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Educational Opportunity Center finds new employee, keeps same goal

Education is a daunting venture.

Finding the time, the institution, and the means to achieve higher learning cannot only be frustrating, but also scary.

Educational Counselors such as Allie Willits at the Educational Opportunity Center want to help dispel those fears, as well as to make achieving that higher education attainable for anyone who wants it.

The Educational Opportunity Center is an operation managed by the Virginia Tidewater Consortium for Higher Education. Per their Web site, the Consortium’s mission is &uot;to provide maximum opportunity for the education of the citizens of Hampton Roads, Virginia.&uot;

In 1979, the EOC was established in an effort to maximize those efforts and has helped more than 45,000 people in the 27 years it has been open.

The EOC staff is made up of six educational counselors, the newest being Willits, who was just hired in September.

She had moved into the area with her husband, a naval officer stationed in Norfolk. She had seen an advertisement for an opening as an academic and career counselor. She had already worked as a high school guidance counselor for four years, two at Woodside High School in Williamsburg and two at a high school in Pensacola, Fla.

While in Florida, Willits also worked as a career advisor and was asked by the University of Florida to screen potential incoming freshmen for admission. Her education, combined with a background in advising, gave her the perfect experience for the work at the EOC.

&uot;I’m loving this job. It’s the best parts of being a guidance counselor,&uot; Willits said. &uot;I work with anybody, any adult who wants to go to school.

“I kind of like to see it as imagine having a guidance counselor for adults. It’s amazingly rewarding.

“Every counselor in our office loves their job. You really get to see results.&uot;

Instead of worrying over high school schedules, locker combinations, or parent-teacher conferences, Willits can concentrate on getting all of her advisees onto the best path for their futures.

&uot;I focus solely on post-secondary education,&uot; Willits said,

&uot;not only adults who want to return to school, but high school seniors as well.

“The best way to increase your earnings and becoming more self sufficient is to increase your education in a career field and we want to help people do that.&uot;

As part of her work with the EOC, Willits helps fill out financial-aid applications, searches an extensive scholarship base for grants and other funds, holds career testing, gives tips on essay and resume writing, and talks to her clients to see what it is they want to do.

&uot;We put all the information in front of you and you make the decision,&uot; Willits said. &uot;We do research every day on new labor statistics, what new programs schools have … It is constant research.&uot;

In 2005-06, 3,201 people came through the EOC’s doors. Within that year, 1,428 found their way into some institution of post-secondary education.

Staff at the EOC credit the Virginia Tidewater Consortium for Higher Education for its focus and priority on getting students of all ages the education suited for them. The Consortium combines 13 institutions of higher learning to give potential students the highest access and possibility to new programming.

Whether it be a high school drop out wanting to work on their G.E.D., a working mother wanting to get back into school, or a career worker looking for a change in jobs, the resources and work of the EOC are at their disposal. The program is completely free and open to the public.

&uot;We’re open to anybody,&uot; Willits said. &uot;Essentially we want to the put the tools in the hands of everyone who walks in the door. They walk out of here with a plan.&uot;

For more information about the EOC and its services, contact the Educational Opportunity Center at 683-2312.

lauren.wicks@suffolknewsherald.com