SSS reports on D.C. trip

This February, SNU student Andrea Zarate was invited by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) to speak nationally before members of the U.S. legislature in an attempt to raise awareness about the federal TRIO programs for low-income and disabled Americans, such as Student Support Services (SSS). Zarate was accompanied in her travels by SNU Dean of Arts & Sciences Dr. Martha Banz and Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) Director Loral Henck.

The main goal of the COE-sponsored trip was to help promote the success of TRIO students - specifically SNU’s Student Support Services (SSS) program - and to help raise the awareness among Congressional staffers of TRIO programs. This was an especially important initiative, since the President’s proposed budget discontinues funding for two very successful TRIO programs (Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search). Both programs have a long track record of success in providing support to underprivileged high school students across the nation, and are a critical component of success for literally thousands of students who would not otherwise aspire to complete college.

The COE brought the group of 14 invited student participants together on Sunday evening to begin the process of orienting them to what would occur over the next two days, as well as to make the final selection of who would speak at the noon briefing itself. By mid-morning Monday, after a variety of activities and exercises targeted to identify those who would speak, six students were selected. Andrea Zarate, SNU student, was one of those selected to share her story.

The briefing, which was held at noon on February 28 in the Rayburn Congressional Office Building, was sponsored by the COE. Special invitations were extended to the staffers serving those Representatives on the House Appropriations Committee, as well as other selected offices. Approximately 40 Congressional offices were in attendance.

During the briefing, each of the six selected students shared their stories. They described their backgrounds, the challenges and hardships they had faced and overcome, and talked about the ways in which the support services provided by TRIO programs had helped them accomplish their goals. The briefing lasted approximately 1½ hours, and was followed by a time of informal interaction with the various Congressional aides, responding to their questions and providing more details about the TRIO programs and their results.

Later Monday afternoon, Banz, Henck, and Zarata met with Representative Ernest Istook’s education aide, Ms. Deborah Shelby. The meeting was very thorough, lasting a full 30 minutes (which is amazing considering how busy they are in D.C. during session!). Andrea shared her story with Ms. Shelby, who had been unable to attend the briefing, and responded to many questions about the SSS program and the services it provides.

On Tuesday afternoon, Banz, Henck, and Zarata met with Representative Tom Cole and were able to express their gratitude to him in person for the strong leadership he has provided in support of TRIO programs. They also met briefly with the chief of staff for Representative Kenny Marchant, extending greetings to Congressman Marchant from the SNU campus.