Bergre Escobores ‘00, ‘01 went to a tough high school in Queens, New York. While Bergre earned good grades and played varsity football, many of his classmates joined gangs, sold drugs and ended up in jail. Perhaps out of ignorance, Bergre’s guidance counselor suggested he skip college and learn a trade.
But Bergre had a different plan — as a disadvantaged student who couldn’t easily afford tuition, he was determined to become the first in his family to earn a college degree, and use that degree to help his family move up in the world. Stony Brook offered the tools he needed to get there.
SBU works hard to help students like Bergre, and data proves our approach is working. A recent study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research documents our success in enabling social mobility by supporting disadvantaged students through initiatives like the Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit (EOP/AIM).
Now a proud Stony Brook alum, Bergre is even more proud of his EOP/AIM experience.
“EOP/AIM was incredible. They provided 10 semesters of guaranteed financial aid, and they made sure I took advantage of that time to find my passion,” said Bergre.
Bergre earned his bachelor’s in economics, but after tutoring a few fraternity brothers, he knew he wanted to become a teacher. Fresh out of college with a social studies teaching certificate, Bergre landed his first job with the Brentwood Union Free School District (BUFSD).
“When I got the call, I couldn’t hold back the tears, because I knew that I was changing the trajectory of my family,” said Bergre. “My starting salary was $36,086 — I remember that number because I was making more money than any member of my family ever had.”
With that first job under his belt, Bergre’s momentum couldn’t be stopped. He obtained a doctorate in educational leadership and administration, and is now the principal at Brentwood South Middle School at BUFSD, where he’s worked since 2010 to inspire the next generation of disadvantaged students.
“I make the culture at Brentwood a culture of possible success,” said Bergre. “If you yell ‘academic’ in the hallway, the students who hear you will shout ‘success!’ That’s our model, and it’s essential in a high-needs district like ours.”
The positive impact Bergre has on his students is clear, even at Stony Brook.
“I can’t tell you how many students we’ve received from Brentwood who tell me that Bergre played a big role in their decision to go to college, apply for EOP/AIM, and succeed,” said Cheryl Hamilton, assistant provost and director of the EOP/AIM program.
And Bergre won’t hesitate to tell you about the positive impact EOP/AIM had on him.
“My issue growing up was my socioeconomic status, not my intellectual capacity,” said Bergre. “Stony Brook recognized that I didn’t have access to all the resources I needed to be able to succeed. When I was given that access, I excelled.”
Bergre is just one example of many disadvantaged students who start their search for social mobility at Stony Brook, where they find the support they need to achieve it.
Ewelina Fiedor ‘08
Ewelina Fiedor immigrated with her three siblings from Poland to the U.S. at age 18. Her mom had already been living in the States, working hard at two full-time factory jobs so she could give her children the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
When Ewelina arrived on Long Island, she earned a solid GPA in high school, but she had less success with the SAT.
“Stony Brook’s EOP/AIM program was able to recognize my potential based on my GPA, not my SAT, and also recognized my financial challenge as a disadvantaged student,” said Ewelina.
Once she was accepted, Ewelina thrived at Stony Brook through EOP/AIM.
“The mentorship EOP/AIM provided when I started at Stony Brook was key to my success,” said Ewelina. “They instilled in me from Day One the importance of networking, and the confidence I needed to ask others for their wisdom and support.”
After earning her bachelor’s in biochemistry, Ewelina coordinated a research study at Columbia University Medical Center on improving the outcomes of children born prematurely. There she learned that pregnant women with gum disease are at a higher risk of delivering early.
“I realized there’s more to dentistry than drilling teeth,” said Ewelina, who quickly decided to pursue her doctorate in dental surgery.
Now, Ewelina is in a residency program to specialize in pediatrics at Columbia, providing crucial dental care to children and families from a mostly underserved patient population. She expects to graduate the pediatric specialty program residency in June, 2018.
“The reason I became a pediatric dentist was to get ahead of the problems before they start,” said Ewelina. “I have empathy for these disadvantaged children with hard-working immigrant parents, given my background.”
Ewelina can’t help but remember where she started, and her mom’s inspiration to succeed.
“I knew how hard my mom worked — it would’ve been a waste to not put that much effort into my schoolwork,” said Ewelina. “Being able to come to the U.S., get an education, and see how it can take you places is very special. I don’t take it for granted.”
Jaime Moore, ‘88
Jaime Moore’s grandmother blazed a trail when she migrated from Panama. Her hard work at multiple jobs paid off when she was able to afford to bring the rest of her family, including Jaime, to the States.
Jaime’s parents both became factory workers — but they encouraged him to focus on education in search of a more prosperous life. At age 11, Jaime couldn’t help but face challenges in a new country.
“Cultural assimilation wasn’t easy, and the language barrier didn’t help,” said Jaime, whose first language was Spanish. “I just wanted to fit in in my new home.”
Jaime found his fit after successfully graduating public school in New York City, but found a new set of challenges all too familiar once he was accepted to Stony Brook through EOP/AIM.
“When I arrived at Stony Brook, I felt like I once again had migrated,” said Jaime. “College prep was not something that I landed on campus with, and socially I felt totally out of place.”
But through EOP/AIM’s Pre-Freshman Summer Academy, which prepares incoming students for the rigors of full-time college enrollment, and the ongoing support he received while studying at Stony Brook, Jaime felt at home once again.
“After the summer program, I felt like I had a compass in my hand to navigate this huge campus, which to me seemed like a whole new country,” said Jaime. “I don’t know if I would’ve produced the same outcome for myself if it weren’t for the support EOP/AIM gave throughout my college career.”
Jaime earned his bachelor’s in economics from Stony Brook, and today, is a director at Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. To support disadvantaged students, he also hosts receptions at his home in Brooklyn for newly admitted Stony Brook students to gain wisdom from alumni who can relate.
“Programs like EOP/AIM are crucial for those in need, who just need that chance,” said Jaime. “I just needed that chance. Only God knows where I’d be without the EOP/AIM program in my life.”
— Brian Smith