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Senate Confirms TRIO Alumnus Christopher Williamson to Lead MSHA

April 6, 2022

By Terrance Hamm

On March 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote Christopher Williamson as Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) at the Department of Labor.

Chris Williamson most recently has held the position of Senior Counsel to Chairman Lauren McFerran of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Before joining the NLRB, he served in the Obama-Biden Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor as a senior leadership team member at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

"Without question, I owe a great deal of my professional and personal success to my participation in Upward Bound, Student Support Services, and the McNair Scholars Program,” said Williamson. “Each program supported me throughout my educational journey and helped open doors that I did not even know existed.”

Raised by his grandfather, Chris grew up in the heart of coal country in the small community of Dingess, West Virginia. Rural communities in Appalachia, such as Dingess, face unique challenges , including limited access to educational opportunities.

While living in Dingess, Chris attended Tug Valley High School. During Williamson’s time at Tug Valley, the Marshall University Upward Bound program encouraged him to apply to join the program. Thus, his TRIO journey began. He participated in the summer programs and took advantage of every service Upward Bound provided. After graduating as Valedictorian of his class, he left his hometown to attend West Virginia University. While there, his TRIO journey continued as a participant in the Student Support Services Program and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.

After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Economics, he completed a master's degree in Public Policy at American University. Chris later obtained his Juris Doctor from the West Virginia University College of Law.

Before his service at MSHA, Williamson worked in the United States Senate as Labor Counsel to Chairman Tom Harkin on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Joe Manchin III. As Labor Counsel, he advised Chairman Harkin and Committee Members on labor, occupational and mine safety and health, black lung benefits, and other workers' compensation issues. Serving on Senator Manchin's Legislative Team, Williamson was the Senator's primary policy advisor on labor, mine safety and health, pensions, and agriculture issues. These experiences and his understanding of living in the coalfields of West Virginia made him President Biden's ideal nominee for Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health at the Department of Labor.

“Notably, my time in the Upward Bound Program at Marshall University did wonders for my self-esteem and helped transform a socially awkward, shy kid from rural West Virginia into a confident young man ready to tackle any challenge put before him,” said Williamson. To this day, I try to pay it forward by volunteering and helping TRIO whenever I can to help the current generation of students get as much from these wonderful programs as I did."