40th Anniversary of EOP and Marquette Alumni Reunion
July 25, 2009 1 Comment
This weekend is alumni reunion weekend at Marquette University. For me its for my 25th reunion – yet another I’m going to miss, but this one feels different. I want to be there. It also marks the 40th anniversary of the Educational Opportunity Program, a federally funded TRiO program. TRiO, is an academic program that motivates and enables low-income and first generation students, whose parents generally didn’t go to college, to attend and graduate from post-secondary educational institutions. I’m a Marquette EOP graduate and grateful.
I can’t begin to describe the impact the folks at EOP had on me and the other students in the program. At the time, the program was designed to help ethnic students graduate from predominantly white institutions. Admission was one thing, but matriculation was another. The idea was to provide both academic support and counseling to fill the gap as necessary. There were 100-200 students from all ethnic backgrounds in the program when I was there. At first, I didn’t get the cultural gap that some folks experienced when they first arrived on campus. For some who came from segregated urban environments, they had rarely interacted with people outside their ethnic group and community, much less in a rigorous academic environment. There was tuition aid as well, but that wasn’t the half of it. In addition to providing tactical and academic support, what they really did was help us realize our potential and get out of our own way.
There are a few moments that I remember distinctly. As a freshman, I wasn’t too focused on academics (a bit of an understatement). My counselor, Howard Fuller (a community activist, educator, secular leader), met with me every few weeks. The end of quarter meeting was the most dreaded. He sat me down and kept asking me why this, why that, “why, why, why” demanding me to be honest about why my grades sucked. He was brutal on me and others. He told me about the talented 10th and explained my obligations. He made it clear that being marginal was not acceptable. He gave me specific tools and direction. Most of it turned out to be show up, show up on time, pay attention to your choices and the consequences, and work hard. He gave me everything I needed at that moment.
Later Sande Robinson, now the director of the Marquette EOP, continued to provide the same guidance and assistance. Most of all she believed in us and created opportunities for us to succeed and develop confidence. The best was a night security job at one of the campus buildings that provided no other opportunity but to study while I “guarded” the rarely opened door. A bit better than my other job working as a bouncer at a local bar. Sande was always there to talk about what was going on in our lives. She recognized we were individuals, we would make mistakes, but she tried to help us avoid and mitigate those ill-advised decisions.
During that time I also got to know Dr. Arnold Mitchum (“Mitch”), then director of EOP, and head of the national association of Trio programs where he lobbied for educational funds at the national level. Mitch also changed my life. I loved hanging out with him. He has a brilliant mind, an insightful knowledge of history, an infectious laugh, all combined with action. He brought me into his family, showed me that no matter what path you’re on, you can change it.
Mitch is a policy wonk as I aspired to be at the time. He shared his reading list with me. I learned to ask people what they read. I wanted to work on the Hill, but I didn’t know how to get a job there. He told me with confidence “walk the halls” every day. I did. I got my first job working for Senator Levin (D-MI). On my last day at Marquette, I was over at his house. I was really scared as a new graduate heading back to D.C. The last thing he said was “it’s going to be all-right” with a warm smile radiating the confidence of his experience. He gave me what I did not have.
He was correct. There were a few more lessons to learn no doubt, but they did their job, rather their vocation, for which I am eternally grateful. For all of you folks at MU this weekend, especially you “ethnic alumni” as you’re now called, enjoy and thank you!