No one in Christina Huerta’s immediate family had attended college. No one had ever filled out an admissions application, picked out a class schedule or purchased a text book.
“I was scared to even apply,” Huerta said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Still, Huerta was determined to go to Cal State Long Beach and pursue a business management degree. Looking for answers, she approached her high school counselor who told her about the university’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
“I heard that it was a program that helped first-generation, people of color navigate college,” Huerta said. “And that it gave you a sense of being grounded. That was very appealing.”
The late Dr. Joseph White founded EOP in 1967 with the promise of a program dedicated to serving first-generation, historically low-income students by providing access and equity to higher education. To this day, EOP provides academic support, financial aid, tutoring, free printing and mentoring to approximately 2,300 Cal State Long Beach students.
Huerta, a junior, has been involved in EOP since her first day and serves as president of the EOP Student Association. She helped plan the inaugural Joseph L. White Legacy Lecture in November, the first in an annual series that is intended to memorialize the work of the former psychology professor.
“EOP helps a student feel at home in a program, which is important, especially for freshmen,” Huerta said. “There’s so much to consider when trying to navigate college, starting with just applying.”
Huerta said EOP can help students with class schedules, mental health needs, resources and academic help. She added that it can be a “safe space” for anxious students.
As a new student at Cal State Northridge in 1995, Eduardo Leyva found refuge in the school’s EOP program. Leyva grew up blocks from Los Angeles’ Skid Row and didn’t talk about his childhood with many before he enrolled in EOP.
“It helped me connect with other students who shared similar stories like me,” he said.
Leyva said the program also connected him with advisers and counselors who helped him navigate the rigors of college, apply for financial aid and land a job. He was hired on in the work study program and then moved up to peer adviser. Today, he is director of the EOP at Cal State Long Beach.
“For first-generation students we offer support, and we can guide them and help them their first year and beyond,” Leyva said. “I think the biggest impact EOP can have on students is that they find a family here.”
Armando Vazquez-Ramos was one of the first students to join the EOP program in 1967. The retired professor of Chicano studies said the long-term impact of EOP has been the opportunities afforded to minorities and low-income students.
“It cracked the doors open to a greater population that might not have gone to college and prepared them for college,” Vazquez-Ramos said.
White’s EOP model eventually was adopted by the other 22 CSU schools, as well as the UC system.
To help EOP continue to provide first-generation students of color a smooth path through Cal State Long Beach click here.