Opportunity Turns 40

The New England Educational Opportunity Association (NEOA) drew more than 250 TRIO and college access professionals to its 40th annual conference in Massachusetts earlier this spring.
NEOA’s mission is to advocate for access to and success in postsecondary education for low-income individuals, “first-generation” college students, and students with disabilities—and to develop the skills and knowledge of educational opportunity professionals working with this population.

In support of that mission, the 2016 conference theme “Milestones” celebrated the history of accomplishments, advocacy and service to underrepresented, nontraditional and first-generation pre-college and college students. NEOA President Gaelyn Hastings called on TRIO professionals to take the opportunity during the conference to reflect, re-evaluate and reinvest.

The 40th annual conference of NEOA facilitated workshops that covered financial literacy, academic coaching, reengaging alumni, effective student engagement and the social justice approach to programming. The dedicated professionals were able to share best practices and learn from experts such as Arnold Mitchem, president emeritus of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). In Mitchem’s keynote address, he highlighted that TRIO was more than advocacy and service. He emphasized that TRIO has been a platform for social movements. Mitchem ended his address focusing on TRIO alumni stating, “TRIO Alumni will not only shine a bright light on poverty and inequality in society but also both locally and nationally lead the charge for greater justice in society.”

The conference recognized TRIO alumni for their post-graduation achievements. University of New Hampshire Upward Bound alumna Lisa Couture explained how she became passionate about her 25-year career in social service, now serving as executive director of the Portsmouth, N.H.-based Krempels Center, dedicated to improving the lives of people living with brain injury from trauma, tumor or stroke. Salem State University Upward Bound alumna Katherine Montero told of changing lives in her community as a biology teacher at Lawrence International High School in Massachusetts and founder and volunteer director of the nonprofit social enterprise named Global Deeds, which helps develop the skill set low-income youth need for personal and career success.

Northfield Mount Hermon Upward Bound alumna Caitlin Bevan and Lyndon State College Upward Bound alumna Kathleen Rodrigue were both awarded the Rising Star Award, for people who completed their associates or bachelor’s degrees and are just beginning to make an impact in their careers and communities. “Caitlin Bevan is disrupting the human resource and healthcare industries and is helping to lead the fastest growing startup in Silicon Valley,” said the director of Northfield Mount Hermon Upward Bound program. The director of Lyndon State College Upward Bound program described Rodrigue as a creative TRIO alum with incredible work ethic who demands the best and gives back to the family and the communities who raised her. “My life would have turned out so different without this program [Upward Bound],” said Rodrigue, “and I aspire to continue giving back to the program that has helped define my life.”

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent an inspiring video for conference attendees as an acceptance for NEOA’s Shirley Chisholm Award for her commitment and active support for TRIO Programs. The senator expressed her belief that “all of our kids deserve access to a higher quality affordable education and it is up to us to ensure that they have the support and resources that they need along the way. NEOA plays a vital role in this effort working to level the playing field for students across Massachusetts and throughout New England.” Warren assured attendees that she is working tirelessly in the Senate to “make sure the federal government fully addresses college access and completion problems and that includes fighting to preserve funding for federal college completion and access programs including TRIO and GEAR Up.”

Others shared their personal experience and their passion for serving our youth.

Mike Dennehy, director of College Access and Completion at Boston University, was awarded the Marian Belgrave-Howard Award for his 25 years of service to TRIO. During the conference, his colleagues recognized him for his contributions toward professional development, program development and building a regional infrastructure to advocate for first-generation, low-income students. Dennehy’s work has also been recognized by the Boston Celtics as a recipient of their 2007 “Heroes Among Us” award.

Joan Becker, vice provost for Academic Support Services and Undergraduate Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was awarded the Claiborne Pell Award for her exemplary leadership in providing greater educational opportunity to people from low-income backgrounds. She accepted her award and highlighted the importance of getting out of the “basement mentality” and “be intentional” and “position what you’re doing.”

The 40th annual conference ended with a COE update by Chair Trent Ball, 2015–16, thanking NEOA for its grit and grace.

Maria Muccio is the coordinator of the Preparatory Enrollment Program at Rhode Island College. Samienta Pierre-Vil is program and site coordinator for the Suffolk University Upward Bound Program within the Center for Academic Access and Opportunity in Boston. The authors offer special thanks to Ramon Gonzalez and Julie Kimball who were conference committee co-chairs.


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