Alumni to share their stories during WSU’s National TRIO Day Celebration

A McNair Scholar seated at a recruitment table during a recent outreach event.
A McNair Scholar staffing a recruiting table during a recent outreach event. McNair provides students with specialized courses, research opportunities, academic counseling, and mentoring.

Washington State University alum Shiari McNeil describes her childhood as a tumultuous one. Her parents weren’t always around, and she became the primary caregiver of her six younger siblings at one point. McNeil desperately wanted to be a beacon of hope for them, and had it not been for a couple of teachers who took a special interest in her, she doesn’t know if she could have fulfilled that wish.

It is largely because of those teachers that McNeil decided to become one herself. She began teaching fourth grade at Pullman’s Kamiak Elementary School in the fall of 2023.

“I view it as an honor to serve as a role model and mentor for a new generation of kids,” McNeil said.

Her journey to becoming a teacher, though, was full of challenges. McNeil was pregnant with her first child when she arrived at WSU, and as a first-gen student, she was unfamiliar with how to navigate the college environment.

Luckily, someone told TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Director Carrie Ben-Yisrael about her. Ben-Yisrael invited McNeil to join the program, which is dedicated to giving students like her personalized support to help them succeed in college.

“I always felt people knew who I was in SSS, that people cared about me there, and that I felt seen,” McNeil said. “And because of that, I felt like I could succeed.”

TRIO alums like McNeil are often the most outspoken supporters of the TRIO programs that, in many cases, changed their lives. The entire WSU system will have a chance to hear from some of those alums during WSU’s National TRIO Day Celebration Feb. 20–22.

TRIO is a set of federal outreach and student services programs designed to assist low-income students, first-generation students, veterans, and students with disabilities. WSU has 17 TRIO programs across four campuses that serve a combined 2,295 students.

WSU’s first TRIO program, McNair Scholars, helps prepare undergraduate students for graduate school. During a virtual alumni panel discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 20, from noon–1 p.m., three alums will share the challenges they experienced in college and how McNair helped them achieve success in graduate school.

“Hearing from alumni is always a highlight for our program and university,” said Raymond Herrera, associate vice provost of the WSU Graduate School and McNair program director. “Their journeys are inspiring to all of us, and for them to share their stories with us is a gift we cherish.”

WSU’s National TRIO Day celebrations will continue with a virtual presentation from one of the nation’s strongest TRIO advocates. While not a WSU graduate, Aaron Brown, the executive vice president for the Council for Opportunity in Education and a founding board member of the Washington State TRIO Association, is a TRIO alum who knows the ins and outs of the program. His virtual presentation on Thursday, Feb. 22, from noon–1 p.m., will focus on what makes TRIO programs tick — from policy to practice.

“His talk will help us think more deeply about how policy and social movements address societal challenges, and how that gets incorporated into our community of practices in higher education,” said Luci Loera, executive director for the Office for Access & Opportunity.

 McNeil said she is grateful WSU has incorporated TRIO programs into its recruitment and retention strategies because they are critical in helping students build communities of support — something she desperately needed as a new student at WSU.

“Some students just need to feel seen, know there’s someone out the believing in them, and that there’s a group of people they belong to,” McNeil said. “I feel that is biggest impact TRIO is having on students.”

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