Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 4, making it the oldest equity program in California.
EOPS is a social reform program started in the aftermath of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The goal was to establish a program at community colleges that intentionally met the educational needs of students with economic, social and language disadvantages.
The California State University system offers a similar program with comparable goals called EOP, Educational Opportunity Program.
Orange Coast College’s EOPS program offers its students government-funded services such as textbook services, a limited school supplies supplement, parking or monthly bus passes, early registration as well as CSU and University of California application fee waivers.
EOPS at OCC also offers something money can’t buy — academic guidance from counselors under the leadership of the Director of EOPS Cecilia Alvarado.
As a former EOPS and EOP student, she understands the importance of having assistance from people who care.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my counselor,” Alvarado said.
Alvarado started at Rio Hondo College in Whittier with dreams of making a difference. During her time at RHC, Alvarado found an unofficial mentor in Hilda Solis.
Solis wasn’t EOPS personnel, but she was in Alvarado’s corner.
When she left RHC to work in politics, Solis encouraged Alvarado to pursue her academic goals and to continue supporting the people in her life, especially fellow Chicanos. Solis wrote Alvarado a letter of recommendation which helped her gain admission to Cal State Fullerton.
Although she wasn’t an EOPS counselor, Alvarado never forgot Solis or the courage and determination she learned from her example.
Even though the EOPS program grants financial assistance, it’s through the mentorship and encouragement that students truly thrive.
Alvarado personally evaluates the counselors that apply to EOPS. She requires that EOPS counselors have experience working with marginalized populations so that the boundaries, barriers and traumas the students carry will be met with understanding.
“You have to have some kind of cheerleader sometimes,” Alvarado said.
Not long after transferring to CSUF, Alvarado learned she was pregnant. Panicked, she went to the EOP office to talk to her counselor about her options.
“I was heartbroken and ashamed,” Alvarado said. “I was going to go to work at a factory. My mom worked at a factory and it was my turn because I got pregnant.”
When Alvarado told her EOP counselor that she was pregnant, he congratulated her. She was confused because she previously thought her only option was to drop out of school.
He helped her see that her pregnancy wasn’t a dead-end road and helped her get a grant for the following year, as well as a leave of absence.
She graduated from Cal State Fullerton with her toddler at the ceremony.
With the help of the EOPS and EOP, Alvarado found her power. She is now passionate about helping others transform their lives through the power of education and guidance.
Duong Nguyen, a 20-year-old studio art major, benefited from EOPS at OCC from spring 2018 until spring 2019 and now attends Cal State Long Beach.
Nguyen worked in the EOPS office through the work-study program at OCC. Now that he attends CSULB, he said that he wishes he had the intimacy of the EOPS guidance at OCC.
He said that it was encouraging to be around students and staff who wanted to make a difference.