Celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, the Southern Educational Opportunity Program has been heralded for its many years of dedicated service to helping students in underrepresented communities.
The program offers many services including academic enhancement, counseling and advocacy, social-emotional learning, diversity recruitment.
SEOP is part of the Universaity Access Programs.
“In 1972, the Southern Educational Opportunity Program was created with the belief that underrepresented students’ success is ultimately determined by their motivation, regardless of personal circumstances, and that they can graduate with the assistance of a caring and supportive community of educators,” states the SCSU website.
SEOP was established by James Barber, former director of community engagement, who retired this year and was honored at an October gala. He was one of the few students of color to graduate from the university in 1964.
SEOP is comprised of two parts: the Summer Academy and the Academic Year Initiative.
“Overall, SEOP has serviced roughly about 3,000 students since its beginning,” says Maribel Sanchez, associate director of UAP.
“Every year we take in roughly around 60 students into the Summer Academy. Currently, on campus, we have about 155 actively enrolled students who came through the SEOP Summer Academy. They represent all the towns across Connecticut and even New York. They also are involved in many different majors on campus.”
The Summer Academy includes peer-to-peer mentoring, academic enhancements, social-emotional learning, counseling/advisement and financial support.
The Academic Year Initiative is a continuation of the Summer Academy’s support.
“SEOP is a five-week intensive summer program for students who were kind of on the cusp for full admittance into the university. Typically it is also geared toward first-generation students, Ariana Lopez, senior, social work. “They’re the first one in their family to go to college. It allows students to take a class and develop their academic skills, as well as introducing them to different departments and components on campus like counseling services, and the Office of Career and Professional Development.”
Lopez now works in first-year admissions and began college as a peer mentor.
“I think my most favorite thing about working with SEOP is seeing students who come from the mindset of, ‘I’m never going to be able to do this, I’m not cut out for this.’ To at the end of the program, seeing all they’ve been able to accomplish, and being so excited to enter the world of higher education,” Lopez says.
“I was somebody who never thought I was going to college. That wasn’t on my to do list at all. Especially being from a first-generation family. As long as you graduate high school, that’s good enough for us.
“My best friend forced me to apply. And mind you, I graduated high school with a 2.1 GPA. It was awful. My transcript wasn’t at all amazing,” Lopez says. During the Summer Academy Lopez was able to take courses and boost her incoming GPA to 4.0.
“But now here, I have 3.6 GPA. I’m a student leader in admissions. I am part of Delta Phi Epsilon. I was even on Hall Council when I came to live on campus,” says Lopez.
SEOP students serve as peer mentors, tutors and role models for their other classmates. They are also encouraged to become involved in community outreach and leadership initiatives on campus, according to the program.
Another Southern success story is Dawn Stanton, director of UAP. Stanton was an SEOP studend herself.
“I am a former SEOP student from 1986–1990. SEOP changed my life by providing a pathway for me to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Being in SEOP came with a strong sense of belonging to a caring and supportive community of peers, faculty and staff,” says Stanton.
Stanton honored Barber at the 50th anniversary gala. Stanton says it is a privilege and honor to pay it forward and work with students daily.
“SEOP positively impacts not just individuals but generations.”
By Sarah Shelton and Maciel Valle