I recently attended the MAEOPP (Mid-America Association of Educational Opportunity Programs Personnel) conference at the Abby in Lake Geneva. My company joined this organization earlier this year and this was my first time attending one of their events.
MAEOPP supports TRIO and GEAR UP, federally funded programs that provide educational support to low income and disadvantaged students. These support services both help students realize their dreams of going to college and then provide support for them while on campus. TRIO and GEAR UP have a number of branches, including Student Support Services, Educational Talent Search, McNair Graduate Programs and Upward Bound.
The Lake Geneva conference was full of wonderful testimonials detailing how the programs really do make a difference in people’s lives. Here is a quick snapshot of some of these stories.
• The first night of the conference, I randomly sat down to dinner with Anthony Thomas, a former NFL Football player and a graduate of TRIO. He told me how one of his teachers in high school willed him into Upward Bound and as a result, he went from life destined on the streets to becoming a college graduate (and then a player in the NFL). He now works for a Briar Cliff College, helping at risk high school students get involved with TRIO programming. Mr. Thomas told me TRIO saved his life.
• U.S. Representative Gwendolyn Moore from Wisconsin spoke about how the people in TRIO pulled her into college when she was a pregnant teenager. She testified that without TRIO, she would have likely slipped into a life of poverty and welfare.
• A keynote address during one of the breakfasts was by an adult student who gave an emotional and powerful testimonial to the power of TRIO programming. She talked about her learning deficiencies and how deeply appreciative she is to have the help of Student Support Services. Not only is she getting an education, she explained that she is really excited to become a meaningful member of society as a teacher.
• During a recognition lunch, a female graduate of the TRIO program discussed her story of growing up homeless. Her introduction to the Education Talent Search inspired her to work hard in school and the path which led her to a college education. She knows because of TRIO, not only her, but her kids are successful contributors to society today.
All of these speeches and chance meetings talked about raising the bar, giving people an opportunity and support to better their situations. That got me thinking about my family story for the first time in a different light.
My father grew up in a middle class family in Indiana. My dad did not do well in high school; he really struggled and finished second to bottom in his class. A year later he realized that in order to achieve his personal goals, he would need to get a college degree.
Dad applied and was admitted into Elgin Community College (ECC) on a probationary period. Dean Gil Renner put my father in touch with Student Support Services. They set him up with a full schedule of business related classes (classes which he was confident he could excel in) and assisted him in building a reputable academic portfolio. He had to make his marks each semester or he was out of school. My father was determined, and with the help of Student Support Services, he not only graduated from ECC, but was accepted at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) where he completed his undergraduate degree in Marketing.
Upon graduation from EIU, my dad moved into an extremely successful career in computer sales. With the help of Student Support Services, my father was able to raise the bar. Without their support and giving him the opportunity, he would likely never have achieved his goals. This success was passed on to his family with all three of us kids furthering our education in college.
Due to the American Dream adage which tells society that through hard work and a little bit of elbow grease, everyone can achieve success on their own, many people believe that asking for help is a sign of failure. I do not fully buy this. While I do recognize that personal hard work is a necessary component, not all backgrounds and situations are the same. I believe some people need additional support and opportunities and furthermore, that investment is well worth the costs. My family story and the ones shared at MAEOPP are just a few of many examples.
If you have a similar story or feel that Student Support Services is a necessary component to giving disadvantaged students a chance to succeed, tell your congressional representatives. The funding continues to be at risk for these programs.
To learn more about the mission of the programs, go to http://www.coenet.us
Michael Wolaver, Founder