By: Max Liebel
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – If you walk into the Niagara University Opportunity Program office (NUOP), located on the first floor of Seton Hall, chances are you will be greeted to the sound of laughter and a welcoming “Hey what’s going on?” from the programs Director, Jerrell Mason. For students in the program Mason plays many roles in their life here on campus. He is an advisor, a support system, an advocate, and most importantly, a friend.
Mason graduated from Hilbert College with a degree in criminal justice and received a masters diploma from SUNY Buffalo in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. A program like NUOP is where Mason ultimately wanted to end up and he traces this back to his time in college and a relationship he formed while pursuing his degree.
“The reason I got into HEOP programs was because when I was a student in college I was a homeless student.” said Mason “ While I was in college I had an advisor that worked closely with me and helped me realize the opportunities that I had in front of me and on campus. What I hope to be is what my advisor was for me, to be a shining light for someone and be a support system because you never know what someone is going through.”
After college Mason made his way to Niagara and took a position as the Graduate Residence Director (GRD) of O’Shea Hall, before becoming the Assistant Director of NUOP. After the former Director of the program, Connie Mathews, retired in 2017 Mason took over as director. he’s responsible for over 60 students here on campus and plays a huge role in preparing students not only for life on campus, but for life after college.
The NUOP program is essential to providing underprivileged students with an opportunity not only to attend college, but to succeed after it. NUOP students average a higher GPA than the general student body and some have dismissed that as NUOP students being the beneficiaries of some sort of privilege. However to those in the program it is clear that’s not the case. From day one the NUOP office holds its students to a higher standard than that of a general admittance student. Masons commitment to his students and the program is the direct cause of the program’s success.
What Jerrell Mason and Assistant Director Kara Oliver have created in the NUOP office is a family atmosphere. At any time of the day you can walk into the office and you never feel like a stranger, they know you, they know your story, and somehow they always know what you did over the weekend. To us as NUOP students he is the big brother some of us don’t have, and the advisor most wish they had.
Not many students have the luxury of having someone to watch over them and advocate for them the way Mason does. Mason is the definition of a change maker, providing students with outlets and support they may not have received had they not been accepted into NUOP. He is a tough love advisor who is always sure to leave you with a “God bless you” when you leave his office.