Out of opportunity comes success

Jessica Cabrera

It’s quite evident that the HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) program as offered and coordinated on the Alfred University (AU) campus is a successful venture.

Nadine Shardlow, director, believes the program’s campus reputation has been continuously improving as HEOP students have emerged as campus leaders. (See separate story on Nadine Shardlow.)

Those leadership skills have translated well into the professional lives of graduates. Several HEOP alumni recently took the time to think about their AU experience and how the program brought them to the successful career paths they are on today. 

Akeem CaballeroAkeem Caballero ’05 is a social media marketing assistant for a mobile advertising network and also a freelance online marketing consultant. 

“My experiences at Alfred taught me a lot,” said Caballero. “While at AU, I was always involved and soon became the go-to guy for what was happening on campus. With that unofficial title, I became a member of the student chapter of the American Marketing Association, where I was vice president of publicity.” He served the same position in Student Senate. 

“Now, I spend a lot of time sharing the important information to a particular demographic and enjoy learning about the emerging technology of mobile apps and advertising,” he explained.

Caballero believes “HEOP was the fundamental key to me being where I am today. I always knew that I wanted to work in marketing and I always knew that I would fit perfectly in an environment where I was allowed to be who I am without having to mold into a particular group. HEOP gave me the opportunity to grow as an individual and has supported me through all of my successes and I cannot wait for the chance to give back. 

“The entire Alfred experience has played a particularly large role in my life,” Caballero continued. “As clichéd as it may sound, I really was inspired to be an individual while at AU and I will continue to be that person as I grow even more so that I can become an inspiration for others. In a nutshell, I am a child of the Alfred experience.”

Today, a year removed from campus life, Caballero is focusing on his career. However, “I am still very much involved with the HEOP program and will always be. I’m just a regular 23-year-old trying to enjoy life while working hard and playing hard in the big ‘ol New York City.” 

Jessica Cabrera ’08 is assistant director for Academic Advisement at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx.

“My in-classroom experiences at AU did not influence my career choice as much as my extracurricular activities ... purely unintentional,” she admitted. “I loved AU and being involved was a way to become a part of the community, meet new people, and ultimately a part of who I am. Little did I know that my extracurricular activities could turn into a full-fledged career in higher education! Thoroughly enjoying being involved on campus, one never thinks they can turn it something more, let alone a career. 

And HEOP was there as well.

“What hasn’t HEOP done to help me? HEOP provided me with GRE test prep opportunities in order to prepare for my postgraduate studies, for which I am forever grateful. HEOP provided me with a family that I am forever bonded with, many who also happen to work in higher education. 

That campus support continues today.

 “I am able to pick up the phone and call Michele (Doorley, counselor) or Nadine) and ask for professional advice,” said Cabrera.

“During my time at AU I envisioned having a career in student activities. When I was in graduate school, I started focusing my work on opportunity programs as well as student activities. The powers that be kept steering in me in the direction of academic advisement. I fell in love with advisement. I did not realize the profound effect HEOP had on me professionally.

“To be able to give back to other students as an advisor touches my soul,” continued Cabrera. “Apparently my HEOP adviser Michele thought I was a good fit for advising as well but she left that up to me figure out! 

“HEOP helped me to know that no matter where I came from and what my background is, they believed in my success. There are absolutely no judgments from the first day you start the summer program till your last day at AU,” said Cabrera. “The past is the past. HEOP helps you to focus on your future as well as the person you will become. Till this day I know that no matter where I go personally and professionally I have a permanent cheerleader.

“The best way to describe my support network at AU is with the African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’” 

Shawn IsaacsShawn Isaacs ’08 works in the Student Affairs Division at Alfred State College as the Residence Director for Braddon Hall. 

He recalls his early academic days at AU.

“After having an unsuccessful semester as a pre-med major, I met with my adviser to try to figure out my next move. She gave me a list of classes being offered the following semester and told me to choose a few that looked interesting (simple and brilliant!). Luckily for me, it just so happened that a majority of the classes I thought looked interesting fell under the criminal justice and sociology majors!

 “During my undergraduate experience, and even when graduation approached, I was unsure of how I was going to transfer my education into a career,” remembers Isaacs. “Even though I was uncertain of what I would be doing, the education I received enhanced my critical thinking skills, gave me the courage to challenge ‘factual information’ and make my own discoveries, and generally gave me the tools and information I needed to be successful beyond college. This coupled with my interest and passion for the social sciences and making a difference would lead the way.

“Extracurricular activities had a major impact on my choice of career,” said Isaacs. “I was very involved with student activities, being a member, if not an executive board member, if not the president of a few different clubs, organizations, or advisory boards on campus. In addition, I served on judicial boards, helped coordinate statewide conferences, and orchestrated many events for entertainment and for charity. 

“It was not only my work with student activities that lead me to where I am now, but also my experience as a resident assistant (RA). For five semesters I had the opportunity to lead, learn, and grow. I was able to see the small-scale and the large-scale impact RAs could have on someone’s college experience. I not only wanted to help make someone else’s college experience more enjoyable and rewarding but I also wanted to use my background and personal experiences to help motivate others to excel, no matter the circumstances. 

“HEOP has helped me develop as a person by giving me the opportunity to start over and create a better life. Before getting my acceptance letter to AU, I was at a point where things could potentially go one of two ways, one road looked good and the other, not so good. Being able to come to Alfred and surround myself with positive influences; relating to my peers in HEOP, many of who were coming from similar situations; being able to sit down and have important developmental conversations with my HEOP counselor — it all gave me the strength and passion I needed to tell myself  ‘this will get done and I will succeed.’ I envisioned myself walking across that stage during graduation, diploma in hand. 

“Because of HEOP, I was granted access to opportunities and experiences I never dreamed of before… and because of that, I wanted to take advantage of as many of them as possible. I took nothing for granted and always wanted to be one of the best at whatever I did.

Isaacs has taken the same approach since leaving AU.

“Since AU, I have interned at Yale University, earned a master’s degree from the University of New Haven, have lived in sunny South Carolina, and have moved back to a town that I like calling HOME… to Alfred, where I use my background and personal experiences to help motivate others to excel in school and in life. 

“There’s this thing we say in HEOP… that if you take a couple of the letters in HEOP and switch them around, you can spell HOPE. 

When I think specifically about how my HEOP experience has helped me to become successful, philosophically, I would have to say that my supervisory approach is reflective of and influenced by the type of community we had as an HEOP ‘family.’

“The family atmosphere that HEOP creates helps students feel more comfortable in approaching a counselor if they need help. As a Residence Director, I keep that in mind when I advise, guide, and mentor my staff of RAs. The best advice I can give to my staff is to create a similar atmosphere… one of understanding and acceptance. When you have that respect, you can have the substantive developmental conversations students need to succeed. Not only that, but students will then have those conversations with each other, helping each other learn and grow. My conversations with students are certainly more substantive because of HEOP.”

Asia PinaAsia Pina, ’05 is an educational advocate at the Legal Aid Society. 

“I represent clients who have been arrested and suspended for the same charge. My advocacy at the Superintendent suspension hearings and educational issues play a significant role in the dispositional decisions of the Family Court Judge. 

“I took classes in sociology and criminal justice where the importance of advocating for people in need was confirmed. However, I had no idea I was going to be an educational advocate or took any classes in that field but I knew I was leading myself in that direction,” said Pina.  

 “My involvement in Poder Latino, RAICES performances and HEOP Conferences taught me how to work with a multitude of different characters and personalities,” said Pina. “I had to step out of my comfort zone and at times compromise my own desires for the success of the event. As an advocate I have no choice but to work with different personas and try to negotiate some of my decisions in the cases to get a better outcome.” 

HEOP has translated into opportunity for Pina.

“Through the HEOP summer program we had the opportunity to learn about our colleagues, roommates, and ourselves. We also had the privilege of developing lifelong friendships with some of these students. Thankfully,” said Pina, “through this program I met some my close friends. I got my current position through an internship post college. I was then able to extend my hand to other HEOP graduates by getting them employment.”

Pina continued, “If it was not for HEOP I would not be able to afford a higher educational outside of New York City. Through this program I was able to learn things about myself that I would not have the opportunity to do so. Hundreds of students in New York City would appreciate and take advantage of programs like HEOP but unfortunately due to economic reasons some of them will not share the same experience. 

“Dan Napolitano and Nadine Shardlow helped me grow up in all aspects of my life, including, personally, academically and professionally. I have no words to describe how thankful I am for their contribution to AU students, especially the small minority population.”

In addition to her “day job,” Pina is very much involved in her community.

“I have been the director of the Salem Dance Ministry at Salem Temple since I graduated in 2005. I am responsible for the leadership and administration aspect of this team. We are a group of worship dancers from the age of 13 and up. We choreograph different genres of dance and implement them in church performances. In addition, we evangelize … through dance at community events and programs. We also travel to different states to learn new skills to implement to the dances. I also organize fundraisers that help us with the travel expenses. I have prepared the dance group to compete in the Assemblies of God National Fine Arts Festival in Pennsylvania and Florida.” 

Read about current HEOP students













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