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Continuing to Provide Opportunity During a Crisis

A laptop shows a student virtual mmeeting taking place on Zoom.

Conducting virtual town hall meetings, one-on-one academic advisement sessions, personal counseling and tutoring has gone digital in recent weeks. The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at SUNY Plattsburgh is now embracing the adage, “We are Stronger Together.” With the shift to online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EOP has adapted its services to meet the needs of its 220 students remotely.

Like its counterparts, Plattsburgh’s EOP is known for using a “high touch” approach to supporting students to earn a college degree and reach their full potential. Through the use of phone calls, Zoom sessions and other online platforms, EOP has created a web of support to help students through this uncertain time while maintaining the program’s shared sense of community. Even though most students are far from campus, the goal is to help them remain engaged and on-track with their studies.

Statewide, nearly 11,000 students who come from low-income families and are academically underprepared when they enter college participate in EOP on 49 of SUNY’s 64 campuses.

At Plattsburgh, EOP Associate Director Cassie Joseph and her counselors began hosting weekly virtual town hall meetings on April 1 to help students stay connected during the pandemic. Despite common online meeting interruptions such as the shrill sound of a passing ambulance, a barking dog or other clamor- vital information is shared at each session. Students who log in are reminded about financial aid applications, fall registration and other deadlines.  Participants also have an opportunity to ask and get answers to their questions about housing refunds, retrieving personal belongings from residence halls and problems transitioning to online learning.

There is no question the virus is taking an emotional toll. Students were asked how they were feeling during a real-time survey. Not surprisingly, the most common responses were stress, difficulty focusing and unmotivated. EOP counselors shared some personal experiences, empathized with their students and offered helpful tips:

  • Develop a daily routine
  • Create a to-do list of what needs to get done
  • Block social media apps while studying
  • Divide school work up into 30-minute chunks to prevent getting thrown off when interrupted
  • Acknowledge that taking classes remotely is not an easy situation, so give yourself a break
  • Go for a walk (practicing social distancing), take a shower, breathe
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out for help from counselors, faculty and tutors

In an effort to maintain normalcy in abnormal times, Plattsburgh EOP will be continuing its outreach – staging a virtual concert that will showcase the talent of student DJs, musicians and other artists. Plans are also underway for a virtual Student Achievement Awards Ceremony later this month and the annual Senior Reception, complete with graduation stoles and certificates in May.

These situations impact not just the EOP students at Plattsburgh, but all across the SUNY system. Incoming EOP freshman are required to participate in a comprehensive pre-freshman on-campus summer experience to help prepare them for academic success at SUNY. This summer, students will be welcomed to the EOP family virtually by their respected campuses. The highly effective EOP summer program, which typically runs three to six weeks, will be offered remotely this year. Most summer academies will continue to include academic instruction, orientation to campus, skill development, academic counseling  and advising, community building activities to cultivate students’ sense of belonging, mental health/wellness workshops and the history of EOP, but in a digital format to keep participants safe from any potential coronavirus exposures.

Through these kinds of efforts, we see how opportunity programs like EOP will continue to be available to students regardless of the situation on the ground.

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    Written by Big Ideas

    Big Ideas is the Blog of The State University of New York, published by the Office of New Media.

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