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Opportunity Programs Enhance Student Success

Published on October 09, 2020

Opportunity Programs Enhance Student Success

Eastern Connecticut State University’s new Opportunity Programs initiative was created to ensure that Eastern students receive they need to succeed in college. The program, which operates out of the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning (CSEL), brings together a number of existing programs to focus attention on at-risk students and other special populations. Student cohorts served by the program include Opportunity Scholars funded by the Dream.US foundation; STEP/CAP students; Hartford and New Haven Achievement First students; Higher Edge students; Hartford and New Haven Promise Scholars; and first-generation and international students.

To provide services and support to students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assistant Dean Indira Petoskey and her staff created a set of virtual workshops on a range of topics. Petoskey and Opportunity Program Specialist Maribel Sanchez recruited faculty and staff to present and conduct the workshops.

“We welcomed more than 200 students to the fall 2020 semester through virtual orientations and outside events, such as bonfires, to maintain social distancing,” said Petoskey.

Petoskey, who started an early morning series called “Finishing Strong” three years ago, has expanded the series in her role to present more workshops. “Students, faculty and staff are having fun adjusting to the new virtual landscape.”

“It’s been a huge undertaking to convert to the online format,” added Sanchez.  “The residential aspect was one of the biggest pieces — students acclimating to campus, waking up early for classes, interacting with professors — but they’ve responded well and faculty are working hard to relate things to how they would be if people were on campus.”

Each week, the program presents different workshops and activities to enhance academic skills to help students flower and grow and engage in physical and emotional self-care. Faculty and staff from across a variety of disciplines teach courses in grammar; thesis writing; succeeding in math; learning how to work with professors; organizational skills; micro aggressions; time and stress management; moving from surviving to thriving; graduating on time; and “finishing strong” — a five-part series Petoskey has conducted for the past three years.

“The new online learning environment has been both the biggest challenge and our biggest success,” said English Professor Christine Garcia, whose “Inventing the University” course explores the concept of higher education and the “institution of the university.”

In her interactive presentation on “Mindfulness and Reflective Writing,” English Professor Meredith James encouraged students to spend five to 10 minutes each day journaling. “Unleash your thoughts and let it all hang out. Let it be a stream of consciousness. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling and punctuation in the beginning.” She told students journaling can be useful in helping people deal with trauma in their lives.

Students loved the session. Malek Yahya Allari ’24, an English major from Saudi Arabia, said, “This session opened something in my mind that is now helping me construct the same words and phrases into a poem or a very short story, and I am grateful of that.”

Alyssia Rathbun ’21, a social work major from Norwich, said, “I really enjoyed the five-minute exercise of writing whatever was on our mind. It was interesting to sit and see the different places my mind would go as I thought.”

The Office of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is another presenter in the series, offering their workshop titled “Going Beyond Surviving to Thriving.”

CAPS Director Bryce Crasper cited procrastination as a major obstacle preventing students from thriving. “It can be brought on by anxiety OF COVID-19, scary, unsettling things such as the loss of relationships or job. Students may feel the pressure to get things done and pressure to do more things than they have time for.”

To cope with stress, Crasper suggests meditating; listening to music; exercise; slow breathing; eating healthy; watching movies; reading a book; and accepting challenges with a positive attitude. “Learn to be kind to yourself. Drop involvement in some activities that distract from priorities in life. See the big picture in life and ‘do it now!’”

Jocelyn Teoyotl-Rayon ’22, a Social Work major from North Carolina said, “Having a healthy balance of schoolwork and rest can be difficult, especially with the shift to online classes. Dr. Bryce Crasper’s webinar on “Going Beyond Surviving to Thriving” gave insight on steps I can take to improve my daily routine and time management.”

Gilberto Garcia is one of more than 80 STEP/CAP students who appreciates how much Petoskey — through her “Grammar Review” workshop in the summer — improved his writing. “The 20 common errors practice is an item I am reviewing and rewriting in order to have optimal knowledge of any mistakes I may make. This assignment was the most important assignment of my whole summer and continues to help me. I have read all the letters in my journal, and they all made me smile, so I thank you!”

The Opportunity Programs Office’s partnership with TheDream.US ( assists more than 200 Dream Scholars students on campus.   “Maribel has been an invaluable partner to TheDream.US since the first group of 42 Opportunity Scholars left their home states to attend Eastern,” said Hyein Lee, The Dream.US’s senior program manager of measurement and evaluation. “Since then, we have awarded over 200 students Opportunity and National scholarships to attend Eastern, and Maribel has been a key player in our Scholars’ remarkable academic performance and presence on-campus.”

Written by Dwight Bachman