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The secret to their success: Leadership culture creates high expectations for underserved students enrolled in Centenary University’s Educational Opportunity program

Graduate from North Brunswick, NJ, is a recent recipient of the EOP Outstanding Achievement Award from the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education’s Office.

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) – As a high school student, Brandon Yu couldn’t envision himself attending college. A resident of North Brunswick, NJ, he faced two major hurdles that many first generation college students encounter: Scarce financial resources and lack of knowledge about the college admissions process.

“There were points when I didn’t know if I would go to college,” said Yu, the son of Taiwanese immigrants. “Most of the time, it was just my mom and me trying to figure out how to apply to college and for financial aid.”

Then, a basketball coach introduced him to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at Centenary University. The EOP provides underserved students with academic, social, and financial support to pursue their college degree. Last May, Yu earned a degree in business management from Centenary with concentrations in sports and entertainment management and social media marketing, as well as a minor in criminal justice. He was also a recipient of the Educational Opportunity Fund Outstanding Achievement Award from the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Leadership and Public Administration at Centenary.

As an incoming freshman, Yu benefitted from an intensive six-week summer program designed to immerse new EOP students in college life, while cultivating strong bonds between

participants. Yu recalled, “It really prepared me for the college curriculum. Every day, we were up at 6 am, and there was a tight schedule of classes, trips, and bonding experiences required. By the time the fall semester started, I had already completed my first college classes. It prepared us as a group in terms of what to expect. We weren’t afraid to be leaders.”

Mentorship is a key component of the program. EOP Director Devon Vialva, who earned an undergraduate degree from Centenary in 1997 and a master’s in 2008, and Assistant Director Eunice Boyd foster plenty of opportunities for Centenary EOP alumni to interact with current students. Juniors and seniors enrolled in the program are also on hand to mentor younger students. Yu said it’s no coincidence that EOP students hold many of the leadership roles in the University’s Student Government Association.

“The program is designed to develop leaders,” explained Yu, who was a member of the Centenary men’s basketball team. “It’s the culture of the EOP at Centenary. There’s an expectation that we will be the best we can possibly be. Devon and Eunice have built a culture where everyone feels they have a responsibility to lead in some way. We all have contributions to make.”

As he pursues his master’s, Yu gives back to Centenary as a graduate assistant residence life director and volunteer coach with the Cyclone men’s basketball team. He also makes time to mentor current EOP students, stopping by the EOP office almost every day: “I love giving back and helping out younger students because I know what the EOP did for me. I will always want to help out.”

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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