satoria. “EDP showed us a different way of life. We feel that the smallest efforts that we can provide, as mentors and change agents, will help our members and our students grow to be the best that they can be.”

Wallace looks back with pride at the role he played in establishing EOP, not just at Fredonia, but also at SUNY Buffalo State, where he served as director from 1981 to 1995 — ironically, at the very first EOP site Assemblyman Eve began in the SUNY system. The connection to Eve’s district played a reoccurring role during Wallace’s career.

“That’s the district where I grew up,” Wallace says. “The students that I recruited were the same kind of students that I was, so I knew what they were going through. I knew the problems, I knew the challenges and I knew the issues.”

It seems only fitting, then, that Assemblyman Eve’s district should continue to play a key role in the program. Remember Ms. James and her Albany internship? She worked for Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes — who has represented Eve’s district ever since his retirement in 2002.

Rachael’s duties included scheduling, attending constituent meetings and participating in mock sessions to discuss and debate such broad issues such as legalizing marijuana and the Women’s Equality Act.

 

In the spring of 2014, EDP junior Rachael James earned an internship with Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes — who, ironically, represents the same Buffalo district as former Assemblyman Arthur Eve, who established the EOP in SUNY 45 years ago.

 

“The internship was absolutely life changing,” says James, drawing inspiration from her grandmother, Aurelia Greene, who also served in the New York State Assembly for almost 30 years. “I was able to establish myself and network in politics — without having to use my grandmother’s name. Albany will always be a part of my life, and maybe even professionally someday.”

Today’s EDP Program at Fredonia is stronger than ever, assures current Director David White, who took over the role in 2010. The Fall 2014 freshmen class had 1,452 applicants for roughly 40 openings, and the program’s first-year retention rates have outperformed the campus as a whole in recent years. Its graduation rates have continued to improve steadily as well. Not only are its students thriving, but the tactics which the program implements are being seen as a model, both on campus and beyond.

Mr. White and his team, which includes Ms. Yochym, Counselor Rachel Skemer and Assistant Director Janet Knapp (who retired in December), have followed an “intrusive advising” approach, meaning that they don’t wait for students to struggle or come to them for help. Instead, they create a structure for them from day one, getting them into good study habits and good social habits, to lessen the likelihood that students will struggle.

“What we’re doing, in terms of proactive advising, is working, and it’s working across the state,” says White, referring to the success of programs at other campuses — all of which follow a similar approach.

Rachael James is proof positive that it works. She was a typical freshman, caught up in the newfound social scene and independence that college offers a student who is away from home for the first time. It didn’t take long for those temptations to start to win out, but her EDP counselors recognized this early and helped get her back on track.

“EDP is my first family here at Fredonia,” says James. “They helped me find a way. They’ve helped me squeeze every dollar I could find to make this [education] work for me. They probably know more about me than they should,” she jokes, “but I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

White is proud of the family environment the program offers. “The lines get a little blurred sometimes,” he laughs. “We’re strong advocates for them, but we’re still willing to offer that proverbial ‘swift kick’ to keep them focused and motivated.”

Today’s EDP is honored to carry on the tradition started by Whittaker, Wallace and others back in 1970, especially when they hear about how far the program has come from their predecessors.

“That first group was probably the hardest, because it was all so new,” Wallace recalls. “These were students who were not supposed to succeed, at least by all of the standards that we usually use, like high school averages or financial limitations. Yet, they’ve gone on to become lawyers, college administrators, persons in business…they’ve gone on to become very successful, because they were given the opportunity and skills necessary to develop their talents.”

There has also been a stigma to overcome at times over the years, usually due to the lack of understanding as to what EDP is all about.

“There were a few people who wondered, ‘Maybe they aren’t as good as the other students,’ or ‘Are they taking money away from other students?” Wallace recalls. “I often had to deal with those questions at the beginning.”

These misperceptions have followed the program for years. For example, many think that EDP is only for minorities, but that has never been the case. In fact, Fredonia has had Caucasian students in the program since its very beginning. (See Mark Putney, ’95, story on p. 13.)

“I remember one young lady, a white female, who worked in the Vice President’s office — but nobody knew she was an EDP student [at first], because she was white,” says Wallace. “She didn’t have great grades and didn’t come from a lot of money, but she worked very hard, and she wound up having a very positive influence on the program.”

In fact, when the Donovans came back in the spring of 2014 to receive EDP’s Distinguished Alumni Award, they were immediately impressed with the increased diversity represented within the program. As of last fall, it was comprised of 37 percent African American, 32 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Caucasian and 7 percent Asian
students, in addition to 3 percent that identified as multiple races.

The other major misconception is that EDP students receive a “full ride.” Yet, the amount of direct aid is relatively small, at less than $1,000 per semester. With combined in-state SUNY tuition, room and board now approaching $20,000 per year, the EDP award supplements traditional financial aid and offsets book charges, but does not cover any single primary expense.

These misunderstandings have, at times, resulted in some misguided resentment, even among students within the program. White recalls a time when some students were reluctant to identify themselves as EDP students.

“It was viewed as a ‘Scarlet Letter,’” he says, because some students didn’t want to be thought of as less qualified or needing special treatment.

White and his team have worked hard to clear up some of these misconceptions and encourage their students to become more visible in the community. They also developed a new, first-year workshop designed to acquaint new students with the university, its faculty, staff and services. The “JEWEL” (July EDP Workshop for Expanded Learning) program began in the summer of 2011 and will celebrate its first cohort of graduates this May.

Today, people across campus are seeing EDP’s best and brightest taking on some of Fredonia’s most visible leadership roles — all while proudly wearing the EDP name.

“Being eight hours from home, there were times that I didn’t think I’d stay here. I almost didn’t even get on that bus to come visit the campus that first time, but Mr. White made me,” James recalls. “But I’m so glad that he did. My success is not only what I wanted; it’s what they wanted for me.”

The gratitude that comments like this bring to White and his staff is overwhelming at times.

“Assisting in a student’s success... it’s rewarding beyond words,” White says.

In other words, that Scarlet Letter? It’s become a Red Badge of Courage.

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posted @ Thursday, January 22, 2015 1:09 PM by Pamala Colon

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