Our Board


Board Chair

Sam Blanco III

Sam Blanco III is the Associate Director of the University of California, Davis Pre-College TRIO Programs, which includes one Upward Bound Classic and three Talent Search programs. Sam has worked for TRIO programs at UC Davis for 30 years, including as Academic Coordinator and Director for Upward Bound, Assistant Director, and Director for Talent Search. He has also been a member of the Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel (WESTOP) for 30 years. Throughout those years, he has served as Northern California Chapter Treasurer and President, along with many different committees and service council positions. Sam was also awarded the WESTOP Service Award in 2015. Most recently, Sam also served as Co-Chair of the Resource Development Committee for the COE 2021-22 Board of Directors. Sam Blanco III earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics from UC Davis in 1992 and his master’s degree in Educational Administration from Sacramento State University in 1999. He served four years as School Board Trustee for the Woodland Joint Unified School District, where he has been President for two years. Sam has been married to Pam Blanco for 21 years, and they have two beautiful daughters.

Past Board Chair

Joseph R. Givens

Joseph Givens is the Director of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at Louisiana State University, a program that he has worked with since 2008. Before this appointment, he was the Assistant Director for Educational Talent Search at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. Givens has served in leadership roles on both state and regional levels, including his current position of Chair of the 2022-23 Board of Directors for the Council for Opportunity in Education. He also advocates for marginalized artists and specializes in the scholarly investigation of artists and art movements neglected in the historical canon. He teaches courses on topics of marginalized art, has presented papers at the International Comics Art Conference in conjunction with ComicCon International, and is a contributing author to Oxford University Art Online.


Board Chair-Elect

Mara Luna

Mara Luna, the visionary director of the TRIO Upward Bound program at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras Campus, boasts a remarkable career journey that began as an elementary English teacher in a rural community outside San Juan over two and a half decades ago. Her dedication to uplifting low-income families has left an indelible mark, as she has expertly navigated the realm of English as a Second Language (ESL), instructing students of all ages, from kindergarteners to adults. With an impressive 17 years of higher education experience, Mara transitioned seamlessly into the TRIO community, overseeing a federal grant dedicated to enriching the professional development of public school teachers. A dynamic presence within the Caribbean Association of Educational Opportunities Programs (CAEOP), she has led the charge as an active board member, steering the Professional Development and TRIO Achievers Committees and contributing to the Conference committee. Beyond her illustrious career, Mara holds a bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages (1993) and a master’s degree in Teaching of English as a Second Language (2003) from the University of Puerto Rico. After conducting groundbreaking research in Curriculum and Teaching at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, she completed her doctoral degree in 2022, cementing her status as a true educational trailblazer.


Theresa Rader

Theresa Rader has been Director of TRIO Student Support Services at Montana Tech in Butte, MT since 2015. The previous seven years she served as TRIO Coordinator for Upward Bound and Talent Search for Butte schools. As a first-generation, low-income student, she received BA’s in English and Communications from the University of Jamestown. She served as Montana ASPIRE President from 2016-2018. In Addition to TRIO, Theresa directs a summer GEAR UP camp, co-founded the Montana Tech STEM Academy and the Montana Tech Fellows in Research Academy.  She was also instrumental in creating an endowed scholarship for first-generation students, is member of Indigenous Mentoring Program, as well as serves on the campus Veterans Task Force and General Education Committee. Outside of her professional commitments Theresa serves on the Executive Board of the Human Resource Council District XII, Co-Chair of the Southwest Montana Community Action Team, Chair of the Southwest Montana Tavern Association Scholarship Committee, and is a TRIO Girl Scout Troop Leader.


Leo Conway

Leo Conway began his work with TRIO as an Upward Bound Summer Program Tutor Counselor at Saint Francis University in 1990.  Prior to working full-time for TRIO, Leo was a high school mathematics teacher who returned almost every summer to the SFU Upward Bound Program to teach the students Calculus and Trigonometry and help to supervise the tutor counselor staff.  He enjoyed working with TRIO students so much that when a full-time position was available in 1999 at Saint Francis University, he jumped at the opportunity.  Leo worked at SFU for over eighteen years before becoming the Associate Director of TRIO Upward Bound Programs (Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, and Upward Bound Migrant) at Penn State University. Leo has been actively involved in the Pennsylvania Association of TRIO Programs (PA TRIO) and has served in various positions including Financial Affairs Committee Chair, Conference Chair, Treasurer, and President.  Prior to his tenure in leadership positions with Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (MEAEOPP), Leo began as a regional Emerging Leader and served as the region’s Treasurer for almost six years. Leo earned his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics with a Minor in Secondary Education from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA and his master’s degree in education from Saint Francis University.  While a high school instructor, he was active in the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), served as the Student Organizations Committee Chair, and sat on its Board of Directors.  Leo enjoys watching Pittsburgh Steeler football, going to the movies, and listening to music from the 1980s (especially Tina Turner).


COE Board Members, Bylaws, and Strategic Plan

Please note, COE’s Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from its affiliate regional associations. There are presently 10 affiliate members of the Council for Opportunity in Education. View the current Board of Directors members list here and the organizational bylaws here. The current COE strategic plan can be found here.

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