Truth be told, Venessa Rodriguez was a little offended at first when she was invited to apply to her alma mater’s equivalent of the Educational Opportunity Program.

Commonly known by its acronym, EOP provides access, academic support and financial aid to first-time, full-time students who show promise for succeeding in college, but who may need additional support.

Despite her initial reaction, Rodriguez, who was accepted into Colgate University, decided to apply  – and was ultimately glad she did.

“I had not been as prepared for college as I thought. We had to take credit-bearing classes; it was the first time in my life I handed in something and got a D,” said Rodriguez, who went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Colgate and her master’s in Student Affairs Administration from Binghamton University. “It was really humbling for me. I’m so grateful because I’m not sure I could have gotten through the four years without the program.”

Rodriguez is now director of SUNY Broome’s EOP program, helping the next generation of students achieve their academic and career goals.

There are many advantages to becoming an EOP student, including academic support, supplemental economic aid and a ready support system. These services remain available to EOP students throughout their academic careers at transfer schools who also host the program. There is even a graduate school equivalent for those pursuing a master’s degree or beyond.

SUNY Broome’s EOP serves between 83 and 100 students annually, and the ultimate goal is to increase retention and graduation rates, and provide a sense of belonging on campus.

“It’s a lengthy application process. The students who go through this process have to give a lot of information,” Rodriguez said. “They really have earned their spot.”

Rodriguez began her professional career as an ESL teacher in the South Bronx as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She then headed to SUNY Oneonta, where she spent seven years as an EOP counselor, moving up to assistant director of the program. While in Oneonta, she also coordinated the African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American (AALANA) Peer Mentorship Program, and served as the interim director of Multicultural Student Affairs.

She left SUNY Oneonta to complete her master’s degree, and joined SUNY Broome four years ago, serving as Staff Associate to the Associate Vice President for Learning Assistance Services, part of the Student Success Squad and co-chair for the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. Last year, she also was appointed to the Broome County United Way’s Board of Directors.

Rodriguez, who was nominated for a Spirit Award this spring, hit the ground running since she started as EOP director on May 2.

The lengthy application process for the program – which includes letters of recommendation, an essay and documentation – has been streamlined, brining Admissions and Financial Aid into the process. The application is now online, and the program’s website has been updated.

New this year is a four-day summer orientation program, which Rodriguez hopes to expand to two weeks in the future.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to see more students walk down the aisle at Commencement in May, proudly entering the next chapter of their academic and professional lives – much like Rodriguez herself did.

“I’d like to see that all of our students are successful and graduating because that’s the goal of the program,” she said.