Capital District Educational Opportunity Center is Troy’s ‘best-kept secret’ – troyrecord | #education | #technology | #training

TROY, N.Y. — The Collar City prides itself on being very community-centered. The downtown neighborhood has lots of small, locally-owned businesses and lots of business owners who prioritize giving back to the community. It’s also a city of “hidden gems” – beautiful public parks tucked into out-of-the-way street corners, scenic spots with breathtaking views of the city if you know where to find them, and specialty shops that carry items you won’t find anywhere else.

Right in the middle of that Venn diagram of community-oriented businesses and hidden gems, you’ll find the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).

The EOC is supported by the Sate University of New York (SUNY) network and Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC). It’s considered to be a division of HVCC, and funded by SUNY’s University Center for Academic and Workforce Development program. For qualifying students, it’s a tuition-free path towards a college degree or a career in vocational trades. Students who qualify for EOC programs must have lived in New York state for at least 12 months prior to enrolling, must be at least 16 and not officially enrolled in school, and must meet household income guidelines.

EOC doesn’t operate like your traditional school or education center. With the exception of two programs, everything operates under a continuous enrollment system. You start when you’re ready, and if you have to, you can step away and take care of other things in your life before returning and picking up right where you left off. Students work at their own pace and have access to a multitude of services to help them finish their studies.

“The classes are skill-oriented, so as long as you’re making progress and learning the skills, you can stay in the program,” explained Pamela Harris, EOC’s Interim Coordinator of Institutional Advancement.

The exceptions to the rule are the Cosmetology program and the Certified Nursing Assistant program. Cosmetology follows the state’s certification guidelines, so the course has to be completed within 1,000 hours in order for students to qualify to take the state board exam. Certified Nursing Assistant students have to do clinical work at a local nursing home as part of their course, and that has to be coordinated with the nursing home’s schedule, which limits when the program can be taught.

EOC programs can all be completed in less than a year assuming students are able to work uninterrupted from start to finish. Cosmetology is the longest program, which completes in 10 months. Then there’s the Security Guard certification program, which is completed with 24 hours’ worth of training. And there’s everything in between.

Currently offered programs at EOC are High School Equivalency Preparation, College Preparation, Vocational Foundations, Medical Office Administration, Cosmetology including preparation for the State Board Exam, Culinary Arts, Nursing Assistant, Pharmacy Tech, Phlebotomy, Security Guard Training, Building Trades, Energy Tech, Manufacturing Careers, and Welding including certification specialties.

Harris says that currently, the Welding and Cosmetology programs are the most popular. She’s hoping that EOC will be able to add an Entrepreneurship program to the course catalog in the future, to help students take the trade they’ve learned and turn it into a business. Two students who graduated the Cosmetology program in March are about to do just that, as they get ready to open their own salon in Watervliet.

Tom Glasser, the program instructor for Building Trades, says there’s a lot of opportunities like that in trade careers right now. It’s especially relevant for younger students as older craftsmen retire, which makes EOC a great resource for learning a vocational trade and transitioning into a well-paying job.

“It’s really important to get the young people into these trades,” Glasser remarked. “We’re not seeing a lot of them getting into apprenticeships or going into the workforce, and we need that.”

The programs at EOC are split into two tracks – college preparation and career preparation. Regardless of which path you take, there’s lots of support every step of the way. All EOC students are assigned to one of three counselors whose job is to assist with enrollment retention. They can make referrals for services like child care and mental health, and will help a student figure out how to solve any challenge they’re facing outside the classroom.

Then there’s the tutoring services that are available to every student, and even prospective students. When you apply to an EOC program, part of the enrollment process involves taking the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) exam to see where your baseline skills are. If anyone needs extra help with literacy or math skills, EOC can provide tutoring support or referrals to programs like the Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County.

“We do that to make sure all of our students will be able to keep up in the classroom,” explained Harris.

The EOC campus is big, with lockers where students can keep their belongings, a lounge where they can relax between classes, and the Spoons Café where lunch or breakfast, depending on the day, is provided by the Culinary Arts students. Students eat free and faculty pays a reduced cost.

“The café is a godsend, because it’s so expensive to go anywhere else!” said Harris. “The Culinary Arts program pauses over the summer, and we really miss it then.”

To help students stay motivated, there are monthly nominations for CAPTAINS awards. CAPTAINS stands for Communication, Attitude, Problem-Solving, Teamwork, Attendance, Initiative, Neighborliness, and Spirit & Service. Students who demonstrate these skills can get nominated in each category. If they win, they are invited to a monthly awards ceremony and get a special cord to wear with their cap and gown at graduation. You can only win each category once, and Harris says the record so far is a student who won awards in six of the eight categories.

EOC staff have opportunities for recognition as well. They qualify for teaching and faculty awards that are handed out annually at SUNY and HVCC, and when a member of the EOC faculty gets an award it’s a big deal. Recipients’ pictures are displayed on the Gallery of Excellence.

When students have completed their coursework and are ready to transition to the next step, there’s lots of support in place for that too. The College and Career Services department give students the assistance they need, whether they’re filling out a college application or trying to get a job interview.

With all these services and opportunities, including partnerships with local colleges for students on the academic path, the students are not the only ones who benefit from everything EOC has to offer. There’s a noticeable, if not understated, impact on the community too.

Every EOC location (the Capital District EOC is one of ten) has an ATTAIN computer lab that’s free and open to the community. ATTAIN stands for Advanced Technology Training And Information Networking, and the labs can teach everything from basic computer skills to Microsoft certifications. The Cosmetology program normally holds clinic days when community members can come in and get beauty services from the students for free. Currently, due to the pandemic those services are on hold, but Harris hopes they’ll resume soon. Welding students have made pieces of furniture and artwork that have gone to auction at HVCC and found their way into good homes. EOC is a testing site for the High School Equivalency and General Education Development exams, and you don’t have to be an EOC student to use the testing facilities.

Then there’s the long-term community impact that EOC has. Students who graduate and move on to college or trades have higher chances for success and more opportunities for well-paying careers. Those opportunities can break poverty cycles and give students chances they never would have had otherwise. Families of EOC graduates might see financial stability from the careers the graduates get into. EOC graduates could be the first in their families to walk across a stage and receive a diploma, which can in turn inspire other family members to take similar steps. There’s a ripple effect at work in EOC that has lasting and long-reaching influence.

“We always say we’re the best-kept secret in the city, but we don’t want to be a secret!” said Harris.

For more information about EOC, including enrollment opportunities, visit

Building Trades program instructor Tom Glasser helps a student move a coffee table under construction. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
A Culinary Arts student poses with program head Joe Forget, who has been teaching at EOC for 33 years and is retiring at the end of the academic year. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
EOC’s Nursing Assistant classroom has resources for traditional classroom learning and hands-on practice. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
The second floor of EOC has many community and student resources. The Enrollment office’s sign was built by students in the Welding program. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
The Cosmetology program is one of the most popular at EOC. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
Inside EOC’s tutoring room. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
Inside the EOC’s ATTAIN computer lab. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)

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