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For four decades, EOP has sent students a message of support

| 29 October 2003


EOP alumna Gloria Burkhalter now manages — with high enthusiasm —the program’s Berkeley office.

As a Special Action Admission student in the late ’60s — one admitted to Berkeley under a program now called Augmented Review — Gloria Burkhalter didn’t feel particularly welcome on campus. Special Action students were those who, while not meeting regular admission requirements, were accepted on the basis of strong promise of success, and Burkhalter often heard remarks that she would not likely succeed at Berkeley.

“That was the vibe back then from faculty, administrators, and staff,” she recalls. But when Burkhalter sought the help of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the contrasting message was, “You belong here, and you need a plan to get through Berkeley successfully.” Burkhalter heard that message loud and clear; as she describes it, EOP helped her “believe in herself.”

EOP’s charge is to enroll, retain, and graduate low-income California residents who are the first in their families to attend college. The program works on a number of fronts to help freshmen and transfer students find their footing at Berkeley. It offers students counseling and refers them to study groups and tutors, alerts them to fee waivers, and assists with graduate school preparation. The program also provides transitional services to introduce incoming students to campus, including an annual reception at which program and department representatives personally introduce students to their offerings.

The EOP program grew out of a 1964 Berkeley faculty initiative to address the fact that few low-income students — minorities in particular — were entering and graduating from the university. Back then, EOP had everything under one roof that an incoming student might need: recruitment, admissions, financial aid, tutoring, counseling, and advising. When the program was decentralized in 1973, EOP began referring students to other campus programs and departments to obtain similar services — the model under which it continues to operate today.

In 1978, the campus’s Affirmative Action academic-retention programs were integrated with EOP, an arrangement that endured until the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

A program that’s ‘run from the heart’
Burkhalter joined EOP on campus as an academic counselor in 1973, following her graduation. “EOP gave so much to me. I wanted to give back,” she explains. In 1987, after earning a master’s in counseling education from CSU-Sacramento (while still working fulltime at Berkeley), she became director of Student Life Advising Services (SLAS), the nucleus of EOP.

When she talks about EOP, Burkhalter’s passion for her work is abundantly evident. “SLAS/EOP is run from the heart,” she says.

Burkhalter is not alone among EOP graduates whose work helps Berkeley students. Approximately 300 EOP alumni are employed across campus in mid- to high-level positions, including program coordinators, academic counselors and advisers, tutors, instructors, and unit directors. Michael Treviño, assistant dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, came to Berkeley as a transfer student in 1985 after two years of community college and a stint in Silicon Valley. “This is such a big place, particularly for people who are first generation,” he says. “EOP gave me a sense that I belonged, and it increased my confidence — especially during my first year — so that I could navigate these waters.”

Treviño’s initial plan had been to get a bachelor’s degree and return to work in Silicon Valley. Instead, he went on to law school, earned an M.A. in education policy at the University of Washington, and eventually became an assistant dean at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Six years ago he was offered the opportunity to return to Berkeley and jumped on it. “EOP is probably a big reason why I do the things I do,” says Treviño. “Education changed my life and helped me focus on doing work where I could make a difference.”

Dealing with the 'whole student'
In the last 20 years, an estimated 9,000 EOP students have earned baccalaureate degrees from Berkeley. The Office of Student Research has been tracking the graduation rate of EOP and non-EOP students, with some interesting results. In 1987, 80 percent of non-EOP students who had entered the university as freshmen graduated, versus 56 percent of EOP students. Compare this to 1996, when the gap narrowed, to 84 percent (non-EOP) and 77 percent (EOP).

Burkhalter attributes the increase in graduation rates to many variables. “We take a holistic approach,” she explains. “We deal with the whole student — their social, academic, and personal needs.”

Once the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has determined the EOP-eligibility of incoming students who have indicated an interest in the program on their applications, EOP academic counselors assess each student when he or she arrives on campus. Then, says Burkhalter, punching her words for emphasis, they “focus not only on what’s required but on what’s needed to help students succeed.” After the initial assessment, SLAS/EOP academic counselors help students solve problems and empower them with information about campus resources. The bottom line, according to Burkhalter, is that “we make them feel as though they’re special. We’re like a family; they know we care.”

Kudos from the state
The California legislature recently lauded EOP’s efforts in the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems by proclaiming September 2003 Educational Opportunity Programs Month. The attention comes as the program nears the 40-year mark.

“I am really pleased that the state legislature has recognized the considerable accomplishments of the Educational Opportunity Program,” says Christina Maslach, Berkeley’s vice provost for undergraduate education, “and I am proud that this important program began at Berkeley, where we have a long tradition of honoring excellence and diversity.”

Pamela Arbuckle Allston is part of that long tradition. She grew up in a family of nine children whose parents divorced when she was young. After two years at Laney College, she transferred to Berkeley and was taken under EOP’s wing. Arbuckle Allston’s goals were ambitious: She planned to fulfill pre-dental requirements while double majoring in both economics and health arts and sciences (a discontinued experimental major). Gloria Burkhalter, her counselor, ensured that Pamela stayed on track with regular counseling sessions and by helping her clarify priorities and make use of EOP’s benefits.

Arbuckle Allston acknowledges that she struggled, and that sometimes her academic performance was “not fabulous.” Ultimately, though, she persevered. “I credit EOP more than anything else with my success,” she says.

Like Mike Treviño, Pamela Arbuckle Allston’s career focus involves helping people. “EOP instills a sense of giving back in its students,” says Arbuckle Allston, who has spent much of her career working as a dentist to low-income children at the Alameda County Medical Center.

“We give students tools,” says Burkhalter, “so they can help themselves and make informed choices about their life, ask questions, and not be passive. We want them to be interdependent — not dependent, and able to be successful at Cal and beyond.”