College wasn’t always in the cards for Jevon Wilkes, having grown up in a group home within the Department of Children and Family Services in East Los Angeles. It wasn’t until high school that Wilkes began to become aware of opportunities that would eventually lead him to the California State University.

Wilkes had been enrolled in special education classes when he heard of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a national college readiness program that develops students’ critical thinking, literacy and math skills.

Although he didn’t initially qualify for his high school’s AVID program, Wilkes was determined to be involved and, once accepted, excelled with the help of teachers and counselors.

Instructors in the AVID program helped Wilkes get involved in Upward Bound, a federal program designed to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students. Through Upward Bound, Wilkes was able to visit several CSU campuses, falling in love with Cal State Channel Islands (CSUCI) for its small campus and unique location. 

Wilkes then learned about the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) which provides educational access and opportunity for low-income and economically-disadvantaged students throughout California.

The EOP, which began at California State University Long Beach in 1967, helps students through the admissions process and provides financial assistance and additional academic services once accepted to college. 

Maria de la luz Flores, CSUCI’s former EOP coordinator, was influential in helping Wilkes get accepted to the university and walked him through the process of securing housing and other resources.

“Without Maria and EOP, I wouldn’t have been accepted to Channel Islands,” says Wilkes. “She believed in me and advocated for me, making sure that I went to the college I wanted to go to.

Once accepted to CSUCI, Wilkes began to thrive academically and emotionally, finding a home within his community of EOP peers and counselors.

In addition to providing academic resources such as intensive advising, student success workshops, and tutoring, the EOP connects students with peer mentors and friends. This sense of community contributes to retention by increasing student engagement, a key tenant of the CSU’s Graduation Initiative, which aims to close achievement gaps for traditionally underserved students such as Wilkes.

“EOP not only has staff and faculty that have shown support but we as EOP students show each other support,” says Wilkes. “This was my first family – my first group – at Channel Islands.”

“I bonded with the other students in the program because we had similar backgrounds. They understood the challenges I was facing, and we were able to lean on each other when we needed to.”

Wilkes continued to feel supported by his EOP family throughout his time at CSUCI. The EOP connected him with staff, faculty and campus leaders so that he always knew where to go when he had questions or needed help.

Following his graduation in 2012, Wilkes began giving back to his community as director of communications with Echoes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and emotional support to at-risk and foster youth, encouraging them to pursue higher education, where he continues to volunteer as a foster advisor.

Wilkes also works with Transforming Lives, Cultivating Success, an outreach organization in Sacramento County that provides mental health recovery programs including crisis and housing resources. 

While the EOP has been an essential resource for Wilkes in helping to achieve his academic and personal goals, he doesn’t play down the role his own determination played in his success.

“One piece of advice I have for youth going through the same thing I did is to work hard and reach out to people who can help you succeed,” says Wilkes. “You may have more challenges to overcome than the average person, but keep having hope and never stop working toward your dreams.” 

To find out more about the CSU’s EOP and how it supports student success, visit: https://www.calstate.edu/sas/eop/.