By Giavanna Troilo
When asked if he always intended to make his way back to Rider University, Reggie Walker said that he had always hoped to make it back “home.”
“I kind of pinch myself — never did I imagine that I would be back as the director of the program that allowed me to go to college.”
Walker is currently completing his first year as director of Rider’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). As a student at Rider, he knew that he saw his future working in Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) programs in New Jersey.
“I knew as early as 2005 when I finished undergrad that I wanted to go into higher ed, and more specifically, I wanted to be an EOF director — that was always the goal,” said Walker.
Walker’s first job following his master’s program was an EOF counselor at Monmouth University. From there, his involvement with EOF only expanded, as he went on to become an EOF Academic Counselor at Montclair State University, where he remained for nine years.
Though Walker was not at Rider professionally for 12 years, he remained connected to EOP and the Rider community any chance he got. When he heard of the retirement of the previous director, Rubin Joyner, it was Walker’s boss at Montclair who saw the potential in him to take over as Rider’s director.
“It’s still a dream come true; it doesn’t seem real,” said Walker.
Going into his first year as director Walker had several goals. He knew he wanted to increase statewide visibility for EOF, as well as campus-wide visibility for EOP at Rider. Additionally, he wanted to increase EOP alumni involvement through an EOP Hall of Fame.
“Every position that I had gone into in higher education, I brought Rider with me. I wanted the rest of New Jersey to know just how exceptional EOP is at Rider,” said Walker. “One of my main goals was [to recognize] that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, but also to take this program from great, to greater, or greatest.”
Though Walker has initiated many changes to the program this year, he believes his biggest achievement in his first year has been a “resurgence in energy” for EOP among students and faculty.
“With that energy has come some new ideas,” said Walker. “We now have our Women In Action leadership group and our Male Leadership Academy. Being able to have these students take their rightful place as leaders is something I’m really proud of in terms of what we’ve been able to do.”
Walker also detailed the success of Rider’s first-ever EOP Scholarship Brunch that happened in March, which yielded 90 registrants of EOP alumni and almost $8000 raised for the EOP Book Fund.
Shortly after the success of this event, Rider started feeling the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which presented “unique challenges” for EOP. Walker states that keeping pre-freshmen students engaged as the annual EOP Summer Institute Academy goes virtual has been the program’s priority.
“How do we provide the same level of service to students in a format that’s going to be tremendously different? We have to figure out a way to really keep these students engaged,” said Walker.
Though COVID-19 is presenting roadblocks to the near future of EOP, Walker is optimistic about the next few years in his position at Rider. He hopes to ensure that every year, the Summer Institute Academy, and EOP as a whole, become better than they were the year before.
Leadership, professional development, and visibility are all priorities of Walker’s — EOP’s new Life After Rider series, for example, seeks to educate senior students on how to navigate post-undergraduate life.
Overall, Walker acknowledges that he has come back to a program that has been “stellar” since his time as a student, and he hopes only to add to EOP’s exceptionalism going forward.
“I’ll shout from the rooftops how great of a program we are, because [the EOP students] are doing some amazing things at Rider and beyond,” Walker proudly said about the EOP students at Rider.