First graduates of Educational Opportunity Program reflect on experience

Student poses in graduation attire.

Ruasl Attaa Aldhaheri was one of the first four graduates of Penn State Lehigh Valley's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). She received her degree in biobehavioral health this spring. 

Credit: Ruasl Attaa Aldhaheri

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) was established four years ago with the idea of giving promising students the extra support and resources needed to bolster their chances of college success.

The program is paying big dividends, with the first group of EOP students receiving their degrees at the spring commencement ceremony. The graduates are: Ruasl Attaa Aldhaheri, bachelor’s degree in biobehavioral health; Fadi Giacobbe, associate degree in business administration; Aliyah Major, bachelor’s in rehabilitation and human services; and Jasmine Morocho, bachelor’s in corporate communication.

Attaa Aldhaheri, Major and Morocho all started the program in the fall of 2018, with Giacobbe joining later.

Admissions held a special ceremony for the students and supporters of the program at the end of the spring semester. There, the students received a custom-handmade pin with the words "EOP" created by Gallery Director and Arts Coordinator Ann Lalik. The pins were cast in bronze using the lost wax process, and each one was individually made using plastic letters that were saved when PSU-LV moved from Fogelsville to Center Valley in 2009. The letters were part of the old-fashioned letter boards that were used for campus signage during the 1970s.

An equal opportunity program funded by the University and referred to as the “Lion-Hearted Initiative,” EOP is designed to meet the needs of first-year, first-time students who could benefit from additional academic and financial support while pursuing their degree. Those enrolled in the program are primarily first-generation college students, according to Coordinator of Student Success Aziza Damweber.

“I’m very proud of our first class of graduates and I look forward to seeing what comes next for each of them,” Damweber said. "For me, the best part of working with the EOP students has been the one-on-one relationships I've formed. Those relationships are the heart of my role here at Penn State. It has been an honor getting to witness and support the academic and personal growth of these EOP students through the years.”

“EOP really helped me succeed,” Major said. “I loved having mentors to come to and vent to when I was going through some problems or hiccups. It was just a great program to receive advice and help.”

Brought to the campus by Director of Enrollment Services Denise O’Neill, EOP facilitates student transitions from high school to college readiness. There’s a significant focus on academic development, but the program also aims to help students build confidence, enhance their social skills and broaden their career horizons.

Students in the program receive extensive resources, including educational grant funding; study skills coursework; access to tutoring; personal, academic and career support services; a personal coach; specialized student success seminars; and participation in the pre-college Summer Bridge Program.

For Attaa Aldaheri, the program made the transition to college life significantly easier.

“EOP has been a big part of my college career,” said Attaa Aldhaheri. “The scholarship was a huge help, as well as having Aziza for guidance. She was my go-to person for any questions I had, and she always checked in with me to make sure I got what I needed. She was not only able to assist me during college, but she also provided me with post-graduate opportunities.”

Morocho said she started receiving guidance from the program “even before stepping onto the PSU-LV campus.”

“Getting to see the program grow from the very start was really great,” Morocho said. “The Summer Bridge Program provided me with a lot of guidance. And obviously the financial help helped me a lot. Aziza and Dr. O’Neill always kept us on our toes in terms of deadlines, so we were always prepared. I made a lot of friends through the program, and having the chance to meet the incoming students and give them tips was very rewarding. It helped me break out of my shell, too, and Aziza was a big part of that.”

Now, Morocho finds herself recommending EOP to friends who are applying to PSU-LV. And she’ll no doubt be putting the skills she gained in the program to good use later this summer, when she’ll begin a marketing and sales development internship at Disney World.

“I like that the program wasn’t just academic,” Morocho said. “It allowed me to grow personally as well.”

For more information on PSU-LV’s Educational Opportunity Program, including how to apply, visit