EOF Senior Yaskayra Gonzalez with the Director of EOF Andrei St. Felix.
Everywhere you turn in Andrei St. Felix’s office, you see pictures of students—smiling, confident groups of young people gathered at events and ceremonies, representing the many people who have passed through the Educational Opportunity Fund offices. But in the EOF program at Caldwell, you don’t just “pass through” the college experience. Not if Andrei St. Felix has anything to do with it.
The EOF at Caldwell University works to provide a full range of career, academic, financial and spiritual support to its students. It is no accident, then, that St. Felix is at the helm of the department. She is a living example to students of what you can achieve if you commit to school, set strong goals for yourself and put God at the center of everything you do.
St. Felix has a hunger for education that is contagious. After growing up in Haiti, she came to the United States with the goal of obtaining a college degree. When she saw a job at Caldwell College posted in the Newark Star-Ledger (she still has the clipping), she applied and was hired as the EOF secretary.
That was in 1992. St. Felix has stayed with the department, learning and advancing from secretary to counselor to assistant director and in 2009 to director. Thanks to strong mentorship from previous directors and a determination to grow and learn, she took a path that led to her college degree, solid work experience, the directorship and much more.
“I love learning,” St. Felix says, her face glowing as she describes her path to higher education.
After being hired at Caldwell, St. Felix began attending the college at night, first earning a degree in business administration and then a master’s in contemporary management and another master’s in pastoral ministry. She is pursuing her Ed.D. in the educational leadership program at Caldwell.
St. Felix’s journey is painted with confidence, her goals checked off with fierce determination. That determination to stick to personal goals is central to the success of EOF students. As freshmen, they are asked to identify their long-term educational and career goals.
“The goal is to push them,” St. Felix says of students, “to remind them, ‘This is the goal.’ We remember what they told us.”
She recalls one student who came into the office and was shocked when St. Felix reminded her in detail of her life goals.
“How did you remember that?” the student asked.
“I remember because it meant something to you,” St. Felix answered.
Life journeys are intensely personal, and that means something to St. Felix. She takes time to listen to students, to hear about their struggles and victories, and to gently remind them of the goals that led them to college in the first place. Goals, goals and then, always, God. These guiding factors are never far from her when she is counseling students.
“That is what I like most about Caldwell University. I can talk about God. I can listen to students talking about their journey.”
Her faith background and her master’s in pastoral ministry help St. Felix advise students on how to be spiritually present as they go through life.
“Being spiritually strong helps you get stronger in other areas of your life.”
Knowing their goals and understanding their relationship with God are major components of a bigger picture that St. Felix encourages her students to see. These factors are a part of each person’s identity, and the concept of identity is second to none at the EOF.
St. Felix knows who she is, and she encourages her students to embrace their identities as well.
“I am a woman of faith. I am a woman who cares about other people. I am a woman who is liberated, free to do whatever I want to do. I am a woman who is not afraid to take risks.”
In an era when women more than ever are seeking a place at the table, St. Felix has found hers. Her responsibility to represent herself, black women and all women in places that lack diversity is not lost on her. It is woven into her identity.
“I am happy to represent. I have a responsibility,” she says with a smile.
St. Felix, a wife and a mother of two, has a passion for pursuing higher education. That is a core part of her identity, and she is passing it on to the next generation in her family.
Just as St. Felix’s strong sense of identity has been a key part of her success, it is a key for her students. In fact, the first workshop the EOF runs during its introductory summer program is called “Who Am I?”.
During the academic year, St. Felix and her staff promote cultural events on campus, including gospel night, praise dancing and Hispanic Heritage and Black History Month activities.
“If you do not know your roots, then something is missing,” St. Felix says. “That’s where you find your voice—when you know who you are.”
Armed with that knowledge, the alumni from her program have gone on to own businesses, serve as community leaders and work as doctors, teachers and lawyers. St. Felix is confident that with well-defined goals and hard work, many more will achieve their dreams. She will be there to help them along the way.
And so this woman, who has boldly woven together a tapestry of strong faith, fearless belief and a hunger for learning, is leading forward a group of students who are determined to succeed.
“I have found my purpose, my passion,” she says with confidence, “to educate young people.”
—Nicole M. Burrell ’08