At the Council for Opportunity in Education’s 2023 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., three TRIO professionals received the Walter O. Mason Award. This award is COE’s highest honor and recognizes individuals for outstanding contributions to college opportunity programs and the advancement of educational opportunity for low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities.
The 2023 award winners are Jeffrey Kahlden, director, Grant Management Services for Student Success at Dallas College; Antonio C. Stephens, director, TRIO Center of Excellence, Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, NC; and Dolores Gomez, director, Student Support Services-Teacher Prep, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“A lot of times with our [TRIO] students, they’re the underdogs,” said Kahlden. “And who doesn’t like rooting for an underdog? And I feel like I was one of those underdogs too, being a first-gen kid. My dad was a truck driver, my mom worked in factories. So we make impacts not only on one or two [students] but on families. We help make those dreams come true for folks from these small towns,” he said.
Stephens reflected on his 30 years in TRIO services. “If you work in TRIO, you have the responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. Like Walter O. Mason, you must be dedicated to the advancement of all,” he said. “If you’re employed by TRIO and you’re just passing time, please find another job. But if you want to make a difference in the lives of others who are less fortunate, pray about it, dedicate yourself and pray some more,” Stephens concluded.
Gomez said that she cried when she received the phone call telling her she would be honored with the award. “I know what it means to receive this award.” She mentioned that her older sister, Norma, paved the way for her family by being the first one to get a bachelor’s degree. Her mother earned her undergraduate degree and master’s degree while Gomez was in college. “She was determined to finish her school and to do better for us. She was discriminated against but never gave up,” Gomez said. “Being able to stand in front of you, it’s an honor. I share [the award] with all of you who have supported me on this journey.”
The Walter O. Mason Award stands as the pinnacle of recognition bestowed by the Council for Opportunity in Education, celebrating extraordinary individuals who have made indelible contributions to the realm of college opportunity programs and the relentless pursuit of educational equity for low-income, first-generation students, and those with disabilities.
Walter O. Mason, a visionary luminary credited as one of the architects of the Federal TRIO programs, blazed a trail that continues to illuminate the path toward educational accessibility. The Walter O. Mason Award, our most esteemed national distinction, symbolizes not just exceptional service but the embodiment of transformative leadership in the ongoing quest for educational excellence and equal opportunity.