Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program celebrates 55th anniversary 

A program that supports first-generation and low-income students reflects on more than five decades of student success

Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program turns 55 this year. A federally funded TRIO program, EOP motivates and enables low-income and first-generation students whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree to enter and succeed in higher education.    

The program celebrates their anniversary annually with a special event to honor the program’s history and impact on students. 

“This celebration brings together EOP scholars, alumni, faculty, staff, supporters and community partners to reflect on the program’s legacy and renew their commitment to its mission of promoting educational equity and access,” says Laiya Thomas, executive director of EOP. 

Founded by internationally recognized education leader Dr. Arnold Mitchem, Marquette’s program started in 1969 with just 40 students and now annually serves over 300 first-generation and income-ineligible undergraduate students. 

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore

With over 2,000 EOP alumni, Marquette hosts an impressive alumni list. One success story is U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore. Starting college as a single expectant mother on welfare, Moore overcame her challenges with the help of the TRIO program. 

“I wouldn’t be a member of Congress if it wasn’t for the Educational Opportunity Program,” Moore explained. “It helped me finish school and provided me with amazing support that allowed me to care for my baby girl and focus on my studies. My degree from Marquette set me on a bright path that allowed me to be competitive in the job market. I firmly believe that education is a great equalizer, and that’s why I remain a champion of TRIO programs in Congress and serve as co-chair of the Congressional TRIO Caucus.” 

The program’s success has been self-fulfilling, leading students to return to it. Steven Robertson, now associate director of pre-college programs, started in the pre-college student program, Upward Bound and eventually attended Marquette as an EOP student himself.  

“Despite growing up in challenging circumstances, I found staff who saw something in me, believed in my potential and had high expectations,” Robertson says. “This experience inspired me to believe in my own potential, leading me to graduate from Marquette University and eventually join the staff.” 

The program works to meet students’ needs in a multitude of ways. To start, there are the pre-college programs, the two oldest being Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math & Sciences, which work with students to help develop self-confidence, self-discipline and the responsible nature needed to build a strong foundation for high school, college and life. These programs serve over 1,000 first-generation and income-eligible pre-college students yearly.  

“Working at Marquette allows me to demonstrate that hard work transcends backgrounds and circumstances, showing that the sky’s the limit for every student, regardless of their circumstances, upbringing or experiences,” Robertson says. 

Then there’s the work with undergraduate students through EOP Student Support Services and the McNair Scholars. SSS provides a network of services designed to increase the probability that each student succeeds in the university. McNair Scholars encourages eligible sophomores, juniors and seniors to prepare for doctoral study. 

Thomas has been supporting students in the program since 2008. She likens the program to a beacon of hope and opportunity, embodying the university’s commitment to care for the world — making a tangible impact on the lives of individuals in its community. 

“EOP is not just a program but a cornerstone of Marquette’s mission to educate and empower individuals to make a positive difference in the world,” Thomas says. “It embodies the university’s commitment to excellence, service and the greater good, making it an essential component of campus life and culture.”