News - 05/8/2013

EOPS Students Succeed "Against All Odds"

One by one the students were introduced with vignettes about their lives, vignettes about being orphans, vignettes about growing up homeless.

Vignettes about meeting whatever challenges life threw them, tossing them aside, and excelling in college.

More than 100 people turned out for the 17th annual EOPS Recognition Dinner entitled “Against All Odds” on May 3 at the MiraCosta College Student Center Dining Hall.

“These students come from a background that is not always conducive to success and education,” said Teresa Cerda, MiraCosta College’s EOPS/CARE faculty director. “They are very capable, but they haven’t always had the support they need to succeed.”

That’s where EOPS comes in.

EOPS – an acronym for Extended Opportunity Programs & Services – is a state funded program designed to recruit and retain students who are economically, socially and educationally disadvantaged. EOPS assists students in the development of their potential ability through academic support and financial assistance. The services of EOPS are designed to give students individualized attention and support to improve their chances for success.

There were 583 students in EOPS this past academic year, and 8 out of every 10 students were the first in their family to go to college. Twenty-nine made the President’s List with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, and 135 are graduating in May. Among their destinations are UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and San Diego State University.

“They sacrifice a lot to be here,” Cerda said. “A lot of them are single parents. A lot of them have to ride five buses to get their kids to day care and then get to school. This event represents a year of struggle, of tears, and joy.”

Among those being honored Alice Conover, who earned a J. Arthur & Pauline Drielsma Scholarship of $500. The 63-year-old grandmother of seven has volunteered an untold number of hours with the MiraCosta College Umoja Program, an African-American studies and support effort that falls under the EOPS umbrella.

“I’m just trying to encourage the younger generation,” Conover said of her volunteer during a later interview.

Conover knows about struggle. She is a first-generation college student who enrolled at the Oceanside campus in the fall of 2011 after finding herself unemployed during the Great Recession.

“The job market was just very tough, my career wasn’t doing too well, and I couldn’t get hired,” Conover said. “The Lord was telling me, `You need to get an education.’”

Conover plans to transfer next year to Cal State San Marcos, where she’ll earn a business degree. From there she plans on starting an event planning and wedding coordination business.

David Jimenez was also among those honored at the May 3 dinner. Jimenez, a 22-year-old Oceanside resident, said he began attending classes at MiraCosta College to earn a certificate in graphic arts. With the help of EOPS, he was encouraged to take additional classes and earn an associate of arts degree. He plans on transferring to Long Beach State University in the fall. His message to others: “Don’t be afraid.”

Students, however, weren’t the only people honored at the dinner. Lisa Level and Emelio Mejares were cited for going above and beyond their duties in creating a computerized tracking program for EOPS students who borrow their textbooks. John Benefield, a financial aid technician, was cited for his endless hours of volunteering with the Encuentros Program. “He has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of Latino boys who at one time never thought they could be college material,” said MiraCosta College trustee David Broad.

Said MiraCosta College trustee George McNeil: “This is a wonderful event highlighting a stellar program serving students who have been faced with challenges and who have overcome those challenges.”

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