SUNY Broome student Bernard Zolnoski has a lot to celebrate. Not only is he the first person in his family to earn a college degree, but he has also just been awarded the prestigious Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence.
The Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence is awarded in memory of Norman R. McConney Jr., who, along with former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, helped to establish the Educational Opportunity Program. This honor recognizes the academic and personal achievements of outstanding EOP students across the SUNY system.
“I was honestly pretty shocked to hear that I was selected. I just wanted to make it through college in one piece. I am appreciative that people are actually acknowledging the fact that I’ve been working so hard throughout my college experience and am 100% honored to receive this award,” he said.
Zolnoski’s SUNY Broome story started in 2018. When it was time to decide where to go to college, Bernard sat down with his high school counselor and a map of the State of New York. He had some non-negotiables when it came to college hunting. He knew that he needed to go to an affordable community college, within the SUNY system, that had on-campus housing, and an EOP program. When SUNY Broome checked all of those boxes, Zolnoski knew that he had found the school with the best fit.
As a first generation college student, while Zolnoski’s family was supportive of his desire to go to college, they were not equipped to help him navigate the logistics of enrolling in and financing a college education. “I was willing to take all the help that I could possibly get and I knew that the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) would help me to achieve my goals,” he reflected.
SUNY Broome is one of forty-eight SUNY campuses that offer the Educational Opportunity Program. EOP provides supplemental academic, financial, and personal support throughout a student’s academic career.
Zolnoski is most appreciative for EOP’s mandatory, two-week, Summer Advancement Academy for all EOP freshmen. “We had full days of back to back classes and workshops on everything from understanding a schedule, to learning about how to best use your financial aid. I went from thinking that I had no idea what I was getting myself into – to this is possible,” he said.
While many students struggled in their first semester of college, Zolnoski thrived, greatly in part due to the student support services provided via EOP. He returned to the Summer Advancement Academy again in the Summer of 2020, but this time as an EOP mentor.
Zolnoski will remain an EOP student when he transfers to Buffalo State for the Spring 2021 semester to earn his bachelor’s degree in Social Work. He plans to couple his degree with his passion for mentoring at-risk youth and combating family homelessness. Zolnoski is also open to the idea of returning to his roots and remaining in the SUNY system, but as an employee, directing his own Educational Opportunity Program.