The evolving empowerment of EOP

By Hannah Newman

The vision of a college education is clear for some students; for others, the lack of structure, financial stability and lifestyle adversity create static between that vision and reality. 

The Educational Opportunity Program has made that vision possible for students who face financial roadblocks.

In addition to financial assistance, the program offers structure in the form of mentorship, leadership and academic guidance for all students in the program. 

One student in the program is sophomore criminal justice major Jasmine Garcia, who said she wouldn’t be at Rider without it. 

“My life was a constant struggle in a crowded home where education was vital but financially burdensome,” said Garcia. “They stick up for you, they’re there for you and they want to succeed.” 

Applying for EOP is an option on Rider’s admission application. Those that are selected begin their journey almost immediately, transitioning into a structured schedule with mentors that prepare them for their upcoming college routine. In 2023, 40 students entered the summer program. 

The Director of EOP, Reggie Walker ’05, is not only a Rider alum, but a former EOP student himself.

“It’s a life changing student support services program,” Walker said. “We’re providing students with personal and vocational counseling, financial planning and counseling, and help with everything that may occur in their lives.”

Current sophomores of the Educational Opportunity Program pose for a photo in the Cavalla Room. Photo courtesy of Dwight Pulliam.

After having been accepted into the EOP, students attend a mandatory six week summer program where students take two courses: Race Class and Gender, along with Ethics. Students start their classes at 8 a.m. and are provided with other educational benefits like workshops and guest speakers.

In addition to starting their first semester with six credits, EOP students find support in each other.  

“We bring back former EOP students who share their testimonies along with additional speakers and empowerment workshops where students open up and share [their stories],” said Walker. “By the time they leave the summer program, they already know that they’re not alone in whatever it is that they’re dealing with.”

After students complete the summer program, they are assigned responsibilities depending on their grade level. The program requires students to meet with their assigned counselors for check-ins, complete study hours in the EOP office and participate in EOP-led leadership workshops throughout the year. 

Students not only develop themselves as young leaders, but are also given the chance to plan toward their future.

Walker, a Trenton, New Jersey, native who received all three of his degrees from Rider, explained that college was not a possibility for his family prior to discovering EOP.

“I’m a walking billboard for the program. I took advantage of the opportunity and experienced that transformation for myself,” said Walker. “The resources provided showed me that the world is bigger than the seven square mile town that I grew up in.”

Sophomore data analytics major Dwight Pulliam shared a similar story. Pulliam, who is from Camden, New Jersey, worked hard before college to secure his bright future. 

“Before college I would just repeatedly go to work and come home trying to make money to keep myself happy. I didn’t want to be involved in all the negative things going on in the streets,” said Pulliam. “EOP gave me people that wanted to see me be the best version of myself and prepare students for the real world.”

Not only did Walker meet his wife during his time in EOP, he described the culture of the program as a family away from home. 

“These were the people who weren’t afraid to tell me to straighten up and sharpen up and get it together,” said Walker.

After graduation, EOP students are recognized as alumni in the EOP Hall of Fame every year, where they share their stories, experience and accomplishments. 

“When everyone that goes up to accept an award and share their testimony, there’s never a dry eye in the room,” said Walker. 

Walker said that so many students have been forever grateful for the program— from providing housing if a student was homeless, to EOP coaches teaching them how to drive if needed. 

 Through the efforts of the program and alumni that work with incoming students, people from all different backgrounds and circumstances are able to find the missing pieces to their lives. 

When asked to give incoming students a word of advice regarding the program, Garcia said: “Fight for your education, there’s always something you can do. Fight for what you think you’re worth.”

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