Fifty-three graduating seniors in the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus were honored at a dinner on May 2. The event drew faculty, family, friends and HEOP alumni who shared their appreciation of the innovative program.
HEOP is a New York state-administered initiative created in 1969 that enables students with academic and financial disadvantages to attend college.
HEOP, which is unique in the nation, is open to students of all races and ethnicities. To qualify, students must fall below a college’s general admission criteria and must meet a household low-income standard in the $30,000 to $45,000 range. Accepted students receive financial assistance and comprehensive tutoring.
“Tonight is a reflective time for me,” said Michael Partis, a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) graduating with a major in African and African American Studies. Partis said he almost dropped out of Fordham during his freshman year when difficult class work, a part-time job and a broken ankle made the daily rigors of commuting and studying nearly impossible.
“None of us get to one place by ourselves, and I’ve thought about how much Fordham and HEOP have mentored me,” he said. “They’ve kept me focused, and didn’t let me give up on myself.”
The annual senior farewell dinner, held at the McGinley Center, recognized students for their achievement in academics, leadership, motivation, creativity and congeniality. Edlin Rosario was named valedictorian of HEOP’s FCRH class, while Christine Huot received the top honor for HEOP’s College of Business Administration class.
David Stuhr, Ph.D., associate vice president of academic affairs, told the gathering that Fordham’s HEOP program is one of the state’s best, with 97 percent of HEOP students staying on track and graduation rates consistently surpassing state averages. The program services 266 students at Rose Hill.
“Of those four words in HEOP, the one that stands out is opportunity,” Stuhr said. “HEOP has provided you with your lucky chance to excel. But luck is not entirely by accident. It is there to be grasped by those who see it coming their way. Thank you for making Fordham a better place.”
Stephie Mukherjee, director of HEOP at Rose Hill, told the graduating students to “never be without a dream.” She then introduced the HEOP alumni in attendance, many whom have continued their education, including a doctor, lawyer and several associates at investment firms.
“I’m here to show my appreciation for HEOP,” said Steven Nguyen, (FCRH ’97), a change management specialist for Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, who arrived in the United States from Vietnam as a young boy. “My parents worked low-income jobs in a nail salon and it didn’t look like I was going to college. But Fordham’s HEOP accepted me.”
Nguyen then introduced Nga Nguyen (CBA ’06), his younger sister. “HEOP’s a part of our family,” he said.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, reiterated the familial nature of HEOP and told the class he hoped they would return to support the students who come after them.
“HEOP is more than an academic program,” he said. “It is the only gathering that has two presidents, three vice presidents, more deans than you can count and a room full of graduates who come back to support their sisters and brothers.
“It captures the genius of the University in a remarkable way,” he added. “No administrator can go through this night without a catch in their throat.”