Working to change the narrative of high school students who do not see a clear path to college, Montclair State’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) will host about 1,000 students during this academic year to build a bridge to higher education.
In the first event held on November 15, the work began, simply enough, with learning how to tie a tie.
“I know what it’s like to be in high school and not know what comes next,” said Jherel Saunders-Dittimus, a senior in Communication Studies who credits his college experience for transforming his life.
Then, spreading out among 300 boys at the annual Boys to Men conference, other EOF students who have walked in their shoes, showed the teens how to knot neckties.
The message: Despite barriers in attaining academic and personal goals, you are “knot” a statistic.
“Don’t let your dream be deferred,” urged Karen Pennington, vice president for Student Development and Campus Life. “There is a path, there is way, it is possible, it is achievable.”
The Boys to Men Future College Graduates and Young Women’s Leadership conferences presented by EOF showcase the college experience and provide financial literacy, leadership and career training. The students also receive information about the college application process, including financial aid and scholarships.
“We subscribe to an intentional enrollment framework to help move the students from prospects to active alumni,” says Daniel Jean, executive director of EOF and Academic Development. ”
EOF mentors are credited with narrowing an achievement gap, especially among black and Latino males, first generation college-goers, and students from poor and low-income families. For the past 50 years, the program has provided mentoring, tutoring and advising to students from New Jersey’s poorest neighbors and troubled school districts.
“We know from many years of research and working with students that those people who go to college are going to be the ones to succeed,” Pennington said. “Your dream of becoming a scientist, an actor, a writer, whatever it might be, that dream will be enhanced and achievable through higher education.”
Among Montclair State’s success stories is Saunders-Dittimus, a native of Camden, New Jersey, who serves on campus as president of the Student Government Association. “EOF put me in the position that I am in today, emotionally and mentally,” he said.
Special events like the high school conferences are among the successful strategies that have increased engagement, persistence and college graduation rates at Montclair State. At Boys to Men, Michael Spence ’14, a motivational speaker, delivered an empowering message: “The best gift you can give your family is a better you.”
EOF will follow up after each conference (the Women in Leadership event will be held on March 6, 2020) with the students and high school counselors. “We try to navigate some of the stressors and troubles students have coming to college by giving them as much support as possible, by being mentors, by being motivators and also by showing them that it is possible,” said Rahjaun Gordon, EOF’s associate director.
“Stay focused on your future,” Pennington told the high school boys, their new stripped and solid ties symbols of success. “Don’t worry about what happened in the past. Don’t worry about what happened last week, last month, last year. Don’t worry about all those things out there slowing you down. Stay focused on your future.”
Story by Marilyn Joyce Lehren