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Hamilton, HEOP and Opportunity: an Alumna Comes Back


When Josie Collier ’97, P’14 saw an image of Hamilton College on the wall of her guidance counselor at the Bronx High School of Science, she thought, ‘Hey, cool print.’

“I thought it was a painting of some faraway place,” Collier laughs. The guidance counselor proceeded to push the reluctant Collier to an information session, then a visit, where Collier fell in love. “There was just something about it. You know how when you walk into a place you feel like you’re home.” Fast forward to Collier’s senior year, when she found out she was pregnant. She’d already been accepted to Hamilton early decision, and she reached out in a panic to the director of HEOP, the higher education opportunity program, who said, remembers Collier, “Let’s take a year off. It won’t be a major deal. And the spot is still yours.” Just one instance among many in which HEOP made good on its mission to provide access to higher education for the educationally and economically disadvantaged in New York state.

The plan worked and Collier loved Hamilton. “In addition to a really good academic education, I got a really good social one,” she says. “My emotional intelligence improved by leaps and bounds.” Even now, Collier still feels connected to her “Hamily,” and volunteers her time here, wanting more students to come and have an experience like hers. She serves on the multicultural alumni relations committee and is the current Vice Chair of the Alumni Council. Her continued involvement with the college has been powerful. “We got some students connected with other alums to get them jobs,” she said, noting that some of the difficulties she faced there—as everywhere—of racism and inequity were ongoing. “So we tried to figure out ways to improve some of the issues for multicultural students.”

Reunions '19: JUNE 6-9

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Throughout this, Collier continued to experience what she calls the magic of reunions. Collier can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be at Hamilton. When she returns for reunions, she comes back with both a sense of going home, and the urge to help newly graduated students, some of whom are coming back—or considering coming back—for their first reunions. “How can I reach out to folks who decide that they can’t afford it? Like can we work with them to figure out ways to get them back to the hill?”

As for the reunions themselves, Collier enjoys them—especially the June schedule, which allows for the rare snow-less campus visit. “There’s something to be said for that time in life where your friends were as close as a four-digit phone call and we all got to hang out in dorms and stay up too late.” It’s not all nostalgia. Collier visits her old haunts, but she also makes time to visit the amazing new gym facilities and science center, even the rock-climbing wall.

There’s something to be said for that time in life where your friends were as close as a four-digit phone call.

As ever, Collier wants to bring others along with her, especially for this year. “The next reunion is super special because it’s the 50th anniversary of the HEOP program.” The program, and the College, changed Collier’s life and the lives of many others. “I like to show that we did belong there. We graduated, many of us with honor, and did great things in our careers. I want to hear that they’re all doing well. I want to hear what they're doing in life so it will be really good to see them.” Collier hopes to see fellow alums, HEOP alums, faculty and HEOP staff, all of whom made the time and place so powerful. “It’s going to be a great event, I think. No, I know. It’s going to be a great day.”

Come celebrate the 50th anniversary of the HEOP program: Join Josie and your Hamilton classmates and come to Reunions ’19.

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