Third in a series celebrating 50 Years of EOP at CSUN.
As a first-generation Mexican American student, Yvette Gonzalez Petropoulos ’99 (Communication Studies) had no idea what to expect when she arrived on the CSUN campus.
“EOP created a guideline to be successful not only within the university, but outside the university as well,” Gonzalez Petropoulos said. “As a high school [graduate] going into a new academic environment as a new adult, it becomes very overwhelming.”
Gonzalez Petropoulos found the guidance she needed within the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provided her with direction and resources to ease her transition into university.
Now a statewide program, CSUN launched one of the CSU’s first five EOPs. CSUN’s program has grown into one of the largest and most respected programs in the nation, helping more than 30,000 students over the past 50 years. As the program celebrates 50 years of providing eligible CSUN undergraduate students with admission, academic and often financial assistance, EOP alumni are reflecting on the lasting impact the program has made in their professional and academic lives.
Here are some of their stories:
‘You Learn There’s a Different World Outside.’
Gonzalez Petropoulos, who works as an executive assistant at a global firm in Chicago, took full advantage of educational opportunities at CSUN and beyond that allowed her to develop skillsets that would advance her professional career, such as networking and maintaining a reputable image.
“With the help of the EOP program, you learn that there’s a different world outside of the neighborhood that you grew up in,” she said. “So, by creating a guideline in the beginning with your academic career at the university, it definitely follows you throughout your career. I know because it still impacts me to this day.”
CSUN provided Gonzalez Petropoulos with a number of opportunities that propelled her into the professional world. She served as a senator in CSUN’s Associated Students, and later went on to work as a project manager at a major film production company, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, working on films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Glory Road.”
“None of that would have happened without the support of the program,” said Gonzalez Petropoulos.
‘Respect, Humility, High Integrity and Responsibility.’
Maria Valiton ’92 (Urban Studies), M.A. ’95 (Educational Administration) was admitted to CSUN as part of a special admissions category — with the help of former director, and EOP pioneer and alumnus Jose Luis Vargas ’74 (Sociology), M.A. ’75 (Educational Psychology and Counseling). From that point forward, she made a commitment to Vargas and her family to finish college.
Valiton would wake up at 4 a.m. every day to study and kick off her daily commute to CSUN. The noisy background of a packed bus served as Valiton’s study music as she reviewed her notes for class.
Valiton was aware of the hardships that lay ahead, but she is no stranger to sacrifice as a first-generation student, the third oldest of nine siblings and daughter to a single mother. She had to deal with the sudden death of her father at the tender age of 15.
“Without the help of EOP, I do not know where I would be today,” Valiton said. “I did not have the educational background or the financial means to do it alone.”
Working three to four jobs on top of tackling college courses was an average day for Valiton, who was motivated to earn her degree to set the example for her younger siblings as well as her community, who recognized her as a jack-of-all-trades.
“I always took on the responsibility to talk about the importance of education,” Valiton said. “I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to go to college and pleased that I was able to provide my family with guidance and support. I am proud of what my whole family has accomplished — seven of my nine siblings, my daughter and eight nieces and nephews have graduated from CSUN. I was part of their journey to educational success.”
It took Valiton approximately seven years to complete her undergrad education, as she helped move her family forward as well as got married and started one of her own.
“Respect, humility, high integrity and responsibility [were] instilled in me by my humble parents. Being admitted to EOP was a perfect fit because EOP teaches the same values,” Valiton said. “EOP admits students that have high potential to succeed.”
Like many other EOP alumni, Valiton was drawn back to CSUN, returning to the origin of her higher education journey.
She paid it forward to the program that helped transform her life. As director of the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication Student Resource Center and EOP Satellite office, Valiton prides herself on providing holistic advisement and support services to assess students’ needs.
“I’m very proud to be an EOP and CSUN alumna, and the way I give back is by staying here,” Valiton said.
‘We Have a Plan, We’re Going to Help You.’
Blanca Samano ’15 (Chicana/o Studies) made the unexpected switch from the Coachella Valley to the San Fernando Valley when her mother dropped her off in Northridge, just in time for her first day of class.
Samano, who was accepted into the EOP Residential Bridge program — a six-week program designed to assist high school students in their transition to a college environment, felt that her shot at a higher education was lost when she was unable to participate because her family could not afford college tuition.
Samano’s parents, however, had another plan in mind: to get their daughter enrolled by any means necessary.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition because I’d never been to L.A.,” Samano said. “So, the first day comes, it’s 5 in the morning and my mom and stepdad say, ‘The car is packed, let’s go.’ Up until this point, I thought my mom was teasing me.”
With help from the CSUN EOP office, Samano registered for 12 units and forged connections with strong mentors and role models who offered her the position of EOP peer mentor.
In addition to valuable work opportunities, Samano’s mentors and colleagues provided her with stability and comfort through some of her toughest challenges, such as taking a leave of absence from school after her father’s death, and when she lost her financial aid due to academic performance.
“Along the way, if something would go wrong, EOP would motivate me to get back to school,” she said. “[My mentors] always told me, ‘We have a plan, we’re going to help you.’ Just when I thought that it was over and I wasn’t going to graduate, they would bring me back.”
Samano’s supporters in the EOP office inspired her to return to campus after graduation to work as a CSUN EOP advisor, to help students overcome personal and educational hardships such as academic disqualification, which occurs when a student does not meet the university’s GPA requirement.