SUNY Cortland senior earns EOP’s highest honor

SUNY Cortland senior earns EOP’s highest honor

04/15/2024 

SUNY Cortland senior Katelyn Thompson makes college look easy.

The Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority member served on the Student Activities Board planning fairs and other extracurricular activities for classmates. She interned with the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association. She sang with the Cortland vocal ensemble A Cappella. She’s coached high school students to advance their careers.

But for Thompson — who has lined up an almost fully paid graduate school placement toward a career in speech pathology — appearances can be deceiving. She said her pursuit of higher education has been quite challenging.

“The Educational Opportunity Program at Cortland (EOP) is the reason I’ve been able to be so successful in college,” said Thompson, a dual degree candidate in speech and hearing science and communication studies from East Elmhurst, N.Y. After just four years, she’s on track to earn both a B.S. and B.A. in May.

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Katelyn Thompson

Recently Thompson was named one of only 52 honorees from campuses across the 64-campus SUNY system to earn a 2024 Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence.

The McConney Award honors the late co-architect of the EOP, a graduate of the University at Albany and former assistant dean for special programs at SUNY. McConney was a champion for addressing inequities faced by underrepresented populations.

Thompson, the fifth SUNY Cortland student to be honored in the award’s five years of existence, will be formally recognized at an April 18 ceremony in Troy, N.Y.

“Katelyn is well deserving as she is our highest performing student and most involved on the campus and in the community,” said Cortland EOP Director Lewis Rosengarten.

“She expects a lot from herself and pushes herself very hard,” said Cortland EOP Senior Academic Counselor Judy Stoddard M ’10. “This is shown by her double major and how well she does in both. Katelyn puts her all in whatever she does, but most of all she is a kind and thoughtful person. We are so proud of her.”

Tanya Maggs, SUNY Cortland’s associate director of event management, supervised Thompson as a student intern in Fall 2022.

“She was a wonderful intern,” said Maggs of Thompson, who helped run numerous alumni events at the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House, including Hall of Fame Weekend, baseball reunion and Harvest of Gold. “She did very well in engaging with our alums. She’s a very hard-working individual, eager to learn. I knew then she was going to do a lot of great things.”

Thompson loved growing up in the Queens, Jackson Heights and Flushing area of metropolitan New York.

“Queens is the world’s borough, it’s super diverse,” she said. “My friends were from all around the world, and it was a unique experience growing up around them.”

Thompson always knew she must pay for college herself. Her father works at two jobs to support the family while her mother is a fulltime caregiver to Thompson’s two older sisters with special needs.

“I could have gone to a CUNY school and that’s where most people where I’m from go,” said Thompson, who attended John Bowne High School in Flushing, N.Y., with roughly 4,000 students.

“But I wouldn’t have done as well,” she said “Bowne did not offer much academic support meant to prepare you for college.

“In order for me to do well in college I needed to get out of my house,” Thompson said. “I had no space to study. When I’m at home I sleep on a couch in my living room. Here at Cortland, people complain about living in a dorm, but I say, ‘I finally have half a room for me, myself and I.’

In her sophomore and junior years, Thompson served SAB as events coordinator and president, respectively.

“It was nice and fun getting that creative experience, because you have such a large budget of money, you have a team,” Thompson said of organizing major events like Cortaca Week and Spring Fling. “You just have fun with it and can be creative.”

Besides its tuition stipend, EOP also helped Thompson, always a strong writer, improve her academic profile with extra hours of tutoring in sciences and a speech class.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m going to graduate in May,” said Thompson.

“Without having to worry about money, I’ve been able to focus on all the extracurriculars in college,” she said. “My extracurriculars are probably what got me all my graduate school offers (roughly one dozen) because they are what set me apart.”

A member of Chi Alpha Epsilon, the national honor society for the Educational Opportunity Program, she also earned the Highest EOP cumulative and semester GPA and made the President’s List. She mentors new EOP students for EOP COR 101, a required transitional course for first-year EOP students.

To support her education, Thompson has done work-study jobs on the Corey Union information desk and with the Advisement and Transition Office. She is a campus tour guide and, for the last two years during school breaks, has served her former high school as a Bridge to College Coach through the College Bound Initiative.

The EOP serves more than 10,000 SUNY students a year. It supports a diverse student body, and many participants are the first in their family to go to college. In its 56-year history, the EOP has served more than 85,000 students and evolved into one of the country's most successful college access programs.


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