Sheila Marsh ’71 is the Director of the Arthur O.Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at Cazenovia College. Over 30 years ago, Marsh started working part-time as a tutor in Cazenovia’s Center for Teaching and Learning. She enjoyed it so much, she took on several other responsibilities at the College until becoming a full time employee which led to a position with HEOP.
Last year, HEOP celebrated its 50th year in operation. Cazenovia is one of about 60 private institutions in New York state that participate in the program. “It is a very large commitment on the part of the schools because they give students a lot of financial aid to attend,” stated Marsh. “However, the high success rate continues to make the program viable.”
Marsh has been working with HEOP for over 20 years and has stayed in touch with many of the students who have gone through the program. “We have had a lot of what I consider miracles,” believes Marsh. “Students who based on their circumstances may have been living on the street, pregnant, or on welfare have graduated college and have successful careers.” Seeing the difference HEOP makes in students’ lives is the reason Marsh continues to run the program.
New York mandates how many students Cazenovia can have in HEOP. A State grant also funds Marsh and the assistant coordinator and counselor, Patrick Camilien. Marsh’s main responsibilities include recruiting, interviewing students, reviewing records, and making sure students have submitted their financial documents. HEOP students are also required to attend Cazenovia’s JumpStart program the summer before their first year. “The summer program gives students a huge boost before the fall,” notes Marsh. “Students have higher grade point averages, and they also have built a network they can turn to for assistance.”
HEOP students aren’t just numbers to Marsh. She remembers each of them. “About 12 years ago there was a young woman who called me and was looking to get into the program,” recalls Marsh. “There was one space available and she pled her case with me over the phone. Today, that young lady has two master’s degrees and is teaching in New York City.” The list goes on. For the students, Marsh is a trusted mother figure assisting with many areas of their lives beyond academics including dating, families, jobs and living situations. They often call her “Momma She.”
The HEOP program is very competitive. Each year, over 200 students will apply for seven to 12 spots at Cazenovia. The draw to Cazenovia for many is the small size of the school and being in a comfortable environment with faculty and staff that care about them. That is something Marsh knows well. She is a graduate of Cazenovia College from the class of 1971.
“I just loved going to Cazenovia,” notes Marsh. “I wish when I went that it was a four year school.” After Cazenovia, Marsh went on for her bachelor’s degree at Brockport. The small size of Cazenovia created a special atmosphere for Marsh’s class. They were invited to Dean Coleman and Rita Eckel’s houses for dinner. It was very close and personal. “It brings a smile to my face every time I think about my time at Cazenovia,” remarks Marsh. “The friendship and comradery that we have, no one can take a way. Even if you weren’t close during school, you are now just because of the connection with Cazenovia.”
Marsh came to work at Caz when a friend who was a professor needed her assistance driving to campus after a car accident. Needing something to do while she waited for her friend, Marsh found a position tutoring students. “Coming to work at Caz felt like home,” noted Marsh. “I looked forward to going to work every day and I still do. Cazenovia is family to me.”
In addition to her position with the HEOP program, Marsh coordinates the Overseas Travel Club. For the past eight years, Marsh has been able to take students on some exciting adventures from Costa Rica to New Zealand. This year the group is going to Ireland; next year Germany, Italy and Switzerland. “Traveling with this overseas club has been a wonderful and insightful learning experience,” stated Marsh. “I have gotten to see parts of the world I would never would have imagined.”
Through all of her roles, Marsh tries to impart to students to believe in themselves. “Believe in who you are and what possibilities are out there for you,” offers Marsh. “And, be grateful every day.” Marsh is very grateful to be able to have attended Cazenovia and to have worked at the College for so many years. “Caz College is a very special place,” added Marsh.