SEEK Marks a Half-Century of Enhanced Opportunity

SEEK Marks a Half-Century of Enhanced Opportunity

SEEK Marks a Half-Century of Enhanced Opportunity

The City University's SEEK Program — short for Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge — recently celebrated its 50th anniversary as CUNY's flagship equal opportunity education program. Founded in 1966 by an act of the state Legislature, SEEK has grown from a small experimental initiative on the campus of City College into a pillar of progressive admissions programs, providing increased access to education for underprivileged and underrepresented minority groups.

John Jay College, which joined the program in 1970, currently graduates the largest number of SEEK students in CUNY, with more than 1,000 current participants. Many of these students come into the program from disadvantaged backgrounds —from immigrant families, suffering from financial hardship, or educated in underserved school districts, where they have little or no resources for academic support. SEEK provides students with a personal counselor and access to two academic support centers. The program offers tutoring along with financial aid to help with tuition, the cost of books, and other needs. SEEK students also participate in a summer program that includes peer mentoring, field trips, co-curricular activities and other enrichment opportunities.

Students are eligible for SEEK support for 10 semesters, so the program is often with them until graduation. "Because they come in with other SEEK students, their freshmen experience is unique and they build a sense of community," said Professor Nancy Velazquez-Torres, Chair of the SEEK Department, which in 2011 was renamed the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK program in honor of one of its founders, the former Manhattan Borough President.

According to Velazquez-Torres, SEEK students at John Jay have gone on to hold jobs as lawyers, members of Congress, and in other high-achieving fields. One student who came in a few years ago with remedial needs was eventually able to complete a graduate program at Oxford University. Alumna Lovely Warren, also a former SEEK student, has gone on to become the Mayor of Rochester.

Warren was presented with a CUNY Distinguished Alumna award during the anniversary celebration on May 16, along with fellow SEEK graduate Justice Carmen R. Velasquez of the New York State Supreme Court. Close to 300 students, faculty, staff and their families attended the celebration that was held at City College.

Velazquez-Torres, who has passionately supported SEEK for many years, comes from an immigrant background herself and says she too needed financial support to achieve her degree. She sees the SEEK program as essential to John Jay's mission of promoting social justice within the College and beyond. "Many of our SEEK students are very passionate about social justice, and John Jay was their first choice," she said, "so being with other students who share that same passion can be a dream come true."

She went on to note, "Once you make a difference in the life one student, it has a domino effect, and you make difference in their family and the community as well."