CU Denver student Samantha Miles talks as an Achiever Speaker at TRIO Day

TRiO supporters gathered to both celebrate and rally for continued funding of the outreach programs that currently serve thousands of low-income university students, including 165 at the University of Colorado Denver.

More than 120 administrators, participants, community members and TRiO alumni assembled at St. Cajetan’s to celebrate National TRiO Day on Feb. 21. While the two-hour program was largely festive, several speakers noted that the programs are in the bull’s-eye of cuts if the sequester, mandated federal spending reductions, go through on March 1 without intervention by Congress.

Keynote speaker Nate Easley, executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation and former president of the Colorado TRiO Association, exhorted the audience to contact their Congressional representatives and not allow a cut of 5.1 percent, or about $42.8 million, to TRiO programs.

TRiO is a set of federally funded university based educational opportunity outreach programs that motivate and support students from low-income backgrounds, including military veterans and students with disabilities.

“TRiO should not have to go every year to Congress with their hat out, begging for investment,” Easley said. “This is not a billiard game — this is an investment in our future, and we have the successes to prove it. About one in three low-income students on America’s college campuses today have gone through a TRiO program.”

About 2.2 million students have graduated from colleges with the support of TRiO, which, starting in 1965, were the first national college access and retention programs to address social and cultural barriers to education in America. Programs include Upward Bound, Veterans Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Centers and Student Support Services.

Two CU Denver TRiO participants were featured at the celebration: Esmeralda Valdez, who sang the national anthem, and Samantha Miles, one of the TRiO Achiever speakers and a peer mentor at the university.

Miles, who grew up in a family of eight children, said TRiO helped her deal with adversity during college, especially when her father fell ill with cancer. “Even when my world seemed to be crumbling and my family was falling apart, my TRiO family provided the emotional stability and the professional development I needed,” Miles said. “… I would not have had it if not for the TRiO staff and the unwavering support of Teresa Deherrera (student services director, CU Denver) the whole way.”

Miles also warned of devastating impacts to TRiO if the sequester goes through. “This invaluable support system will not be available to thousands of students nationwide,” she said. “My experience will be just a memory I can tell my younger brothers about. As for opportunities, they may disappear. As a first-generation, low-income student the hindrances to educational success have at times seemed endless. .. TRiO is the network that supports us.”

Michael Mendoza, another TRiO Student Support Services peer mentor at CU Denver, said he answers students’ questions about financial aid, resource availability and various personal issues. He said he understands what it’s like to come from a family where there’s not much support to attend college. He can relate to their issues and knows how to keep them focused on staying in school and earning a degree.

“Ultimately, that’s the goal of TRiO. We’re trying to give students the support and success to complete a four-year college degree,” Mendoza said.

If students meet the requirements of TRiO membership each semester — attending various meetings and workshops — they receive a book scholarship to cover their university books.

Representatives from the Mayor’s Office, Governor’s Office and various Congressional representatives’ offices attended the TRiO Day. The event ended with participants and leaders collectively vowing to renew their commitment to advocate on behalf of TRiO programs.

(Photo: Samantha Miles, a TRiO Achiever Speaker, addresses the audience at National TRiO Day at St. Cajetan’s on the Auraria Campus.)

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