Diversity and Inclusion

Celebrating 50 Years of HEOP at Marist

Leslie Bates

The Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marist marks its 50th year of making private higher education possible for deserving students.


October 23, 2019—Over the past 50 years, the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marist has provided critical academic support to nearly 500 students who otherwise might not have been able to attend a private college or university.

“It is gratifying to see that for 50 years Marist HEOP has brought the opportunity of a private education to so many deserving students who have developed into extraordinary leaders,” said Iris Ruiz-Grech, director of the Center for Multicultural Affairs/Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program. “Their contributions have positively impacted Marist and continue to do so in their communities today.”

In 1969, legislation established the Higher Education Opportunity Program at independent colleges and universities in New York State. In 2006, the state’s governor and legislature approved a name change in honor of the important role played in increasing access to higher education by Arthur O. Eve, a former New York State assemblyman representing districts in Buffalo, NY. Marist was one of the original 24 schools to participate.

HEOP is an academic access program that provides a broad range of services to New York State residents who because of academic and economic circumstances would otherwise be unable to attend a postsecondary educational institution. Jointly sponsored by New York State and Marist, HEOP also provides structured support services including a pre-freshman summer program, counseling, tutoring, and coursework. In addition to academic support, program participants receive financial assistance toward their college expenses. This fall, 15 students entered the program.

HEOP works to fully integrate its students into the Marist community, where they often take on leadership roles. HEOP students were among the founding members of campus organizations such as Black Student Union, ARCO (Appreciating Races and Creating Opportunities), and Asian Alliance and Greek organizations such as Kappa Kappa Gamma and Zeta Psi, according to Ruiz-Grech. Three HEOP students have been student body presidents.

Through their achievements, HEOP students contribute to the College’s reputation for academic excellence. Over the past three years, two HEOP students, Darriel McBride ’17 and Jaquan Jacob Arzu ’16, won prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program Grants. McBride also was named a Gates Millennium Scholar and a Humanity in Action Scholar. Dylan Lopez ’19 was awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Katherine Alvarado ’19 interned this past summer with Atlas Air and is pursuing an MS in accounting at Stony Brook University. Joseph Iradukunda ’19 is a special education teacher at Hudson Hills Academy and a community habilitation specialist at Abilities First. Leslie Lazcano ’18 is in her second year of the John Marshall Law School and is studying abroad at the University of Oxford. 

“They have to work extra hard,” said Mary Rice, assistant director of the Center for Multicultural Affairs/Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program. “They start off unprepared, but using all the support, they are able to take this opportunity and run with it. They flourish when they are here and do beautifully.”

Many HEOP alumni reach out to current students in the program. “Our alumni are really truly committed to giving back,” said Ruiz-Grech, who has been director of HEOP for 26 years and has worked at Marist nearly 30. In 2003, HEOP alumna Mariel Sosa ’02 started the HEOP Alumni Fund, which supports essential needs beyond tuition such as fare for commuting to internships, professional attire for employment opportunities, and other academic and career-related expenses not covered by financial aid or the HEOP grant. They also serve on advisory panels for students.

HEOP alumni say the program has a powerful impact. “The HEOP program and staff played a major role in helping me develop into the person I am today,” said Luis Santiago ’98, interim director of admissions at Western Connecticut State University. “They took a kid from the Bronx with raw talent and potential and provided me with the tools and confidence to be a success. I look forward to continuing to participate in HEOP alumni panels and networking events. HEOP doesn’t stop at graduation. HEOP is for life.”

“Marist’s HEOP program created a community of personal support which extends beyond my college tenure into the present day,” said Yesenia Cruz-Troy ’95. “They accomplished this by offering comprehensive, integrated, and long-lasting guidance and resources. Their mentoring contributed to my success by increasing confidence, and both addressing and validating my path after graduation. Even all these years later, I am so appreciative they were a beacon of hope for so many like me, who never thought college was an option.”

“I entered freshman year with a group of friends and left with a bigger family,” said Freddy Garcia ’09/’14MBA, regional director for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement at Westchester Medical Center Health Network. “I’d like to thank Marist/HEOP for taking a chance on me and equipping me with the tools to navigate a world unfamiliar to me, at the time. Thank you for 50 years of being the real engine of opportunity for the various generations of New Yorkers.”

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