Fatoumata Makadji (pictured) arrived at Buffalo State in summer 2013 with two suitcases and one set of sheets.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Makadji said. Originally from West Africa, Makadji grew up in Harlem, New York, and is the first in her family to attend college.
When she graduates in May, she’ll be armed not only with bachelor’s degree but also with a strong sense of accomplishment. She’s consistently made the Dean’s List and currently has a 3.55 grade point average (GPA). In the fall, she’s heading to a graduate program in public administration at American University, one of three master’s programs that accepted her.
Four years ago Makadji was an unsure young woman entering Buffalo State through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Since former New York assembly member Arthur O. Eve founded EOP in 1967, it has served more than 3,600 Buffalo State students. It currently has a roster of 776, many of whom, like Makadji, show the potential for college work despite lower high school grades or test scores.
To be accepted into EOP, students have to show glimmers of college-readiness, EOP director Yanick Jenkins pointed out. EOP students are expected to earn the same grades as their counterparts, and their retention rates are comparable to the campus as a whole.
“In our first meeting at summer orientation, the EOP counselors told us that we should look at this opportunity as a fresh start,” Makadji recalled. “It was definitely a new start for me. In high school, I could do the work, but I didn’t apply myself. They made it clear if we worked hard, we could graduate.”
Jenkins told the group that summer, “You have to be a support for one another. We are a close family. You’ll see when school starts.”
Makadji found that to be the case.
“One of the things I loved about EOP is that you meet 20 upperclassmen right away,” she said. “You stay connected with them and are paired with a mentor from day one. That made all the difference.
“I am extremely grateful to have been chosen to be part of EOP. I’ve made amazing friends through the program.”
She’s since become a mentor and a resident assistant to the students in the same summer program where she began.
“Fatoumata is an exceptional student who is a caring and nurturing with her first-year mentees,” said Jude Jayatilleke, senior academic adviser for EOP. “She is a well-rounded student who leads by example and is committed toward academic achievement.”
To Jenkins, serving students who have overcome obstacles to come to college—and then soar once they get started—is beyond rewarding.
“We help them to acclimate to the campus as quickly as possible and then give them the specific tools to be successful,” Jenkins said.
Fourteen EOP staff members provide services that include tutoring, academic advisement, and counseling. But their influence extends beyond what can be documented on paper; they provide a family atmosphere so that the students, regardless of their background or circumstances, can find their way.
“Even (staff members) who were not my advisers helped,” Makadji said. “With EOP, you can definitely fall as long as you get up.”
On Thursday, May 4, at 3:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall, 285 students, including Makadji, will be honored during the Arthur O. Eve EOP Honors Convocation and 50th Anniversary Celebration. The campus is invited to attend.
“As EOP was founded at Buffalo State, our celebration is to thank the college for 50 years of nurturing and support to the program,” Jenkins said.
To RSVP, call Cathy McCoy at (716) 878-4224.