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Brookdale Newsroom

Standout Students Honored at EOF Awards Breakfast

Dozens of students from Brookdale’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program received some well deserved recognition on Oct. 28 during the 2016 EOF Recognition Breakfast, held in the Student Life Center.

Before a capacity crowd of faculty, staff, administrators and classmates, nearly 75 students were honored for making the Dean’s List, enrolling in the EOF program or completing enough credits to earn their associate degree following the Fall 2016 semester.

“It may be rainy and dreary out, but all the sunshine is in here today,” said EOF director Richard Morales Wright. “This is a wonderful crowd and an opportunity to really celebrate the achievements of our students. For the students who are entering program, the students who have been here and have excelled academically, and those students who are actually graduating this semester, please give them a round of applause… All the good work that is done – by the students, the faculty, the staff, the administrators – it all comes together today.”

Prior to the awards ceremony, students were treated to a free hot breakfast and an inspirational keynote address by Freehold Campus dean Yesenia Madas, a former Brookdale EOF counselor and former executive director of the New Jersey Center for Student Success with the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.

Madas spoke passionately about the social, political and economic challenges now facing communities across the country, and implored the honorees to make the most of their time in college and to strive for greatness in the years ahead.

“This is not the time to sit back. This is the time to step up,” she said. “You are making decisions every day. You decide if you sit in the front or the back of the classroom. You decide whether to have a relationship with your professors. I challenge every single one of you to commit. Make the decision to be great. Make the decision to change your lives, change your family’s lives, and change your community. Because folks, we need that today.”

Madas also turned the mic over to first-year Brookdale student Raymond Bowman, who spoke about his decision to return to college after a 20-year hiatus. Bowman said his daughter, who is currently enrolled in the Poseidon Early College High School program at Brookdale’s Neptune Higher Education Center, encouraged him to give higher education another try, prompting him to enroll in Brookdale this fall. 

Yesenia Madas gives the keynote address during the EOF Student Recognition Breakfast on Oct. 28.

Yesenia Madas gives the keynote address during the EOF Student Recognition Breakfast on Oct. 28.

Initially, Bowman said, things didn’t go well.

“I walked into class and was surrounded by students who were 15 or 18 years younger than me. I was a nervous wreck,” he said. “I went to the back of the class, I hunched down, and just got through the first class. I couldn’t even understand what was being said.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Bowman met Madas and raised some of his concerns. She gave him some of the same advice she has been giving Brookdale EOF students since 2004.

“The first thing she said to me was, ‘Get out of the back of the room. Go to the front of the classroom and sit directly in front of the instructor,'” Bowman said. “I noticed the difference right away. The instructors would actually pay attention to me; they made eye contact with me. You didn’t even have to raise a hand – just raise an eyebrow…. Later, when I handed in my first essay in 20 years, I was definitely nervous. I wound up getting a 90, and that was it. That was that spark, that was the fire that I needed.”

That advice was later echoed by guest speaker and business management professor Phyllis Shafer, who described the importance of time management, keeping up with class assignments and reaching out to professors and tutors when in need. Financial aid director Stephanie Fitzsimmons also spoke to the students about the ins and outs of the FAFSA process, EOF grant requirements, scholarships and other important financial considerations.

Following the keynote address, Wright joined EOF counselors Torina Armstrong and Brian Oland and student services associates Eunice Clark and Catherine Cutlip to hand out official certificates of recognition to each student honoree. View the full list of honorees here.

Incoming students also received an honorary cord recognizing their official entry into the program. Dean’s List students received a dedicated certificate of their own, while pending graduates were presented with an EOF sash, a framed certificate of recognition and a special gift.

EOF staff concluded the ceremony with a program-wide prize raffle, presenting lucky students with themed gift baskets, tickets to Great Adventure and gift cards for the Scroll and Pen Bookstore. Incoming EOF student Alissa Rescigno received the grand prize of the day: free tuition for a Brookdale summer course.

EOF is a state-sponsored program that reaches more than 12,000 educationally and economically disadvantaged college students across New Jersey. More than 300 students are enrolled in the Brookdale EOF program, including more than 100 new students who joined this fall.

The students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, receive a state grant toward tuition and are offered a host of counseling and support services at Brookdale, including an annual “Summer Bridge” program that helps prepare local high school graduates for college life.

For more information about the Brookdale EOF program, click here.

Check out more photos of the 2016 Recognition Breakfast here.