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MVCC student Leisha Ayala receives EOP Student Excellence Award


Mohawk Valley Community College student Leisha Ayala of Utica is one of 46 students in SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) to be honored with the Norman R. McConney, Jr. Award for Student Excellence, which recognizes outstanding EOP students for academic merit and perseverance while overcoming personal obstacles. The students were honored April 17 at a ceremony hosted by SUNY at the New York State Museum.

Ayala, a sophomore Liberal Arts and Sciences: Childhood Education major at MVCC, is a motivated student who is eager to immerse herself in new learning and leadership experiences. Currently a teaching assistant in a preschool center, she was selected to participate in this summer’s Colgate University Virtual Galápagos program, a 10-week immersive experience for undergraduate teachers-in-training. Ayala has served as a peer mentor for first- and second-semester EOP students and a peer tutor in the MVCC Learning Commons. She also served as co-facilitator for a Girls in STEM Summer Program with Young Scholars LPP of Utica, supported the Mohawk Valley Latino Association in facilitating community service events for refugee youth, and helped educate Black and Latino students on the importance of registering to vote. Ayala also is actively involved in campus life; she is co-founder of the MVCC Education Opportunity Club and serves as Choreographer and Co-Captain for MVCC’s Dance Club.

Ayala is a graduate of Thomas R. Proctor High School, where she was named to the High Honor Roll in her junior and senior years. She has received numerous awards and honors, including the Mohawk Valley Latino Association’s Summer Internship Completion Award and the Young Scholars Community Service Award. Her career goal is to work with children in kindergarten through third grade, inspiring them to be comfortable pouring into themselves and embracing education — especially in the areas of literacy and science.

“It is evident when she engages with others that Leisha has a passion to help,” says MVCC Director of Opportunity Programs Salina Billins. “She is aware of the importance of meeting others where they are and raising the bar after they successfully meet milestones. It’s inspiring to witness her using the skills she has learned in her child development courses when supporting others.”

“When I visit our campuses, I am continuously awed and inspired by the dedicated, hardworking EOP students I meet. EOP is a ticket to upward mobility for New York students, which is why I am honored to recognize these students who stand as role models demonstrating what is possible,” said SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. “My congratulations to each awardee for taking that step to go to college and succeed.”

The honor is named in memory of Norman R. McConney, Jr. (1946–2016), a graduate of the University at Albany and former assistant dean for special programs at SUNY who helped to create the EOP as a statewide program alongside former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve.

Since its inception in 1967, the EOP has provided access, academic support, and supplemental financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. In its 56-year history, the EOP has served more than 80,000 students and evolved into one of the country’s most successful college access programs.

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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