UB's Educational Opportunity Center Creates a Legacy of Success Stories

Release Date: July 23, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Redemption stories. That's what adminstrators at the Educational Opportunity Center call them. Take the resources of the University at Buffalo's EOC, then mix in the sheer determination and grit of men and women who refuse to be defeated.

The result: a steady stream of graduates, many of whom illustrate the triumph of the human spirit and the continuing impact UB has on a frequently overlooked segment of the community. And each has a compelling story to tell. Consider:

 Terry Mission Bagia. A refugee from Nigeria, Bagia came to Buffalo in 1999 with his wife and family, intent on enrolling his children in a good school while desperately trying to learn the English language. Starting with the EOC's college preparation program, Bagia earned his undergraduate degree from UB, then his master's, and most recently graduated from the UB law school in May. He's a published author of poetry, very active in community affairs and, through his remarkable journey, remained close and loyal to the EOC community.

 Jill Hill. A judge sent Hill, a mother of two young daughters, to the EOC after a record of substance abuse, dropping out of school and arrests. Hill stared down fears of failure to earn her general equivalency diploma with the help of EOC faculty. Having earned a GED, she now plans to work with mentally challenged children and those with troubled pasts.

 Kimberly Aytch. A graduate of the EOC's Career Pathways to Nursing Program, Aytch struggled with whether to stay with EOC or work full time to support her family. She completed her pre-LPN program, becoming the star student in her class and a mentor for others entering the program. She graduated into the BOCES program to finish her LPN degree and planned to pursue her studies at a four-year college to become a registered nurse. "EOC is a place that allows you to see if you are responsible enough to take control of your destiny and run with it," Aytch says.

In the roll call of EOC success stories, these three portraits are fairly typical. Serving more than 2,000 students each year -- the majority of whom are 25 or older -- UB's EOC offices at 465 Washington St. in Buffalo are a community resource that has made a big difference to its students and Western New York. With an annual budget of more than $5 million, the EOC provides educational job training, college preparation and related support services to economically disenfranchised and academically disadvantaged populations in Western New York.

"The EOC has had incredible impact on people's individual lives and on the community as a whole," says Danis J. Gehl, associate executive director. "Not only because of the number of people who graduate, but because of the people who have gone on and the contributions they have made in their communities. That's the untold story.

"We were there to provide the support in ways that bring a unique constellation of services together," Gehl says, "and also to help the students keep their eyes on the pathway. But they have to provide the grit and determination."

The three EOC grads also show the importance of that EOC pathway. Students coming to the EOC are encouraged to think big. Instead of being satisfied with basic degrees such as a GED, they are urged to pursue advanced opportunities within a specific area of training, whether it be in information technology or life sciences or, as in Terry Bagia's case, finishing law school.

"That's an expectation we give to the people when they come to the EOC," says Sherryl D. Weems, UB associate vice provost and EOC executive director. "The GED is just the beginning of something that will lead them to a next level of attainment further down the road.

"What we're talking about is getting across the idea to all students that postsecondary access is a viable and attainable option," says Weems. "We want them to think of themselves as entering a pathway or journey. The journey may be interrupted as a result of the real-life issues they must contend with, but we encourage them to come back and complete the pathway toward their own personal empowerment. The pathway generally emphasizes a next step."

The other key part of the EOC's mission is job placement. Weems says an EOC priority is matching students with local economic and workforce development -- identifying the areas of occupation growth and connecting students to training that will result in employment.

"Instead of training students for an occupation because it's the popular thing," Weems says, "we are training people for the industries that are going to yield an income."

Now in its 40th year, EOC offers courses that range in length from 7½ weeks to a full academic year. Almost all involve a community internship and most involve personal attention in what EOC officials describe as "navigating" obstacles or hindrances they meet along the way.

Given the needs of the community, EOC sometimes can help those who have fallen through the cracks of other social service agencies. Once they find a concerned and effective advocate, they often respond with dramatic results. And all EOC programs are free to those accepted.

"When it comes to a high concentration of adults who are in need of educational services and work force development so they can fully participate in the regional economy, we think we're in the right place at the right time," says Gehl. "We're there to open up a portal."

Those interested in applying or learning more about on EOC programs can call 849-6727 or log on to http://www.eoc.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
News Content Manager
Educational Opportunity Center, Law,
Nursing, Honors College, Student Activities

Tel: 716-645-4600