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Skidmore College
Opportunity Program (OP)

Summer 2021 Opportunity Program Newsletter

Back in Our Groove: An In-Person Summer Academic Institute.

We did it! Summer Academic Institute is back to (semi-)normal as we offer a warm welcome to our new class.

2021 Summer Academic Institute

Thirty-seven incoming students from near and far, nine Skidmore faculty members, six tutors, three residential advisors, and one hectic OP office came together to make it all happen this summer: a successful return to the in-person Summer Academic Institute experience! We faced all manner of challenges, and the incoming OP Class of ‘25 came out victorious. We’re happy to report that everyone stayed healthy, had fun, and learned a ton over the course of our five weeks together.

Students and faculty alike were excited to be back in the classroom together, and some really fantastic work took shape from this energy. We were impressed with how readily students dove into their coursework after a somewhat unconventional past year! They got to really shine under the tutelage of folks from all across Skidmore campus, with wonderful faculty from Physics, Anthropology, International Affairs, Sociology, English, and World Languages and Literatures offering a hand to guide the students into their college experience. 

2021 Summer Academic Institute (2)

But the summer was not all work and no play! Many of the now traditional SAI off-campus adventures were back in action. Students got to experience a handful of quintessentially local experiences, from a fun day rollerskating, driving go-karts, and playing laser tag to a visit to a nearby farm for berry-picking. They also put together a talent show with some mind-blowing musical performances. These folks have real skill! The students spent their evenings playing games outdoors across campus and cultivating the practice - already taking shape as a new tradition among some - of twilight walks around the pond. They took to the Skidmore environs well and really did a thorough job of exploring campus. In future years, we hope to build on this inquisitiveness even more with SAI hikes and exploration of Northwoods!

As we had the good fortune that some pandemic precautions were lessened, OP Class of 2025 were also the first group of students to be welcomed to the Scribner House by President Marc Conner. They gathered for an afternoon ice cream and fruit social that included some frolicking in the lawn, some lovely chats, and even some dancing! OP was grateful for the invite, and we can’t wait for our next visit with the President.

We have to give a hand to everyone involved with SAI for doing their best to make it a safe, fun, and productive summer! It was a fitting welcome to the great scholars of the OP Class of 2025!

2021 Events & Programming

OP kept the exciting events rolling through the pandemic and never slowed down. Our diverse programming focused on emotional support, career resources, and pizza that looked so good you could smell it through the computer screen. 

OP events (1)Even while trapped in our Zoom boxes throughout the spring semester, OP events and collaborations managed a whopping 130 attendees. The shift in format couldn’t impede our usual schedule of emotional support, intellectual stimulation, and even a little fun.

Way back at the start of the year, our programming kicked off with another - and hopefully our final! - round of quarantine programming for students arriving on campus during the worst of the pandemic. As these returning students were stuck in their hotel rooms alone, we tried to lighten the mood and keep them entertained with virtual events including an Among Us game night, a movie night featuring a screening of One Night in Miami, and some casual Zoom lunch hangouts.

The quarantine programming also featured the kickoff of our annual spring semester OP Reading Group, which then ran throughout the semester. Many students were drawn in by the energetic discussions of Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s recent book The Undocumented Americans. Students were floored at the way the book weaves together stories of undocumented folks across the country with Cornejo Villavicencio’s own life story. Many students felt profound connections between the innovative storytelling and their own experiences. A group of Reading Group participants even got the chance to attend (remotely, of course) a spinoff event to hear Cornejo Villavicencio read and talk about her work.

Starting in March and continuing through the semester, some exceptional and essential wellness events took shape as OP teamed up with Skidmore Wellness, the Office of Student Diversity Programs, and Root3d, an Albany-based organization focused on mind/body/spirit practices. The series created space for students to increase their awareness of their own emotional needs, advocate for themselves, share wellness resources, develop stress management skills and wellness techniques, and create their personal self-care plans. We were very happy to see that these events had strong attendance and that students are prioritizing self-care. There will be more to come on this issue, for sure!

Also throughout the month of March, OP launched a multifaceted March Madness workshop series to hype students up for all things career-oriented. Though our NCAA brackets might have been busted quickly, this series was without question a safe bet with events focused on Job/Internship Searching, Interviewing & Networking, Summer Experience Fund Essay Writing, and Adulting. Each unique event tackled a different piece of the career prep, job search, and life skills puzzle, and we offered weekly walk-in hours to complement the formal events with individual support for students with further questions.

OP events (2)The inaugural OP Peer Mentoring Program concluded in May 2021, and some clear successes were visible in the program as mentor and mentee relationships took shape. The program retained 8 mentors who offered support and guidance to 18 mentees. Although this was a difficult year due to COVID restrictions, the pairs were able to foster valuable relationships and gain support through sharing their experiences. As we move into fall, the Peer Mentor Program Committee is excited that the new set of mentors will have even more opportunities to connect and build community with the incoming mentees.        

Once again, OP students were focused and prepared in planning meaningful summer internships and experiences, which was reflected in taking home a bounty of Summer Experience Fund awards! 24 OP students in total secured funding through SEF to enable them to take on creative summer projects and to get experience in their fields. A huge congratulations goes out to Justin Adams ‘23, Haja Bah ‘21, Sarah Balkaran’24, Katy Ballo ‘21, Yalinel Beltre ‘21, Jeo Bravo ‘23, Yordy Cabrera Garcia’22, Bryan Cuzco-Sinchi ‘23, Nsetselelo Dlamini ‘24, Melissa Dowell ‘21, Kayleigh Duggan ‘24, Elizabeth Gimba ‘23, Juemoore Gordon ‘23, Ulele Kachilele ‘23, Jose Nunez ‘23, Ha Yun Park ‘22, Alexandra Polynice ‘22, Brianna Richute ‘21, Bella Rodriguez ‘23, Malika Sawadogo ‘24, Amber Soucy ‘22, Jordana Suriel ‘21, Julian Tushabe ‘22, and Valeria Visser Galván ‘23. We can’t wait to hear more about what they accomplished as folks return for the fall.

OP events (3)Our most popular - and most delicious - event of the year was a new edition: Cooking with Kelli! OP Director Kelli Johnson took her cooking acumen to the small screen and hosted her very own cooking show. She walked students through a step-by-step tutorial for making pizza from scratch, and she even included a Q&A to guide students through improvising the recipe with whatever cooking implements they had on hand in their dorms. Who would’ve thought you could make decent pizza in an air fryer? Everyone had a great time, and some delicious looking food resulted. This is an event we can’t wait to experience in an in-person setting this fall!

We made the most of a challenging year and still managed exciting and productive programming, but now we’re ready to ride that energy back into some in-person events! Fall, here we come!



op student spotlight

Meet some of the real stars of the show: The students of OP! The last year hasn’t slowed down their amazing journeys one bit.

Anngelise Benitez '25Anngelise “Anngie” Benitez, Class of ‘25

Hello! My name is Anngelise Benitez, but I prefer to be called Anngie. I'm originally from New York City, specifically Washington Heights and Inwood from a predominantly Dominican neighborhood called Dyckman. I attended a program called The Opportunity Network where I was able to connect to different alumni and college students, and one day I was introduced to Skidmore College. I was interested in the academics and what HEOP had to offer me.

During my time in high school, I was invited to join an engineering program called BlueStamp Engineering. During that program, I was able to work on a project where I coded a glove to detect any object that would come near it and alert its user. I really enjoyed doing that project, and that is why at Skidmore I plan on pursuing Engineering and Neuroscience. I specifically want to work on creating prosthetics and artificial organs, and then being able to create them and distribute them globally across different communities.

During my time on campus I plan on joining the volleyball team. I'm also really interested in track and field. I would like to create an official Track and Field Club and connect to other schools so that we can have competitions. I think as well that I might try out for the Peace Corps in order to volunteer and get experience helping different communities. I also like to digitally draw and explore nature. When it comes to nature I like to discover abandoned places and paths and artifacts. Exploring the unknown is the reason why I try new things. I also am interested in watching horror movies and enjoying both creepy and spooky places, movies, and artifacts.

Overall, I look forward to starting my fall semester at Skidmore, and I look forward to being able to build friendships and connections.

Roger Miguel Mercado '22Roger Miguel Mercado, Class of ‘22

Hello, everyone.  My name is Roger Miguel Mercado, and I’m a rising senior here at Skidmore. I’m from the Bronx, NY, and I’m both Mexican and Dominican but raised mostly within a Mexican household. My parents always enforced the idea of working hard to get what you want, and I did just that in high school and extracurriculars in order to get here. I didn’t initially think this would be my destination, but after being accepted into the HEOP program and visiting campus, I was sold on the idea of becoming a skid-kid.

I came to Skidmore not entirely sure what it was that I wanted to do, but, after taking a couple of Environmental Science classes, I made the decision to become an ES major! Part of this was because I love the outdoors. I’ve always liked being active and working in the field, and the sciences have always been super interesting to me.

As for future career goals, I’m not entirely sure if I want to continue within a research role or maybe move into some policy. There are a lot of opportunities within this major, and it can take you just about anywhere around the globe; that’s honestly exciting! At the moment I’m doing research on Dome Island on Lake George, and the goal is mainly to create maps of canopy openness using past data sets and our own collected work.

Outside of school, most of my hobbies revolve around sports. I loved playing volleyball and basketball back home, and recently I’ve gotten really into mixed martial arts. I’m also a part of the Skidmore crew team and work as a dining hall supervisor. So, yeah, that’s just a little bit about me. :)

Bryan Cuzco-Sinchi '23Bryan Cuzco-Sinchi, Class of ‘23

My name is Bryan Cuzco-Sinchi, and I am a Latinx, Queer, and first-generation college student from Brooklyn, New York. I am double majoring in Social Work and Spanish. I knew nothing of Skidmore until my high school college counselor gave me a list of liberal art schools in Upstate New York and something told me to apply. When I was accepted, I was overwhelmed with imposter syndrome and could not understand how someone like me made it to a school well-known for their academics.

Upon my arrival at Skidmore, I joined Raíces, a cultural club that is a resource for Latinx students and also increases awareness of issues in the Latinx community. During my sophomore year, I was a Residential Assistant (RA) and was selected by President Connor to participate in a few search committees. This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Backstretch Employee Service Team of NY (BEST) at the Saratoga Racetrack. I received first-hand experience working with migrant workers who travel with horses from as far as Kentucky. I heard about their stories, their day-to-day schedule, and what they miss about home. After graduating, I hope to work in New York with the migrant population or move to the border and work at a detention center.

Outside of school, I like to play volleyball with my friends, travel, and do community service.

Aminatu "Toyin" Koleoso '22Aminatu “Toyin” Koleoso, Class of ‘22

I am Aminatu “Toyin” Koleoso, a rising senior originally from Nigeria. I am a double major in Management and Business and Economics and also a member of the Skidmore women’s basketball team. My journey to Skidmore can be traced back to my high school college-hunting days. I have always wanted to be at a school where I can compete athletically as well as have access to a better education. There were a lot of schools that had these characteristics, but, after visiting Skidmore twice, I felt this was the right place for me.

Looking forward, I am interested in financial advisory and business consulting because there are a lot of individuals and businesses that need advice on how to maximize their money and improve their businesses. I am also interested in having a leadership foundation in Nigeria that would provide after-school study and enrichment programs for students in middle school to help them to remain in school and have access to top-of-the-line opportunities both inside and outside of Nigeria. The reason why we will be serving these youths is because they are most at risk of dropping out of school due to financial and other socio-economic factors. I am also interested in international business and want to explore business consulting as a career. In the long run, I might look into being a professor of international businesses

In addition to my professional interests, my hobbies include singing, watching Korean dramas, and eating. I’m also an active member of the African Heritage Awareness Club.

Opeyemi Majiyagbe '25Opeyemi Majiyagbe, Class of ‘25

Hi, my name is Opeyemi Majiyagbe! Everyone calls me Opi, though. I am from Westchester, New York, and I am the oldest of four kids and a first-generation college student. I plan on majoring in Political Science and English. With those two degrees I plan to become a civil rights lawyer, because I am deeply passionate about the rights of minorities, as well as a poet, because poetry is an outlet for me.

My top two favorite activities are writing and dancing, so I am excited for the fall because I will be taking a Dance class and participating in the news club! I am really excited to be beginning my journey here at Skidmore. It feels great to be a part of two new communities: the HEOP community and the general Skidmore population community! I can't wait to be here in the fall!

Issy Beatriz Mejia '23Issy Beatriz Mejia, Class of ‘23

I'm Issy Beatriz Mejia. I grew up in the Caribbean, but live in the Bronx, NY. In my spare time, I enjoy painting, cooking, and spending time with loved ones. Before coming to Skidmore, I went to a small high school in the Bronx.  I am now a rising junior, double majoring in Psychology and Social Work.

In the future, I'd like to get my master's in forensic Social Work and work in the criminal justice system. I enjoy working with people and advocating for others. This has brought me to be involved in SGA, where I now am serving as Interim SGA President. I think I plan on running officially for the position, as I am currently the first Black person to hold this title. Aside from my involvement in SGA, I have worked as an RA and was also the Public Relations Officer for Raíces.

I spent this summer exploring a career path outside of my comfort zone as a Supplier Diversity Analyst Intern for American Express. It allowed me to learn about a new field and develop new skills while incorporating prior knowledge and experience.

Nick Cipriani '23Nick Cipriani, Class of ‘23

I’m Nick, and I'm from Cincinnati, OH. When looking for a post-secondary institution, I wanted to find a school that was far from home but that wouldn't break the bank. Skidmore provided both of those things along with some lifelong friends and an amazing OP family. I am a Computer Science major with plans for minors in Math, Chemistry, and Physics. These subjects overlap with my personal interests, as I enjoy tinkering with technology and programming in my free time. I also spend way too much time watching YouTube and other streaming platforms.

I'm open to many different career opportunities, as I'm just hoping to find a job that pays at least enough to get by. As long as I'm helping others, I think I'll be happy, but a nice pay would be the icing on top.

I'm also planning on creating a club for animal rights on campus, so keep an eye out for that if it sounds interesting to you!


Staff News

Whether thriving or merely surviving - and there were moments of both - OP staff still managed to do wonderful things throughout the year.

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Kelli Johnson, director, is quite proud of how, although this past year and a half has been quite challenging, the OP staff has continued to offer supportive services to our scholars during such difficult times. We stayed vigilant in coordinating with other offices to provide students with academic tutoring, social programming, and an awareness of mental well-being. During a spring social programming event, Cooking with Kelli!, she was pleasantly surprised to find that many scholars wanted to spend an evening learning to make their own pizzas over Zoom. With the recent departure of Assistant Director of Student Outreach, Aaron Ray, the spring semester proved to be challenging, but a new OP Class of 2025 was selected and has successfully completed the Summer Academic Institute. We were elated to have the students back on campus and are looking forward to seeing all OP scholars in the fall!

Sade Moore, assistant director of student support and advocacy, jumped right into the spring semester. She continued to serve as an advisor primarily for students returning from medical and personal leaves or having academic difficulties. She coordinated a three-part wellness series in the months of March and April with Root3ed, an Albany-based organization focused on mind/body/spirit practices, in co-sponsorship with Skidmore Wellness and the Office of Student Diversity Programs. Sade also worked with Skidmore Wellness to offer weekly meditation sessions via Zoom just for OP students. In May, Sade and the rest of the OP Peer Mentor Program Committee said farewell to their first class of mentors and mentees. She is excited to work with the next set of mentors to support the mentees from the Class of 2025.

To prepare for the 2021 Summer Academic Institute, Sade worked alongside Director Kelli Johnson to review applications and accept 37 students for the Class of 2025. For SAI, she served as an advisor, faculty liaison, and one of the COVID coordinators to support the student’s transition into the Skidmore campus community. Outside of the office, Sade served as a member of Skidmore’s Collyer VP for Advancement search committee. She also continues to serve as the Treasurer of the Higher Education Opportunity Program – Professional Organization.

Adam Evans, learning associate for humanities/social sciences, had a busy year of firsts to keep him on his toes. For one, he took on a handful of advisees throughout the academic year, which was an awesome experience of getting to know these exceptional students more closely. As this year was the first time that the recently redesigned SAI Reading and Writing courses would run in-person, he was excited to be part of the team finally teaching these linked courses in the format for which they were designed. In addition to his regular teaching duties with OP, Adam also had the opportunity to design and teach an EN 105 course for the English Department in the spring semester: Outsiders, Rebels, & Misfits. The course mined some wild territory and turned out really enjoyable! It also offered a valuable experience to get to work with excellent students at the terminal end of the Expository Writing sequence and to better understand the arc traced by many OP students starting in his HE 100: Academic Writing course and ending in EN 105. In other news - in case you were wondering - his fishing season this year has been quite productive, so he’s really hoping for a return to the annual OP hiking / fishing outing this fall! 

Devin Madkin, administrative assistant, has had her hands full preparing for SAI. She ordered backpacks, bedding sets, and all manner of supplies for the incoming students so that they would be comfortable and prepared when they arrived. She worked closely with the Head Resident Advisor during SAI to make sure they had everything they needed for weekend activities and events. She also planned another successful End of Summer Celebration. She maintains the OP social media presence to stay in touch with current and future students, and she is now preparing for the busy fall semester and working on hiring work-study students. Outside the office, Devin is working on a healthier lifestyle. She is taking a women’s weightlifting class and trying to go to the gym regularly.

Eun-sil Lee, coordinator of upper-class initiatives, has had a busy year advising, overseeing the semester-long GOAL program, and co-teaching Academic Transformations with Meghan Carpentier this past fall - in addition to all sorts of programming, both in-person and online. She also was a part of the staff committee that kicked off the OP Peer Mentor Program, which will continue in the coming academic year. This summer, she was involved in her 7th Summer Academic Institute and was happy that it was mostly in-person, which was a treat after many Zoom events in the past year. The Conversations with Alumni series was also successful this past academic year, and she’s looking forward to another year of connecting students with alumni! She also participated in an IGR faculty-staff workshop, making some new connections with faculty and staff around campus. Outside of work, she has been busy supporting the program planning for the upcoming Saratoga Book Festival. 

Meghan Carpentier, coordinator of student success and retention, spent the last 8 months working remotely from the Las Vegas area. She loved the sunshine and heat, but she is returning to Saratoga Springs to be in person for the start of the fall semester. Meghan enjoyed coordinating and presenting workshops during SAI and getting to know the incoming first-year students. She can't wait to get back to meeting with students and having in-person events again! Outside of work, she’s been enjoying Vegas and indulging in lots of good food and fun experiences. She continues to do a lot of traveling when possible - including trips to Disney World, New Orleans, a destination wedding in Mexico, and Napa Valley - and she is looking forward to an upcoming  international trip that hopefully will still happen if people stay safe! Looking back on the COVID year, she is very proud of the first year of the OP Peer Mentoring Program, as she saw some great relationships form. In general, though, she just loves working with her advisees and is excited to be back on campus with them!


ALUMNI events & opportunities

Dear OP students who have gone out into the world: We miss you! Get in touch!

Conversations with Alumni

Skidmore Opportunity Program bannerConversations with Alumni is a one-hour series created to foster connections and networking opportunities between current OP students and OP alumni. Each conversation hour is organized by industry or field of study. For instance, in the fall of 2020 we held three conversation-hours: kicking off with alumni in September in various fields, alumni currently in graduate school during October, and alumni in the  business/consulting/finance industry in November. In the spring, we had a session in February with alumni in the nonprofit/sustainability field and a session in April with alumni from NYC Schools and Daily Motion. We continue to look for any and all alumni who simply want to share their experience with our current students through one of these sessions or as a mentor. So please contact Eun-sil if you are interested in participating or have any general questions about alumni engagement and events!

Alumni Interest Form

The Opportunity Program is excited to have our alumni connect with current students, and there are multiple ways to get involved. Please click below to complete a short survey regarding ways you might be interested in engaging current OP students:  Alumni Interest Form

Our Alumni Engagement Network!

As always, we continue to build our LinkedIn network to connect Skidmore OP students, alumni, and staff. If you’re on LinkedIn, please join the group and get connected!