Educational Opportunity Fund Retreat Sets Disadvantaged Students Up for Success in College

Educational Opportunity Fund Retreat Sets Disadvantaged Students Up for Success in College

About 2,600 students across Rutgers benefit from the EOF program which aims to put the state’s low income students on a path to college

As colleges increasingly tackle stress among students, Rutgers School of Health Professions has started offering a wellness retreat to a group who rarely makes time for themselves – students in the Educational Opportunity Fund program.

“This population has so many stressors. Many are first generation college students. They have the pressure of taking care of their families, of setting the example for younger siblings and of caring for parents,” said Bianca Thompson-Owen, assistant dean for enrollment management and student success.

Students Esther Charles, (right) a pre-med/pre-public health major in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and Jennifer Baez, a health information management major in the School of Health Professions, practice yoga.
Photo: Bev McCarron
“We brought them together to say, ‘Let’s talk about who’s taking care of you,’ she said. “During stressful times, we want them to learn how to stay healthy in mind, body, and soul.”In addition to offering financial aid for tuition and books, the EOF program – created in 1968 to put students from the state’s lowest income levels on a path to college – also offers academic, personal and social support to help students navigate the transition to a university.

Kenvil Hernandez, 23, entering Rutgers SHP’s Nuclear Medical Technology program this fall, was one of 20 EOF students to sign up for the recent three-day retreat focused on helping students adjust mentally, emotionally and physically to the rigors of college.

To pay for school, Hernandez has worked 50 to 60 hours a week this summer as a certified nursing aide, leaving little time to tend to her own health and wellness. The retreat, she said, gave her a chance to meet students like herself, talk about shared challenges and learn coping skills and strategies.

“I know that I need to give myself time to relax, to take care of myself instead of always worrying about work, school, finances and family,” she said.

A first-generation college student, Hernandez is the oldest of three born to an illiterate father and a mother who dreamed of becoming a nurse but didn’t have the resources. She wants to pave the way for her siblings by being the first to earn a college degree.

Students at the EOF retreat learn coping strategies from Joanne Ducrepin-Jerome, a Rutgers University mental health services clinician.
Photo: Bev McCarron
Held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Somerset, the EOF summer retreat was sponsored by Rutgers SHP and opened to EOF students enrolled in Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS).

Joanne Ducrepin-Jerome, a Rutgers University mental health services clinician, guided students in how to develop strategies to enjoy life, despite inevitable negative experiences.

“If I can’t change a situation, what do I do now?” she said. “I have to learn to manage that situation and achieve a positive attitude.”

Across Rutgers, about 2,600 students benefit from the EOF program, which helps more than 12,000 students statewide, according to the State Office of Higher Education. At Rutgers, during the 2015-16 year – the most recent numbers available – 18 percent of students in the EOF program were Asian, 24 percent were black, 40 percent were Hispanic and 13 percent were white.

A report by the state also found that students in New Jersey’s EOF program have among the highest college graduation rates in the nation compared to low-income students in other states.  

“Without EOF, there would be a lot of student who have a desire to achieve an undergraduate degree but they would not have the opportunity and that is what EOF is about: helping students realize their dream of higher education,” said Brett Pulliam, associate director for Rutgers SHP’s EOF program.