Hamilton NYSOP attendees, from left,Shelby Castillo '19, Assistant Director of Opportunity Programs Brenda Davis, Adriana Cruz ’21, Shavell Jones ‘21, and Nasheley Boursiquot ’22.

Hamilton College Higher Education Opportunity Programs (HEOP) students Shelby Amour Castillo ’19, Shavell Jones ’21, Adriana Cruz ’21, and Nasheley Boursiquot ’22 were invited to New York State Opportunity Programs Conference (NYSOP) in Syracuse, N.Y.  — a conference created by and for HEOP and EOP students.

The 50 conference attendees came from a number of institutions including Utica College, Syracuse University, Ithaca College, and Cornell University. At NYSOP, students spoke about how HEOP and EOP programs impacted their lives, helped them succeed, and how HEOP and EOP could be further improved. Participants made connections with each other and shared intellectual and personal narratives about college life, mostly revolving around being a person of color and of low socioeconomic background. 

The conference began with a keynote address from Hamilton Opportunity Programs Director Phyllis Breland ’80. She spoke about her own struggles in and out of school, gave advice on being noticed in a crowd, and reminded participants that their hard work had brought them to the schools at which they are studying. Her keynote inspired participants to take initiative at the conference as it had a novel approach to discussion and learning. 

The conference was introduced as an Open Space Technology (OST) assembly. OST conference participants are active creators of each topic of interest and allows the conference to follow what participants want to discuss.

There is no agenda, but instead a theme; the first theme was focused on “What stops HEOP and EOP students across the state from interacting and connecting with one another?” This developed into many sub-areas that students posted on a board. After voting on which topics were most interesting to all participants, each theme was made into a group with a note-taker and leader. Students could then circulate among groups. 

Some topics that were discussed included: differences between types of institution, imposter syndrome, and how being a HEOP or EOP student affects how one is seen on campus. Discussion on ideas on how to fix the problems at each college or university flourished.

“It was great getting to know people from different schools and knowing they are experiencing the same things I am,” said Adriana Cruz ’21. “I really do think we should develop a community for HEOP and EOP between the schools, and I think that’s what others are thinking as well.” Hopefully, that is exactly what happens—many of the students left the conference left with new friendships, networking contacts, and ideas on how to further the solutions promoted on the conference floor. 

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