University of Wisconsin–Madison

CeO Program Celebrates 25 Years

CeO students learn about academic and career planning throuugh workshops, conferences, advising and mentoring. Photo by Valeria A. Davis

UW-Madison’s Center for Educational Opportunity (CeO), will celebrate 25 years of supporting low-income, disabled and first-generation college students with a free event at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Memorial Union. Please RSVP by Nov. 29.

CeO began in 1993 with a U.S. Department of Education TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) grant to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The grant was written by Walter Lane, an assistant dean in the School of Education, who was dedicated to providing educational opportunities to students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Driven by his service in the Vietnam War, Lane noticed service members who were recruited to fight in the front lines had little opportunities for other career paths. Lane came back to the United States with a determination to complete the education and experience he needed in order to help other people like himself. When he retired in 2008, Lane left a legacy of programs serving thousands of students each year at UW–Madison. In addition to the SSS grant, Lane brought the Ronald E. McNair, POSSE, and PEOPLE programs to campus.

Students gather in the CeO office to study together in an affirming community atmosphere. Photo by Valeria A. Davis
Students gather in the CeO office to study together in an affirming community atmosphere. Photo by Valeria A. Davis

Brenda Pfaehler, Ph.D., became the first director of what was then called the TRIO Student Support Services program. Committed to providing equal opportunity and equity in education, she strongly believed that everyone can excel and created the initial SSS community that still serves as an example for the program today. Although Pfaehler passed away in 1996, her passion for student achievement continually fuels the staff’s desire to strive for excellence in serving students. It is a graduation tradition for students to give Phaehler Recognition Awards to those who provided pivotal support on their educational journey.

“CeO is not a program, it’s a family,” said former CeO Scholar Daniela Juarez. “CeO provides everything for its students from tutoring to friendship.  It is a safe space for us to study and meet others with common goals . . . Not to mention the incredible staff, who will go out of their way to make sure each and every scholar succeeds.”

In 2009, the TRIO Student Support Services program was renamed the Center for Educational Opportunity. The following year CeO became a unit of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement. In 2015, CeO expanded again with the award of an additional TRIO grant from the U.S. Department of Education: Student Support Services-STEM (SSS-STEM).

Today, CeO continues to promote access to resources, academic achievement and personal growth for students whose parent/s have not received a four-year degree, students who meet specific federal family income guidelines, students with documented disabilities, and students from underserved populations. It continues to be supported with federal funds and by the state-funded Academic Support and Achievement Program.

CeO’s mission is to increase access, retention, and graduation rates at UW–Madison. Over the past 25 years, it has served 2,951 scholars and celebrated 1,617 graduates.

“We want to create an environment where anybody’s dreams can come true with hard work and the right mentorship and taking the right courses – everybody has the same opportunity,” said CeO Director Claudia Mosley.

Kirk Malnor, right, puts on 2018 CeO graduate Jesus Del Toro's official stole.
Kirk Malnor, right, puts on 2018 CeO graduate Jesus Del Toro’s official stole. Photo by Valeria A. Davis

CeO advisors and staff embrace a personal approach and provide support in every aspect of the student’s path by:

  • Advising about course load and academic requirements;
  • Assisting with study skills, tutoring and STEM advising;
  • Offering cultural and social events and activities;
  • Providing educational programs and workshops;
  • Offering graduate and professional school advising and workshops;
  • Assisting with adjusting to the college environment;
  • Offering information and guidance on financial aid and financial literacy;
  • Learning to balance academic responsibilities and work;
  • Offering mentoring and personal growth;
  • Providing a community and sense of belonging.

One in five UW–Madison students qualify for services in at least one and typically several categories, Mosley said.

Ada Ezemba, a 2016 graduate, said CeO helped her to find her place on campus.

“I remember being new to the UAW-Madison campus and wanting to transfer because I had no support system on campus,” Ezemba said. “Soon I found CeO. The sessions with my advisor, tutoring, group activities and office amenities accessible to students has ultimately helped me cope better with feeling so small in such a large place.”

Encouraged and supported in embracing a “full Badger experience,” Ezemba majored in international studies and traveled to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and across the United States. She started a campus organization, Project Glory M.A.I.L., which sends encouraging messages by mail to women with breast cancer. Her post-graduate pursuits include sustaining her organization, becoming fluent in Chinese and earning a graduate degree.

The services provided by CeO support Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s initiatives to make UW–Madison affordable and accessible.