Meet UAlbany’s New EOP Director, Melissa Cedeño

A smiling woman with curly brown hair holds a book "integrety: the courage to meet the demads of reality" by Dr. Henry Cloud. Next to her is the EOP logo
EOP Director Melissa Cedeño

By Margaret Hartley

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 7, 2021) — Brooklyn native, UAlbany alum and educational access champion Melissa Cedeño joined the University Monday as the director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

Cedeño, who was an EOP student at UAlbany, has developed and led multiple education programs over the past two decades, including founding new charter high schools in Brooklyn and Albany. She has been a teacher, principal, school dean and educational consultant, and taught writing at UAlbany’s EOP. Most recently she was managing director of family and community engagement of DREAM, a network of New York charter schools.

“Melissa is a proud alumna of UAlbany’s EOP, forever grateful for what the program has done for her, respectful of EOP’s heritage and leaders (including former EOP directors Dr. Carson Carr and Maritza Martinez) and honored to serve the program and UAlbany as another champion for educational opportunity. She has passion for and lots of experience in this mission. We welcome her back to her alma mater,” said William Hedberg, associate vice president and senior vice provost for academic affairs. Hedberg also served as chair of the search committee for the position.

“I am confident that Melissa Cedeño will provide the strategic vision and leadership necessary to advance the University’s EOP mission,” said Provost Carol Kim. “I look forward to working with her and the EOP team to support this signature program, one of the largest and most impactful in all of SUNY and a model for other opportunity programs in the nation.”

Cedeño graduated from UAlbany in 1994 with a BA in English and followed that up with an MA in English education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1996. She completed the Simmons School of Management’s Strategic Leadership for Women Program and received the Redefined Principal Program Certificate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She succeeds Maritza Martinez, who has been with EOP for nearly four decades, the last 13 as director.

What did your own EOP experience mean for you?

My experience in EOP meant the rest of my life would be different from that of my parents and grandparents. It meant the son I was pregnant with as a freshman would have access to education and resources I was not afforded as a child. My deepest gratitude is to my former EOP counselor, Monica Hope, and my mentor, Dr. Craig Hancock. These folks believed in me, listened to me and provided guidance well beyond my four years as a student.

Part of what makes EOP so powerful is that faculty and staff stay for the long term. Education reform happens when people stay, and there are no better models for that than individuals who commit their lives to a program. We’re witnessing that now as Maritza Martinez, after more than 37 years of service, passes the baton to me. 

This program made a promise to me, and students like me, that we would be academically prepared to succeed in the academy and excel in our professional endeavors. Many of my lifelong relationships and professional alliances were born from my tenure as a student and former instructor of EOP. It is now my responsibility to ensure students throughout New York have access to this high quality program. 

What are your goals for the program?  

Without question, my first goal is to learn from my team what has continued to make EOP so great. It’s been five years since I last taught writing during our signature summer program, but so much has happened since then. 

Secondly, I will conduct a thorough inventory of our practices; this will ensure that we memorialize what we do well and how we keep our legacy alive and relevant to the times.

It is important, however, that goals for the program include perspectives from all stakeholders and this will come when I spend more time with the amazing counselors, instructors, support staff and students of the program, as well as EOP's institutional program partners.

How did your experience as an English major shape your career?

English, as a major, gave me entry into humanity. I was able to understand the world through story. Reading and writing saved my life.

As a young girl growing up in a painfully dysfunctional home, reading gave me an escape. Later in life, being an English major led me to have a laser focus on the achievement gap or, more specifically, the literacy gap in our country. Understanding this gap meant I had a deep understanding of the social, intellectual and linguistic capital children of poverty and children of color were denied because of a poor K-12 education.

How did you transition from teaching to developing schools and programs?

Being an EOP graduate meant I had an obligation to social justice. This was the impetus for me becoming a teacher and later founding public charter schools. Ed reform became my purpose.

Equally significant to my EOP roots is my history in the graduate literacy program at UAlbany. Though I did not complete my doctorate, I received the most intensive and meaningful teaching and training from the current and former literacy legends like Dr. Anne McGill-Franzen and Dr. Richard Allington. I trained under the best and, as a result, I felt prepared to become a principal. The impact on my career and my family was a direct result of EOP and the Department of Literacy Teaching & Learning.  

In fact, if it wasn’t for Dr. Cheryl Dozier, I am not sure my 31-year-old son, Elijah Cedeño, would have learned to read so well. As a first grader he was struggling as a reader and the literacy program we had at UAlbany made sure he had the skills and reading experiences necessary to become a strong reader — he graduated with honors 20 years later from UAlbany. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

I love walking and running in the Pine Bush here in the Capital Region. This city girl from Brooklyn loves the trees and dirt in what feels like my own magical kingdom. It’s sometimes hard to choose between being outside and doing what I have loved to do most of my life — read.