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Fifty Years of Changing Lives

From left, EOP alums Joy Harvey-Washington, Candace Merbler, Joel Pierre-Louis, Joseph Edmondson and Latonia Spencer.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 27, 2018) – The Educational Opportunities Program at the University at Albany is focused on the future, even as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

EOP, to Darianny Lopez, a freshman EOP student from Washington Heights, “is your family away from home. They make you feel safe, so that you have support and a sanctuary, academically, emotionally and physically.”

To freshman Magie Diaz, another EOP student from Washington Heights, “it is a great opportunity for students to get adjusted to campus before classes start. They offer us a lot of opportunities – tutoring, jobs and internships. EOP sets us up to succeed.”

Students like Diaz and Lopez represent the present and future of EOP, which celebrates its anniversary on Oct. 5-7 with a variety of activities on campus and off. The gala is Saturday, Oct. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel, 189 Wolf Road, Albany. Those attending are asked to RSVP by Oct. 3.

The UAlbany EOP program has a long history of transforming the lives of students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who are motivated to succeed in college.

Current EOP Director Maritza Martinez, who celebrated her 33rd year of service to the program this year, said, “As we celebrate 50 years of EOP, we have only to look at the success of our alumni and the connections they made with each other to see the great benefit of this program.”

EOP Senior Academic Advisor/EOP Counselor Patrick Romain was an EOP student himself, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1986 and a master’s degree in counseling psychology in 1988.

“EOP changed my life and the lives of my brother and sister, who are also UAlbany EOP alums, for the better. We were all first-generation students from Brooklyn, N.Y., who knew very little about what it takes to succeed in college,” he said.

Twenty-nine years after being hired by EOP, Romain still finds joy in helping the program’s current 883 students achieve their dreams.

With a graduation rate of 72-75 percent, high above the national average, and a first- to second-year retention rate of 93 percent, the program has long been recognized for helping students succeed in school and in life. Of 868 EOP students enrolled at UAlbany in Fall 2017, 436 were Latino/a, 328 were African American, 61 were Asian American, 30 were Caucasian, 11 identified as other, and 2 were American Indian. Women outnumbered men 559 to 309. 

New EOP students interested in sustainability at the Discovery Center on New Karner Road.

New EOP students interested in sustainability took a field trip July 13 to the Discovery Center on New Karner Road.  (Photo by Margaret Hartley)

There are more than 5,500 EOP alums from UAlbany. Below, five of them describe the program’s positive impact on their careers and their lives.

Joel Pierre-Louis ’90

“EOP’s ‘secret sauce’ is the unconditional love, nurturing, support, caring, commitment, courage and the values instilled in its students by the counselors and staff,” said Joel Pierre-Louis ’90, UAlbany’s assistant vice president for integrated learning, Academic Affairs and Division of Student Affairs. Pierre-Louis is a lawyer and the former secretary to the SUNY Board of Trustees.

“EOP provided me the tools to succeed by first helping me believe in myself,” he said. “It taught me how to study, time management, networking, persistence, a never give up attitude, and to strive for excellence and to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”

Joseph Edmondson ’02

Joseph Edmondson ’02, a certified financial planner with Capital Management Group of New York, earned a degree in accounting. He spent four years with public accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers before becoming a financial advisor in 2006.

Edmondson attributed EOP’s high retention rate to that sense of family the current students described.

“The counselors and other staff go to unlimited lengths to make sure that the students have the resources they need to succeed. I remember seeing the counselors going home very late at night because they were giving 1,000 percent,” he said. Most of his best friends today are students he first met during the EOP summer orientation program.

Candace (Fuoco) Merbler ’79, ’99

“My parents were financially destitute,” said Merbler, who retired after working for the University Libraries for 35 years. “I had good grades and if it wasn’t for EOP I would never have been able to go to college. I never left the University after I entered UAlbany as a freshman in 1974.”

While working at the University, Merbler earned a master of Library Science degree in 1999. She was also president of the Albany chapter of United University Professions, the faculty and staff union, for 12 years.

“The mentorship EOP provides to students is the best support system I have ever seen,” said Merbler, who plans to attend the reunion.

Latonia Spencer ’92, ’94, ’00

UAlbany Director of Student Financial Services Latonia Spencer said EOP provided her with the financial and academic support she needed to earn three degrees: a bachelor’s in business administration, a master of science in higher education administration, and a certificate of advanced study in higher education administration.

“I can’t even begin to count the blessings EOP has afforded me,” she said. “Three degrees, a successful career at my alma mater and a 24-year career with UAlbany.”

Her greatest inspiration at EOP?

“Dr. Carson Carr, mainly because I was afraid of him!” she said. “I never wanted to try to justify any failures. He always saw our potential.”

Joy Harvey-Washington ’92

Joy Harvey-Washington, a State Farm Insurance agent/owner, has a similar recollection of Carr. She remembers her first assembly of the 1987 EOP summer program.

She entered the lecture center, surprised to find it air-conditioned after having gone to NYC public schools.

“All of a sudden a loud, booming, authoritative voice demanded our attention. Commanded, we all sat down. Dr. Carr directed us to look to our left. Then look to our right. He told us, if we are lucky enough to graduate from the University at Albany, half of the people in the room will not be here. In an instant, the summer haze lifted. We were confronted with the reality of our life as an EOP college student.”

Many of the friends she met at EOP are still in her life today.

“We call each other brothers and sisters. My children call them Aunty and Uncle. But the most important person I call on every day from that summer is my husband of 25 years, Kenneth Washington. We are all truly family!”


EOP now exists on 47 State University of New York campuses. It is jointly sponsored by SUNY System Administration, the Office of Special Programs and UAlbany, and is funded annually by the New York State Legislature. 

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.