In 2011, Amanda (Teachout) Riccardo was a licensed cosmetologist working in a Destiny USA hair salon. While chatting with one of her clients, Amanda received a piece of information that would redirect her career and turn her life in a new direction. The client was Mary Pagan, a former student advisor at University College (UC), the home of part-time studies at Syracuse University. She told Amanda about the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP)—the only program of it’s kind in New York State that serves part-time students. HEOP provides financial aid and academic assistance for educationally disadvantaged students who want to earn a college degree.
“I am the only one of my parents’ children to graduate from high school,” Amanda reflects. “But I have a health condition that, over time, may limit what I can and cannot achieve. My body can’t endure standing for long hours, so I knew that my future as a hairstylist was limited. I wanted a degree that would lead to a job I could do for the long term.”
Amanda was just 21 when she heard about the program, and since HEOP is geared toward adults 24 and over, she delayed her application for three years. “It was worth the wait!” she exclaims. Even the challenges she experienced as a first-time college student didn’t deter her or diminish her enthusiasm.
As an English and Textual Studies major with an affinity for creative writing, Amanda felt left behind academically at the beginning of her educational journey. “A lot of students have read books that I never read in high school,” she says, “but I’ve surprised myself by how much I enjoy learning new things. I only work two days a week while I’m in school so I can focus on my grades and my health. Even though I wasn’t the best student in high school, I’ve made the dean’s list most of my semesters at SU.” Her diligence paid off when she reached an important milestone in May 2017—Amanda was awarded her Syracuse University associate degree.
The difficulties of returning to school as an adult have been mitigated by the enthusiastic support Amanda has received from her mentors. “I’ve had excellent professors along the way,” she says. “Any time I asked for help or expressed concerns, I received the help I needed. Professors are always willing to meet with you to help you understand the material and their assignments.”
Financing her SU degree would likely have been impossible without the tuition support Amanda received from HEOP. “The advisors at University College have been nothing but helpful,” Amanda says. “They are always so enthusiastic and just want to see their students succeed.” That success is critical for Amanda, who dreams of becoming an English professor. “I will have my bachelor’s degree in Spring 2018, and plan to apply to the MS/Ph.D program here at SU,” she asserts with conviction. “Someday,” Amanda says, “I hope to inspire people the way my professors have inspired me.”