February 26, 2021
By Marnie O’Malley
The Thomas R. Wolanin Congressional Internship Program is designed to provide individuals who are in the first generation of their families to graduate from college with an opportunity to observe the federal policy-making process first-hand and to participate in that process.
On Thursday, February 18, at the virtual Federal TRIO Programs: Uniting for College Access and Success briefing, bipartisan and bicameral Members of Congress and congressional staffers shared their experiences of how TRIO guided them through college graduation and into the halls of Congress.
The centerpiece of the briefing was a panel discussion that featured four congressional staffers: Alaura Ervin of University of Central Oklahoma, a former TRIO staff member for Student Support Services programs and current deputy legislative assistant for Senator Tim Scott (R-SC); Noel Perez, a graduate of California State University East Bay Student Support Services, current director of outreach for the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee; Noah Yantis of Illinois College Student Support Services and current legislative director for Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN); and T.J. Lucas, Upward Bound alumnus of Pikeville College and current legislative assistant for Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
From TRIO alumna and TRIO staffer and current congressional staffer, Alaura Ervin declared “TRIO just keeps giving.” She recalled bringing her younger sister — a member of her same TRIO program—and her sister’s other TRIO classmates to Washington, D.C. to meet with TRIO advocates in Congress. Alaura was able to reflect on that moment, “Wow, I remember when they did this for me, feeling blown away by being in the U.S. Capitol Building. Now I can bring students here and give them that same experience.” Alaura’s experience from TRIO enabled her to connect students to solutions for financial aid, class scheduling, and problems in the classroom, among other obstacles.
TRIO alumnus Noel Perez was a first-generation college student and recognized the value of TRIO immediately after he arrived at campus. Before freshman orientation, Noel was able to settle into college life with the help of his TRIO counselor. Noel says “she was culturally competent, supportive, willing to address and give advice when I needed it. I was fortunate to have her available every step of the way — for internships, scholarships, and classes.”
T.J. Lucas, Legislative Assistant for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), completed the TRIO Upward Bound program in high school, hosted by Pikeville College, and then graduated from the University of Charleston. T.J. described his experience growing up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia, and in the foster care system. As a first-generation college student, T.J. said, “I knew that I had to go to college, but I didn’t know how to go to college.” He shared how Upward Bound gave him opportunities and resources on completing the FAFSA and how to fill it out, how to get recommendations, how to complete applications, and college visits in D.C. TRIO “was critical in getting me to where I am today.”
Alaura Ervin added “it was a big deal for me to go (to a conference) by myself without my family.” A sophomore at the time, for her first time riding in a plane Alaura gives thanks to her TRIO mentor who pushed her to apply to the National Undergraduate Conference for Research.
“I was never aware of the impact of research and TRIO helped me connect with my faculty professor to help me with my research and print my poster — it was perfect,” Alaura says.
Noah Yantis recalled how his TRIO Student Support Services advisor checked with his professor whether he was attending class and pulled him off the golf course when he found out Noah wasn’t. His TRIO adviser recommended Noah to his first Washington, DC internship with The Washington Center, which led to his first job in Congress... and now Noah is a legislative director. Without TRIO, Noah says, “I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The event also included welcome remarks from the Congressional TRIO Caucus Co-Chairs: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), TRIO alumna Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), andRep. Mike Simpson (R-ID).