By McKenzie Collins
The Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program aims to help implement students into college, reach their academic goals and graduate with positive memories of their experience — even during a remote semester amidst a pandemic.
Facilitating student transitions for college readiness, making positive adjustments, addressing developmental concerns and building student persistence are all part of EOF’s mission.
“We’re a program that is state and institutionally funded, so we had to be mindful of whatever restrictions were put in place by both entities to help secure the financial life of the program long-term,” said Teika Harris, the director of the program.
Support programs include the “Foundations of Success” course, peer-to-peer mentoring groups, career services, a tutoring center and various other campus resources.
The educators working with the department have ensured that all students have access to these resources in their remote-learning situations.
Some minor adjustments have been made to accommodate an online-only semester, but the students in the EOF program are still utilizing the Career Center and the Tutoring Center. However, similarly to many other organizations at the College, they are struggling to maintain the same sense of community that would be present on campus.
“I think the community that we pride ourselves on being is what was impacted most though,” Harris said. “EOF is considered an extension of family and, as a family, it’s an adjustment not to be in the same spaces talking about serious matters or even just spending time together. Coupled with the racial unrest in the country at that time (and currently), I think this was a moment that could have had a dreadful impact on our students, and we tried to be attentive to everyone’s needs.”
EOF is currently using Zoom and Google Hangouts to hold virtual gatherings. Eunice Olugbile, a senior communication studies major and a frequent participant in these events, said that there are two typical cohort meetings taking place virtually.
Advisers use this platform to prompt discussions about the academic and financial issues that students are experiencing on campus. The community also bands together to commend students with exceptional grades and those who have a personal success each semester.
“We just had our fall kickoff a few weeks ago with a great turnout,” Harris said. “We’ll host an EOF family meeting in a couple weeks. The goal is to gather, see one another, share our successes and struggles, and offer the support of the community. Our hope is that the turnout is even greater.”
Students are also invited to attend workshops offered by the Center for Student Success. In addition to these services, EOF continues to offer meetings directed toward individual needs, such as time management or test-taking strategies.
To introduce first-year students into the college community, EOF hosts a summer scholars program over the course of five weeks, which was greatly impacted by the pandemic. The courses offered online were limited due to the online transition, and the advisers implemented a morning check-in as well as evening workshops.
This semester students were unable to attend the typical field trips or connect with their peers in person. However, they were still able to work with upperclassmen program assistants, peer mentors and EOF advisers to become acclimated with college life.
“As much as I understand the desire to be together, I am most concerned about everyone’s health and well-being. We’ll get through this, and have those opportunities again,” Harris said. “For now, stay physically distanced, but don’t stay away — we’re still available by email and phone and through Zoom and Google Meets.”
While students have shared the challenges of building relationships with their peers and advisers through a screen, EOF advisers say the entire organization is committed to helping their students flourish, regardless of the environment.
“Not being on campus doesn’t mean that you still aren’t an EOF or TCNJ student. You were accepted for a reason and that reason is because you are valuable and chosen,” Olugbile said. “EOF and everyone involved wants nothing more than to see you succeed, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisers or anyone in EOF. We’re always willing to help.”