On December 14, 2020, State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Dr. Jim Malatras hosted a virtual Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Honors Awards Ceremony recognizing the achievements of 45 students from 49 SUNY campuses statewide. Elaine Champagne-Lewis of Niagara County Community College (NCCC) was chosen to receive the 2020 Norman R. McConney, Jr. Award for EOP Student Excellence, which celebrates EOP students who have overcome significant obstacles in life to achieve their educational and personal goals. The award is named after the late Norman McConney, one of the architects of the statewide EOP program and a champion of youth empowerment. The EOP program provides academic support services, counseling, advisement and financial assistance to historically under-served students from low-income families in New York.
A mother of two, Elaine is a non-traditional student who was motivated to pursue a degree in human services after working several minimum wage jobs while trying to support her family. “I struggled so much to get by, and I want to set an example for my kids,” says Elaine. A friend encouraged her to look into studying at NCCC and Elaine worked with an advisor who helped her through the process of enrolling. Once on campus, she saw that she met the qualifications for the EOP program and was accepted. “The EOP workshops helped me to learn balance and self-care, to ask questions when I don’t understand things and connected me to appropriate resources when I needed help.”
Since enrolling at NCCC, Elaine has excelled. “Elaine has consistently demonstrated the utmost commitment, perseverance, and resiliency in pursuing her academic goals. She has maintained a perfect GPA throughout two semesters of the pandemic while also working as a single mother to not only provide for her children, but help assist in their education as well. Her strength and dedication is an inspiration to me as her advisor and I believe her example can be an inspiration to others,” states Ted Mallwitz, the EOP Academic Support Specialist who nominated Elaine for the EOP Award for Student Excellence.
When asked if she had any advice for other non-traditional students in a similar circumstance, Elaine offered the following: “Ask questions and put in the effort, because it will pay off. There are so many people ready and willing to help you if you just ask. Going back to school feels like something you can’t do, but just put one foot in front of the other to make changes in your life.” Elaine expects to finish her degree at NCCC in the fall of 2021 and plans to continue her education at Buffalo State College studying social work. She currently participates in an internship with a local substance abuse and mental health organization where she hopes to gain full-time employment after graduation.