If anybody has to wonder why senior Gabrielle Golfo was among a small group selected to become SUNY Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Ambassadors, Joey Tse –- director of the college’s EOP operation –- thinks back to summer 2018, as a bus of EOP students prepared to return to New York City.

“The bus was due to leave and they had to wait because Gabrielle wanted to personally say goodbye to every one of the 51 students on it,” Tse recalled with a laugh. “That tells you what kind of person Gabrielle is and why she is perfect for this role.”

While Golfo’s older brother attended the lakeside college, she actually chose Oswego because while other schools accepted her, Oswego was the only one to do so via EOP – which includes that summer program where students get a head start on learning about the campus, transitioning to college and starting to connect with peers.

“I realized how much support I could get being here,” said Golfo, who excels academically as a double major in public relations and in gender and women’s studies. “And that has certainly been the case –- and now I’m in a position to give back.”

EOP provides financial and academic support as well as that sense of community, and Golfo’s role is to help the program thrive and reach even more campuses to help many other students reach their full potential.

Just before the interview for this story, the Bronx native was speaking ​​with Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson and Deputy President Janet Peguero, the first Black and Hispanic women, respectively, to fulfill these key roles. In addition, Golfo was invited to the attend the Gala Dinner of this year’s New York State Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislators, where she met Gibson in person. It’s all part of her ongoing outreach to promote awareness of and support for the program. 

Her role as one of 21 SUNY EOP Ambassadors also includes working with EOP alumni, and “it’s so empowering to hear how much the program has helped them succeed,” Golfo said. “That’s really the story of EOP and I’m happy to be able to tell that story.”

Golfo provides a face and story for the nearly 10,000 EOP students on 54 SUNY campuses -- including four just added this year, which came with increased funding for more opportunities as a result of the work of Golfo and other ambassadors. “We want to get that to all 64 campuses,” Golfo noted.

Students bring their voices to the table to help guide SUNY on avenues to keep increasing access, strengthen the support EOP students need to flourish and help continue increasing retention and graduation rates.

Strong support

EOP students receive an academic planning counselor, in Golfo’s case Val Ledford, and these staff members “care a lot about you,” Golfo said. “She’s always been there for me, and she has helped me from the time I started through today.”

In nominating Golfo, Ledford used adjectives such as “very personable,” “sincere,” “conscientious,” “compassionate” and “self-sacrificing” with an “exemplary work ethic.”

Ledford recalled Golfo working as a teacher assistant for her first-year signature course where Golfo “helped first year students adjust to work in a new environment and enhance organizational skills to ensure academic success,” Ledford noted. “This past year Gabrielle served as a student EOP ambassador and formed numerous connections with incoming freshmen.”

Working for Auxiliary Services in the dining halls since her sophomore year, Golfo “received a promotion as Group Leader because of her exceptional management skills and was even rewarded the Craig D. Traub Student Employee Scholarship 2021-22,” Ledford noted. 

Student leadership

Golfo also is the president of the Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Society for outstanding students in similar access programs. “We work hard and we play hard,” Golfo said of the organization, for which she organizes and hosts weekly on campus sessions about how to succeed in college. 

She serves as director of community outreach for the Student Association, and is now the organization’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. In the latter role, she is part of the Campus-City Relations Committee, actively working to further town-gown relations. Golfo also has interned with the college’s Institute for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Transformative Practice.

“Everything I do is about getting people to work together, and I always want to let students know how much they can achieve when they get involved,” Golfo said.

That work also included hosting this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which included meeting keynote speaker Angela Davis –- an opportunity Golfo described as amazing.

“EOP is about so many opportunities, and it’s my role to make sure many more students get these opportunities and can succeed,” Golfo said.

For more information on EOP, visit the program’s website.