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EOP second family for Coles

(From left) Ron Dollmann, H. William Coles, Tony Lorenzetti and Walter Kunz celebrate at Coles’ retirement party at the Newman Center. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

By BERT GAMBINI

Published October 4, 2012

Coles family

(Clockwise, from bottom left) H. William Coles pictured with his wife, Kathie Coles, and daughters Kristen Heimbach and Ashley Heimbach. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

For retiring workers, leaving a career often means more family time, but for H. William Coles, retirement will take him away from a family at UB that has been growing for more than two decades.

Coles stepped down from his position as associate director of the Arthur O. Eve Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at the end of 2010. He remained active in the program on a half-time basis for the next 18 months before officially retiring in July. A party in his honor took place last Friday at the UB Newman Center on Skinnersville Road near the Ellicott Complex.

“These kids are part of my family,” says Coles, referring to the EOP students. “The people in this program have an active role in the lives of these kids.”

Coles spent 21 years with the EOP. Regarded as one of the most successful programs of its type in the country, the EOP provides talented students, who haven’t been able to reach their academic goals because of economic or educational challenges, with an opportunity to gain admission to UB and other New York colleges and universities.

“These are bright kids,” says Coles. “But in many cases they lack guidance, financial resources, or maybe they didn’t have an opportunity to attend a good high school.”

The EOP, says Coles, introduces these students to the university and helps them build a model for academic success.

“That usually involves modifying behavior to create new learning habits,” he says. “Our students are generally not familiar with fundamental study techniques or the demands of a university education.”

The EOP receives roughly 5,000 applications a year for 200 available spots. Those chosen begin the program by attending a three-week summer session that Coles says “puts them in a new frame of mind.”

For three weeks in July preceding the start of their freshman year, EOP students live in the Ellicott Complex and begin taking classes five days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. All of the major subjects are covered in that time, with each class accompanied by mandatory homework and mandatory tutoring. A strict schedule is established outside of their classroom work that includes specific hours dedicated to study time and quiet time. There also is an evening curfew.

It sounds like a boot camp, which, in the case of Coles, is a bit of a coincidence since the military played a role in his time at UB, both professionally and as a student.

“I started here as a freshman in the fall of 1965 and graduated in 1969, then started graduate school in physics.” he recalls. “If you remember, we had a little problem in Vietnam at that time.”

He says he had no intention of going overseas since “there was no one there I wanted to harm.”

Unfortunately, Coles had a low number in the lottery, the system used by the U.S. military to determine the order in which eligible personal were called to service. Coles received a draft notice in March, only to get a call a short time later asking if he would be willing to postpone his conscription for a month since too many people had been drafted.

“I agreed to those terms,” he laughs.

With 30 days on his hands, along with the help of a sergeant who was able to work around the previously issued draft notice, Coles entered the National Guard.

“I joined the guard and left for 16 weeks of stateside active duty and returned to UB in the fall,” he says. “I completed my master’s and Ph.D. in educational psychology here.”

The EOP students, meantime, follow a more direct route, leaving their form of basic training to subsequently head right into the new semester.

From the first day of classes, counselors continue working with students, modifying schedules if needed while closely monitoring progress and conducting evaluations.

“We are always checking with them,” says Coles. “But it’s not just about academics. We’re also learning about these kids as people, not just as students. We want to know what is happening in their lives, personally and socially.”

It’s a lifelong relationship, according to Coles, who has worked with close to 7,000 students during his time at EOP. Earlier in the month, in fact, he even attended a career fair with a student he had worked with a few years prior.

“In a sense, these kids stay with the program for life,” he notes. “We stay connected to them, but at the same time, they stay connected to us—and to the program.”

Coles says previous EOP students are an asset to the program, infusing newcomers with enthusiasm.

“Our students know they have been given something special,” he says. “And they want to give back to the program, to UB and to their respective communities.”

Coles finds the entire experience to be rewarding.

“It’s beautiful watching kids turn their lives around,” he says. “That’s why I stayed so long.”