Osasikianua Amene hears her name called and walks confidently to the stage at Stony Brook’s recent EOP/AIM Summer Academy completion ceremony. She steps forward, beaming, as she receives her certificate for the month-long academy, a rigorous academic program that includes classes, workshops and other activities designed to prepare students for their first year at the university.
“This program helped me get here and be ready,” Amene said. “Because of EOP/AIM, I definitely expect to excel at Stony Brook.”
EOP/AIM stands for Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit, and this year, the program welcomed 228 students, a record number since the program began in the late 1960s.
“We are so excited about the growing number of students participating in EOP/AIM,” said Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis. “This year is special because we have our largest cohort ever. These are new Seawolves who have shown a high level of determination and drive in pursuing their academic dreams. And we are proud of them.”
The Academy marks the first step of the program that helps prepare students from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds to acclimate to life at Stony Brook. Incoming students lived in dorms, attended college-level classes, and learned about the rigorous routines of college life. Students can earn up to six college credits toward their first semester in math, science and writing.
Amene enrolled to get help reaching her dream of attending medical school. She loves biology and will start on the pre-med pathway this semester.
Academics had never been difficult for the 18-year-old Amene. The middle of five children of Nigerian immigrants, she always sat in the front, listened dutifully to her teachers during class, and cruised through homework assignments and tests.
That changed at the start of the Summer Academy in July. “It was crazy hard when I started, very tough,” Amene said. “I failed some of the first tests, and it was a terrible feeling. Math has always been ok for me, and I do well in writing. It was chemistry. It was just so hard.”
Because of the help from her counselors in the program, the instructors and a host of others, that feeling didn’t last. Amene got advice from teacher assistants and stayed up into the early morning hours studying and reviewing her notes. She slept only a few hours before hitting the books again, and didn’t hesitate to engage in conversations with her instructor.
Her reward? An 87 out of 100 on the final exam. “I was so happy I passed,” she said. “I know what it takes now to succeed at college.”
EOP began statewide in 1967 and has long been credited as one of the country’s top college programs that provides access, academic support, and financial assistance to underrepresented students. Its focus is to recruit, enroll, and retain the students and shepherd them to a college degree. More than 78,000 students statewide have participated and reached graduation.
Stony Brook EOP/AIM Director Pam Matzner said participants possess the skills to attend college but may not have the kind of academic preparation needed to be successful.
That’s where the EOP/AIM staff come in. They surround the students with vigorous tutoring, academic counseling, and other support to prepare them both for their classes and the start of their academic careers. “Most of our students are the first to attend college in their families, and this program absolutely changes the trajectory of their lives,” Matzner said. “It also gives them confidence and the feeling that they can accomplish something at Stony Brook and graduate. We see the future in all of them.”
Matzner said this year’s Academy was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic hit. “We were a little nervous because we were all getting back together with students and it had been a while,” she said. “Once they got here, it was great. Our folks definitely showed their commitment to the success of these students, working long hours into the night to make sure they do well. They love the students.”
Matzner called Amene a “shining example” of this year’s incoming class, and Amene said the experience changed how she’ll handle her studies going forward. She credits her parents’ work ethic and support for her own success; they run a childcare business in Central Islip and always pushed their children to consider going to college.
“My parents have done so much for me, and things haven’t come easy for them,” she said. “They came here by themselves with a dream, and I can’t let them down.”
Awele Amene, 22, is the oldest of the children and attends Farmingdale State College. She knows her sister has the drive to stay motivated.
“The way that she pushes herself is something I have never seen in anyone,” Awele Amene said. “She just looks at something and says, ‘How do I deal with this?’ and then she just figures it out. EOP helped her out a lot because it gave her the experience of how to do it at the next academic level. Our family knows she will do big things.”
Matzner said roughly 60 percent of EOP/AIM students carry a 3.0 grade-point average at Stony Brook. Once the academic year starts, the staff meet with students regularly to track their progress in each class. They offer personal counseling, advising, mentorship, free tutoring and other specialized services.
Each student is assigned a success coach to help with time management and other student success skills. Students attend regular workshops and conferences to prepare for life after college, including internships and graduate school opportunities.
Matzner said the momentum for all students starts with the Academy. “It’s so important because our students meet others like them who have understood what it means to struggle,” she said. “And when one of them struggles, you see others move in to help lift them. This program is about building community and maintaining it.”
At this year’s completion ceremony, Stony Brook Provost Carl Lejuez told the students about his experience as a first-generation college student. He recalled how he struggled through his early years because he didn’t have a program and staff like EOP/AIM to rely on. He encouraged the students to work hard and continue with the program.
“I know when you look back, you’ll say coming to Stony Brook was transformative in your lives,” he said.
Angel Velazquez ’22 knows how important EOP/AIM can be; he was an EOP/AIM student at Stony Brook and graduated with a degree in computer science.
The 21-year-old landed a job as a software engineer at Google right after graduation and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He credits EOP/AIM for not only helping him stay focused, but for helping him improve his upward social mobility. “It is only because of EOP/AIM that I could attend Stony Brook University,” Velazquez said. “My counselor directed me to the proper people and opportunities that put me on the path to starting a life-changing career right away and be successful.”
Osasikianua Amene said she won’t forget the experience.
“There are definitely a lot of adjustments when it comes to going from high school to college,” she said. “With this program, it showed me that you never give up. There is always something you can do to get yourself to succeed. And the people from the program will always be there if I need them.”
— David Austin