A Detour to New Opportunities

Program helps students return to college to earn degree

In 2011, Amanda (Teachout) Riccardo was a licensed cosmetologist working in a Destiny USA hair salon. While chatting with one of her clients, Riccardo received a piece of information that would redirect her career and turn her life in a new direction.

The client was Mary Pagan, a student advisor at University College (UC), the home of part-time studies at Syracuse University. She told Riccardo about the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) – the only program of its 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,” Riccardo reflected. “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.”

Riccardo 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 exclaimed. 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, Riccardo 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 said, “but I’ve surprised myself by how much I enjoy learning new things.” She only worked two days a week while in school so she can focus on her grades and her 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,” she added. Her diligence paid off when she was awarded her Syracuse University associate degree in May.

The difficulties of returning to school as an adult have been mitigated by the enthusiastic support Riccardo has received from her mentors. “I’ve had excellent professors along the way,” she said, noting her professors were always willing to meet with her to help understand the material.

Financing her SU degree would likely have been impossible without the tuition support received from HEOP.  “The advisors at University College have been nothing but helpful,” Riccardo said. “They … just want to see their students succeed.”

That success is critical for Riccardo, 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 said.

“Someday,” Riccardo added, “I hope to inspire people the way my professors have inspired me.”



— Article submitted by Laurie J. McCarthy with University College

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