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HEOP Alumni to First-Year Students: ‘Don’t Let Anyone Hold You Back’

With a wealth of academic and career experience to draw from, a panel of alumni from Fordham’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) advised the program’s incoming first-year Fordham College at Lincoln Center students on what to expect from their college careers.

Juan Duran, MD, FCLC '11 Pediatric Epilepsy Fellow at Child Neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center; Colin Hyles, FCLC '19 Senior Salesforce Administrator

Juan Duran, M.D., FCLC ’11, pediatric epilepsy fellow in child neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center; Colin Hyles, FCLC ’19, senior salesforce administrator at Intersection

HEOP, a New York state-administered program, provides support services for students who show potential for success. Most of Fordham’s HEOP students hail from the five boroughs and are, in many cases, first-generation students. They are a pretty proud bunch, said Colin Hyles, FCLC ’19, a senior administrator at Sales Force. But he told the students to not let their pride hold them back from asking for help.

“HEOP is a great support, I’d go as far as to say family,” Hyles said. “A lot of us, we’re so proud, and we think, ‘I can’t show weakness.’ But put that pride aside and ask for help when you need it. There’s no judgment here.”

From left to right: Anissa Nuñez, FCLC ’22, Jennifer Vasquez, FCLC ‘09, Kelly Sosa, FCLC ’10,
Larry Cerpas, FCLC ’09

Hyles spoke on a panel with six other Fordham HEOP alumni, held on Aug. 2 at the Corrigan Conference Center on the Lincoln Center campus. The welcome event allowed incoming students to network and exchange contact information with alumni.

Panelist Anissa Nuñez, FCLC ’22, who is perusing her Master of Studies in Law in corporate compliance this fall at Fordham Law, agreed with Hyles.

“You develop relationships with the counselors, some become longtime friends,” said Nuñez. “If you ever feel that you’re lost you can always drop into the office. Students can always come in and express themselves.”

That said, all the panelists encouraged the students to not lean on the familiar surroundings too heavily.

“Don’t limit yourself to your culture, this is the time when you have to transition from a high school kid into an adult,” said Jennifer Vasquez, FCLC ’09, a lawyer who works in data risk and governance at Capitol One Bank.

Vasquez encouraged students to join clubs that aligned with their interests and encouraged them to seek out similar clubs at the Rose Hill campus.

In order to succeed in their careers, students must keep their eye on the ball while they’re in school, said panelist Larry Cerpas, FCLC ’09, a content producer and filmmaker.

“Learn to set boundaries; it’s OK to say no,” said Cerpas. “On a social level you’ll want to go out and party and that’s more than OK, but sometimes you’ll have to say no.”

Roxanne Garcia-Quiñonez, FCLC '08, Fordham Law '16, associate at Eversheds Sutherland LLP, moderated the discussion.

Roxanne Garcia-Quiñonez, FCLC ’08, Fordham Law ’16,
associate at Eversheds Sutherland LLP, advocated for the panel and moderated the discussion.

Nuñez recalled that she never said no and had to struggle with time management.

“I worked for years on time management and it was really hard; I tried to adjust my schedule two or three times. You really have to navigate your methods,” she said.

Vasquez reminded students that an education from Fordham is a privilege. Not only should they learn to say no to classmates, she said, but they should also learn to say no to friends from the neighborhood and even to their family when need be.

“Don’t let anyone hold you back,” she said.

Kelly Sosa, FCLC ’10, assistant director of residential life at Lincoln Center who spoke on the panel, agreed that HEOP should be considered a foundation so that students feel comfortable exploring all the University has to offer.

“Explore Fordham. This is your base, but please do not just stay here,” said Sosa. “You will get to meet a lot of individuals with a lot of different backgrounds. Don’t miss out on that.”

Sosa recalled horseback riding in Montana at the invitation of a classmate when she was at Fordham. She said that she would have missed out on that experience and many other experiences had she not stepped out of her comfort zone.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Hyles, in a line that resonated with several of the students in the audience.

Incoming first-year student Brianne Cepeda, who just graduated from the Urban Assembly Maker Academy in Manhattan, said she was not expecting to hear such advice.

“It makes sense to be uncomfortable so, you know, you can make yourself find your new comfort,” she said.

Nevertheless, Brooklyn Tech graduate Alsou Kim said she found the panel “comforting.”

“Sometimes you don’t think you’ll be able to make it as an adult,” said the first-year student. “I mean, it was just two weeks ago that I was in high school. But it was cool to see people who were in our position before and see they were able to succeed.”


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