Life has never been better for Augustine Wait and Htoo Eh. They are students at Onondaga Community College who were born and raised in a refugee camp in Thailand. It was the only life they knew until they were welcomed into the United States. Wait arrived in 2011. Eh arrived two years later. “If I ever feel like I’m taking my life for granted here, I reflect back on what it was like in the refugee camp and I don’t take it for granted anymore,” said Wait.
Eh, whose first name is pronounced “too,” and Wait are cousins. They both graduated from Henninger High School in 2017 and are on track to earn their degrees in May 2020. Eh is a Humanities & Social Sciences major while Wait is enrolled in the American Sign Language program. Their happy place on campus is the office of the Educational Opportunity Program which is commonly referred to as EOP. It is a counseling and academic support program designed to help low-income and first-generation college students succeed in college.
The EOP office is where you can usually find Eh and Wait when they are not in class. Both are part of the EOP work/study program and often receive assistance from tutors there. “I get a lot of help in English and Math. This is my home here on campus,” said Eh. “I really love EOP,” added Wait. “This is where I make new friends and get the help I need.”
“We’re so proud of what Augustine, Htoo and all of our EOP students have accomplished,” said Marcus Watts, EOP Director. “In the fall semester 70% of our students had a grade point average above 2.0 and 35% were greater than 3.0. The EOP program throughout SUNY has been recognized as one of the most successful access programs of its kind in the country.”
OCC’s Educational Opportunity Program, or “EOP” as it is more commonly referred to, is starting a tradition by naming Students of the Month. “This award is about rewarding students who are working hard,” said EOP Navigator Shannon Sangster. “They are personable, pleasant to be around and care about school.”
EOP’s October Students of the Month are:
Jose Ballaguer High School: Mexico, class of 2016 Major: Humanities
Mariamo Mkoma High School: Nottingham, class of 2017 Major: Early Childhood Education
Brittany Perez High School: Baldwinsville, class of 2017 Major: Adolescence Education
All are first-generation college students. “Winning this is great. It’s motivating me to do better,” said Mkoma who came to the United States from Kenya. “This shows people who don’t come from a lot can be something,” added Perez. “It’s good to be recognized and be a good example so other people see it’s possible,” said Ballaguer.
The EOP office provides access, academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college. If students need to use a computer, print documents, get help with their school work or financial advice the EOP office is where they go. The office is located on the second floor of the newly renovated Coulter Hall.
Congratulations to EOP’s three Students of the Month!
Dunya and Midia Shaalan have come a long way since March 20, 2003, the night their lives changed forever. They were small children living in Baghdad, Iraq when the quiet, overnight hours were interrupted by the United States bombing their home city. “We hid in the bathroom for an entire day,” remembered Midia. “My brother was just one week old,” added Dunya. “Our whole family stayed in the bathroom. It was the only room in our house without a window.”
Two years later their family would move to Syria. In 2009 the Shaalan’s applied to come to the United States. In 2012, as civil war was breaking out in Syria, the Shaalan’s were granted permission to move to America. By that time, they were a family of seven. “It was very hard when we first arrived,” said Dunya. “We didn’t know anyone and we didn’t speak English. At first all we knew how to say was ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘thank you.’”
Dunya (pronounced DOON-ya) had attended high school in Syria. Midia (pronounced MEE-dee-uh) was two years younger and would go to Syracuse’s Corcoran High School, graduating in 2015. That fall both sisters started taking classes at OCC. They quickly immersed themselves in the campus community, receiving assistance from the Educational Opportunity Program, the Collegiate Science Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program along with OnPoint for College. Both worked tirelessly and became outstanding students. Dunya was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). Midia will be joining PTK this semester. “We are very proud of ourselves,” said Dunia. We have had to work so hard to improve ourselves and get where we are.”
High academic honors are just the beginning for the Shaalan’s. Last month they were sworn-in as American citizens. Next May, Midia will earn her degree in Architectural Technology. Dunya will complete work toward her Interior Design degree in December 2018. Both feel fortunate they came to college here. “OCC gives you a really good opportunity. I have really loved the experience,” said Midia. “Your life is like a building. OCC gives you a really good foundation so you will be prepared wherever you go next,” said Dunia.
Our latest edition of podcast “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College” is focused on the services we provide our students.
We’ll introduce you to Marcus Watts, Director of our Educational Opportunity Program. His staff works hard every day to help improve the academic performance of Central New York’s historically underserved students.
You’ll also meet Natalia Montilla, a 2015 graduate of Nottingham High School. She came to OCC as a very intelligent but very shy student. Her involvement with numerous support organizations here helped her blossom into a top student and vocal leader on campus. Later this month she will help lead a team of students to NASA in Houston as part of a nationwide competition.
Enjoy the latest edition of Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College!
Morris Ndebay is constantly on the go. He’s a full-time student majoring in Mechanical Technology. He also works full time at Federal Express as a package handler, loading and unloading trucks. How does he do it? “I manage my time. It’s school work, my job and my family. I don’t have time for anything else.”
Ndebay is a refugee from Liberia who came to the United States in 2008 along with his mother, brother, sister and her children. He earned his GED, became an American citizen and started taking classes at OCC in 2013. “When I came here I thought I wanted to work on cars. I thought it was a little easy for me and decided to challenge myself with Mechanical Technology.”
Ndebay’s home on campus is the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) office on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. EOP provides access, academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college. “The EOP Office is a wonderful place. You can use the computers for your homework and print out your work for free. They have tutors who can help you. There are advisors you can speak with. It’s a wonderful place if you make use of it!”
Ndebay is on track to graduate in 2016. He plans to stay and earn extra credits which he can bring with him to a four-year school. His goal is to transfer to Syracuse University.
Abeer Alziadi is a walking, talking advertisement for OCC’s Educational Opportunity Program which is more commonly referred to by the initials “EOP.” Alziadi became the first member of her family to earn a high school diploma when she graduated from Henninger. She made it to OCC thanks in large part to assistance provided by On Point for College. Once on campus she found a home in the EOP office. “My first semester I lived there. Whenever I needed help there was always someone available. My time in the EOP office really impacted my grades in a positive way. It was where I was most comfortable.”
OCC’s EOP office is located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. It provides access, academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college but who may not have otherwise been offered admission. If students need to use a computer, print documents, get help with their school work or financial advice the EOP office is where they go.
Marcus A. Watts directs the staff of counselors, academic coaches, program assistants and tutors who serve the program’s approximately 300 students. He has over 20 years of experience working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and, by his own admission, was considered to be one in his youth. “It’s my job in EOP to talk with students about how they can get where they want to go. The one thing I say to them all the time is, ‘I don’t care where you’re from. I only care about where you are trying to go.’ The reality is they can accomplish anything they want to.”
Watts is a native of New Orleans who came north to attend SUNY Brockport, met his wife, started a family and never left the area. He joined the College in February. “I love OCC. I’m excited to be here. The quality of students is great. I get a chance to show them the quality they bring to the table. A lot of times they don’t see it right away.”
Morris Ndebay is another outstanding student who utilizes everything EOP has to offer. He’s a refugee from Liberia who came to the United States with his family, earned his GED, became an American citizen and enrolled at OCC in 2013. “The EOP office is a wonderful place. You can use the computers for your homework and there are tutors and advisors you can work with. It’s a great resource for students who make use of it.” Ndebay is a Mechanical Technology major who will graduate in 2016. He also works full time to help support his mother, brother and sister who came to the U.S. with him.
As for Alziadi she is now a student at Syracuse University majoring in social work but she’s still a presence in OCC’s EOP office. She’s working with On Point for College and teaming up with EOP’s Deb Starczewski to make sure students are on the right path to graduate. “We share a lot of students so why not collaborate and make a bigger impact?”
Abeer Alziadi has been able to adapt to her surroundings and achieve excellence wherever she’s been. Alziadi was born in Yemen and moved to the United States when she was 3 years old. Her family, which includes her parents and six siblings, settled in New York City.
Two months into her senior year of high school her family moved to Syracuse. Alziadi walked in the door at Henninger High School and found a friend in counselor Marinda Williams. “She helped me with everything. She helped me find my classes, she helped me learn which bus to take. I would have been lost without her.”
In June 2012 Alziadi became the first member of her family to earn a high school diploma. Thanks in large part to On Point for College, a resource Williams had told her about, Alziadi got the assistance she needed to apply and pay for college. Two months after graduating from high school Alziadi began taking classes at OCC.
Alziadi was at her third school in less than a year and in need of guidance. She found it in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. “My first semester I lived in the EOP office. Whenever I needed help there was always someone available. My time in the EOP office really impacted my grades in a positive way. It was where I was most comfortable.”
In December 2014 Alziadi earned her degree in Humanities and Social Sciences. She stayed at OCC for the spring 2015 semester and is taking four classes which will transfer with her to Syracuse University. Alziadi will major in Social Work as she continues to be inspired by the kindness of Williams who was her guiding light at Henninger. “Every minute I spent with her was so precious. I want to help people the way she helped me.”
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