Higher Education Opportunity Program diversifies student success at RIT

Student Spotlight
Ashley Rivera, fourth-year biomedical sciences student

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Ashley Rivera, a fourth-year biomedical sciences student, is a member and E-Board secretary for HEOP. Each year, the program designs a T-shirt for members of the program that illustrates the Student Advisory Board theme of “Growth and Connections.” This year’s shirt was created by Rivera and is composed of a tree of words that represent the program.

Ashley Rivera is a fourth-year biomedical sciences student and member of the New York State Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, which provides academic support, financial assistance and advocacy for students who would otherwise be excluded from higher education due to academic and economic disadvantage. As if an 18-credit semester was not enough, the Rochester native also works two on-campus jobs, mentors other HEOP students, dances for the Latin Rhythm Dance Club and holds positions on three E-Boards: secretary for HEOP, co-chair for the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program and member recruiter for the Health Sciences and Technology Student Association.

Question: What brought you to RIT?
Answer: I always wanted to go into health care, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. So while I was still in high school, I worked at Rochester General Hospital through the Youth Apprenticeship Program in order to learn more about all of the different fields. My program manager pointed me toward schools that had good medical programs and that was when I started looking at RIT. I knew I wanted to stay close to my family, but it wasn’t until I met Rebecca Johnson, President Destler’s wife, during my HEOP interviews that I was convinced to become a Tiger.

Q: Why did you choose to study biomedical sciences?
A: I wanted to do the physician’s assistant program but I couldn’t get in, so I enrolled in the biomedical sciences program. I did research at Johns Hopkins last year and it was amazing but it made me realize that research wasn’t for me. After I graduate, my goal is to enroll in graduate school and become a nurse practitioner.

Q: What is HEOP?
A: HEOP helps students from New York who have an academic and financial disadvantage to getting into college. For example, although I was the valedictorian of my class, I would not have felt as prepared for college without HEOP. I can’t even describe the variety of ways that the program’s generous academic and financial support have enabled me to excel in college. With amazing tutors and great mentorship from the upperclassmen, staff and counselors, HEOP has helped me grow at RIT in my most challenging moments.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of the program?
A: Freshman year was very difficult. HEOP students actually come to school earlier than everyone else and take highly-accelerated four-week courses that teach study skills, writing skills, math, sociology and more. We had classes every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on top of that, I also had to perform my duties as Miss Puerto Rico Rochester, which I had won earlier that summer. But I got through it and as a result of that process, our class became something like a family.

Q: How do you stay motivated?
A: The expectation for the Hispanic community to thrive in college is not very high. In general, it’s really difficult for students who go to inner-city schools to even get into college. I was fortunate that my parents taught me to value education and always pushed me to learn more. I make sure that I excel because I refuse to be another negative statistic and I’m extremely thankful for HEOP helping me succeed.

Q: Do you have advice for other students?
A: Be proud of your own journey. We may all come from different backgrounds, but we all made it to the same place. Our different learning styles and set of talents are the things that we should focus on and embrace.

Derrick Hunt compiles “Student Spotlights” for University News. Contact him at djh9758@rit.edu with suggestions.