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Fredonia undergraduate honored with EOP award for excellence

Submitted Photo Ithamare Joseph

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras Monday celebrated the achievements of 45 students in SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), including a State University of New York at Fredonia undergraduate, who were honored with the Norman R. McConney, Jr., Award for Student Excellence.

Ithamare Joseph, a Social Work major from Brooklyn, was one of the honored award recipients. She has minors at Fredonia in Public Health and Sociology, and is a member of Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Society for students in Academic Opportunity Programs, and the Phi Alpha Honor Society in Social Work. In addition, Ms. Joseph is a Resident Assistant in Disney Hall, serves as secretary of the Black Student Union, and is treasurer of the Blue Ice Step Team and the Social Work Club.

The award, now in its second year, recognizes outstanding EOP students for their academic excellence and strength in overcoming significant personal obstacles throughout their lives. It is named in memory of Norman R. McConney, Jr. (1946-2016), a graduate of the University at Albany and former assistant dean for special programs at SUNY. McConney, alongside former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, helped create the EOP as a statewide program that has served 75,000 New Yorkers to date from underprivileged backgrounds.

“Each of these students has a story that deserves to be heard; they are outstanding scholars who have displayed great strength and tenacity in their pursuit of academic success, amid what is often extreme personal hardships,” said Chancellor Malatras. “It is for them that SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program exists, and it is at the heart of our mission to level the playing field and give every student a fair chance to succeed. My congratulations to our honorees for earning this recognition as they prepare to graduate and start to change the world – I look forward to seeing what they do next. Norman McConney would be very proud of each and every one of them.”

The SUNY Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Cesar Perales launched the first annual Norman R. McConney, Jr. Award for Student Excellence in 2019 and today SUNY Trustees continue the tradition and participation in this year’s award ceremony.

SUNY Board of Trustee Camille Varlack said, “I am deeply honored to be a part of this year’s ceremony and to celebrate these outstanding scholars who have overcome adversity to achieve academic and personal success. SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program continues to serve our students as a lifeline of support, giving them the chance to get a college education and go on to greater accomplishments. These award recipients personify the pursuit of excellence and serve as an inspiration to us all.”

SUNY Board of Trustee Marcos Crespo said, “Today’s ceremony is a celebration to highlight our honorees’ hard work and resilience in pursuing their college education – for many of today’s awardees, that meant being the first to forge this path within their families. With the guidance and support of the EOP — a program that I once called home and remain a champion of — our honorees have shown their peers and biggest cheerleaders what can be accomplished. I am proud of them for making a decision to go to college, and for earning an education that will serve them well as they continue to follow their dreams.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Education is one of the most powerful tools we can have to empower and uplift. For over 50 years, the Educational Opportunity Program has prepared students for success, removed barriers to education, and provided advocacy for students who need it most. In the face of uncertainty, SUNY’s EOP students have shown great strength, determination, and perseverance. Congratulations to all of the award recipients, I am so proud of what you have accomplished.”

Assemblyman Victor Pichardo, a Democrat who represents the 86th District in New York City, will be the keynote speaker. Assemblyman Pichardo is a 2007 graduate of the University at Buffalo, where he majored in communications, and minored in English and sociology. He is also an EOP alumnus. He noted, “It is with great honor that I address these incredible scholars and future leaders during today’s ceremony. Their hard work and dedication throughout these difficult times show how much every single one of these 45 recipients represents the very best of our state. I also want to take a moment to thank Chancellor Malatras for his commitment to supporting SUNY students, and for ensuring that the EOP program continues to be an asset to them.”

John L. Graham, PhD, Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Student Advocate said, “Congratulations to these 45 distinguished scholars who exemplify the mission of SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program. For decades, the EOP has been a critical component of SUNY’s mission to provide unhindered access to higher education for all segments of our society. As these award winners prove, excellence is always possible when people are given the necessary supports, even in the face of extreme adversity. I commend these stellar students for their strength of character and outstanding academic accomplishments.”

The alumni speaker was Ayuong Arop, a Sudanese refugee who as a child, fled the war-torn nation with her family and went to Egypt. In May, she graduated from SUNY Polytechnic Institute with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. She currently attends Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, where she is pursuing her Doctorate in Dental Surgery.

The student speaker was Aesron Jeremiah, a Fall 2020 graduate of SUNY Farmingdale who will earn a degree in science, technology, and society, with a minor in aviation administration. He is the recipient of a 2016 Children’s Defense Fund-New York Beat the Odds scholarship, which honors outstanding high school students who have excelled academically and served as leaders in their communities, despite facing difficult circumstances in their lives. After graduation, the Brooklyn native plans to join the military and pursue his dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer.

Since its inception in 1967, the EOP has provided access, academic support, and supplemental financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of them the first in their families to attend college. In its 53-year history, the EOP has served more than 75,000 students and evolved into one of the country’s most successful college access programs.

In the current academic year, SUNY had more than 10,000 EOP students on 49 SUNY campuses. EOP students often outperform their peers, with 74 percent of them graduating with a baccalaureate degree within six years.

The EOP was founded by Arthur O. Eve, a former Deputy Speaker of the New York State Assembly. The Buffalo representative devoted his 36 years in the assembly to advancing the needs of New York’s underserved populations and serving as a champion of educational, economic, and social equality.

As Assemblyman Eve’s chief of staff, Mr. McConney drafted the legislation that established the EOP. Mr. McConney’s legacy of public service included several statewide initiatives to benefit underrepresented New Yorkers, including programs to prepare minority high school students for careers in the sciences and medicine, and scholarships for students underrepresented in the licensed professions.

Mr. McConney is also credited with helping to found the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, which later became the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus.

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