Published June 10, 2022
UB’s Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center celebrated completion of an educational circle honoring alumni who transformed from former students to teachers and community and faith-based leaders at its annual commencement exercise last month.
Rev. Tanya Spencer, a member of the BEOC Class of 1992, received the organization’s Distinguished Alumni Award, presented to an alumna/alumnus who exemplifies the mission and values of the Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center.
“These reflect lifelong learning, personal and professional development and self-empowerment that afford students the opportunity to realize their dreams and turn efforts into achievements,” according to the award proclamation.
LouElla Cole-Bowens, BEOC Class of 1995, received the Arthur O. Eve Education and Community Service Award. The award honors the legacy of Arthur O. Eve, deputy speaker who served in the New York State Assembly for 35 years, and was known for his work with “the least, the last and the lost members of our community.”
The award is given to a current BEOC student or alumnus/alumna who demonstrates leadership, advocacy, community service and/or commitment to education.
“Rev. Tanya Spencer and Mrs. LouElla Cole-Bowens are an inspiration,” says Debra E. J. Thompson, BEOC associate executive director. “Both women have demonstrated excellence of service to their community and represent what it means to be lifelong learners. We are very proud to acknowledge them.
“Rev. Tanya Spencer and Mrs. LouElla Cole-Bowens: continue to ‘go forth and do great things!’”
Spencer’s achievements are a testament to the values of the BEOC, according to those who selected her for the award. “Her accomplishments not only personify self-empowerment, but the spirit to mentor others to strive toward the realization of their own dreams,” says Margot Barrett Keysor, alumni affairs administrator.
Spencer graduated in 1992 from the BEOC dental assisting program. From 1992-2000, while working as a dental assistant at Sheehan Memorial Hospital, she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from SUNY Erie.
A few years later, she graduated from the BOCES licensed practical nurse (LPN) program, and from 2005-19 worked at Buffalo Pediatrics, first as a LPN and then as office manager for the past seven years.
During this time Spencer also earned her BS in business administration from Houghton College and became an allied health adjunct instructor at the BEOC, teaching pre-LPN, electronic health records and patient services technician courses. Spencer continued on with her education, receiving a master’s degree in strategic leadership from Robert Wesleyan College.
Spencer’s life re-focused when she answered a calling to join the faith-based community. Earning a Masters of Divinity from Northeastern Seminary, she became a Baptist minister and an ordained elder for the Free Methodist Tradition. As current pastor of both Good Shepherd Community of Faith in Buffalo and Orchard Park United Methodist Church in Orchard Park, Spencer serves on the executive committee for the New York Council of Churches, where she actively engages in the Poor People’s Campaign providing a voice to the governor’s office.
“Buffalo EOC administration, faculty and staff helped mold my mind to succeed,” Spencer says.
Cole-Bowens’ award honors the legacy of Eve, who as a freshman assemblyman worked to increase access to higher education by crafting an appropriations bill that established the SEEK/Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Eve continued to spearhead legislative efforts to open the doors to education, including the legislation that helped launch the SUNY Educational Opportunity Centers.
“Mrs. LouElla Cole-Bowens has empowered her family, students and our community through her educational achievements, mirroring the lifelong learning mission of the Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center,” Keysor says.
In 1995, while working part time during the day as a home health aide, Cole-Bowens enrolled in the BEOC certified nursing assistant evening program. While working third shift at Sisters of Charity Hospital of Buffalo as a certified nursing assistant, she attended Bryant & Stratton College, receiving her associate’s degree in 1997.
Shortly thereafter, while working at Erie County Medical Center and Buffalo General Hospital on the weekends, she earned a BS in business administration with a certification in long-term care administration from D’Youville College.
Cole-Bowens later became the allied health program director for both the Buffalo and Southtowns campuses of Bryant & Stratton. She was hired as the lead instructor for BEOC’s medical billing and coding program in 2005, and has continued to teach there as an adjunct faculty member for the past 17 years.
Cole-Bowens has worked for Erie County for 24 years as a head social welfare examiner and medical office assistant at Erie County Medical Center.
“In her current position as a county employment counselor, she impacts the lives of others by empowering them to pursue their own academic and career pursuits. Practicing what she preaches, LouElla has participated in numerous University at Buffalo educational leadership seminars,” the award proclamation says.
Since 2017, Cole-Bowens has volunteered for Stop the Violence Coalition, a nonprofit community-based organization devoted to reducing violence in the city of Buffalo and its surrounding areas.
“Working along-side community leaders, Mrs. Cole-Bowens mentors at-risk youth and young adults by equipping them with personal and professional development tools to transform their challenges into accomplishments,” the award proclamation states.