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National TRIO Day events set for March 30 at UW-Eau Claire

| Denise Olson

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will recognize National TRIO Day with a program and awards ceremony from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, in Davies Center. Awards will be presented to outstanding TRIO students and to UW-Eau Claire staff members who have provided exceptional service for the TRIO programs.

TRIO programs are funded through the U.S. Department of Education to promote the academic achievement of eligible students. The programs serve students whose parents do not have a college degree, students from families of limited income and students with disabilities. Program participants range in age from sixth-graders to adults. TRIO programs at UW-Eau Claire receive more than $1.3 million in federal funding and serve, on average, 500 students annually.

TRIO Day activities at UW-Eau Claire will include a reception, as well as a presentation and awards ceremony from 3:30-4:40 p.m. in the Dakota Ballroom of Davies Center. Educational breakout sessions for participating students will follow the ceremony, covering the topics of student leadership and involvement, and business-related careers.

UW-Eau Claire currently operates four TRIO projects:

  • Upward Bound.
  • Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program.
  • Student Support Services.
  • Project AIM.

Upward Bound

UW-Eau Claire’s award-winning Upward Bound program is a pre-college support TRIO program that assists in preparing first-generation and/or low-income high school students in the Chippewa Valley to be successful in college. The program supports teens as they apply to schools, navigate higher education and make plans to enroll in college.

Through services like intensive ACT preparation, residential summer camps focused on academic instruction, targeted tutoring, career counseling and postsecondary education planning, Upward Bound supports an average of 72 area students each year in grades 9-12; about 95% of UW-Eau Claire Upward Bound graduates enroll in two-year, four-year or technical colleges.

During the pandemic, the program subscribed to an online tutoring platform called TutorMe, offering all enrolled students two hours per week of help in the more than 300 subject areas offered. A second addition to the past year was partnering with the University Honors Program in enlisting Blugold student mentors, positions that became more difficult to fill during the pandemic. 

A notable highlight among the Upward Bound TRIO Day awards will be the "TRIO Achiever Award" going to three graduating high school seniors who will attend UW-Eau Claire in fall 2022: Wa Hua Moua, Rosalva Perez Montes and Iris Xiong.

Ronald McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program

Dr. Kelly Wonder is the current director of the McNair program, an interdisciplinary graduate school preparation program with a research focus. Named after American astronaut Dr. Ronald McNair, the McNair program aims to level the playing field in graduate education and diversify the American research community by class, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

“McNair Scholars take on an extensive two-year research/creative project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. At least two-thirds of our of scholars are the first in their family to complete an undergraduate degree. Many are self-supporting and work multiple jobs while they balance family responsibilities, are active in their discipline and university community, maintain high academic standards and conduct research,” Wonder says.   

Cliff Hayes is a senior McNair scholar who will be receiving a TRIO Day award. As the subject of a fall Veterans Day feature, Hayes reflected on his McNair experience completing his research project with mentor Dr. Jason Spraitz, associate professor of criminal justice.

“More than anything, it’s just really cool to have a relationship like this with a professor,” Hayes says of Spraitz. “It’s been such an incredible experience. And now I feel like I have a leg up going into law or grad school.”

Student Support Services

The TRIO program of Student Support Services (SSS) at UW-Eau Claire serves first-generation and income-eligible college students, as well as students with a documented disability. Their services include free tutoring, academic advising, career development assistance, graduate school preparation and financial planning assistance.

Dr. Bruce Ouderkirk has served as the director of SSS at UW-Eau Claire for 20 years and established the campus observance of National TRIO Day (officially the last Saturday in February) in 2003.

“Working with the students has been incredibly rewarding. I continue to be inspired each day by the dedication, perseverance and resilience of the students in the TRIO programs. I try to be a role model for them, but they are also role models for me,” Ouderkirk says.

A junior English major from Minocqua, Shantel Pierce is vice president of the student SSS advisory board as well as a McNair Scholar, making her an excellent spokesperson for the deep impact of the TRIO programs.

“Both SSS and the McNair program have given me the resources I needed to be a successful student,” Pierce says. “SSS familiarized me with all the campus services available to help support my college journey. The McNair program, on the other hand, is shaping me into a more competitive applicant for graduate school, providing me with the research skills needed to be successful beyond my time at UWEC.” 

Project AIM

Project AIM, which stands for “Ability in Motion,” is a TRIO program that specifically supports students with documented disabilities who are registered with the office of Services for Students with Disabilities. The project mission is to provide participants with individualized assistance, bolstering academic achievement and retention, and empowering students to accomplish their educational and career goals.

Among other awards on March 30, Project AIM will be presenting the “Friends of TRIO Award” to Jamie Tester Morfoot, assistant professor of social work. This award is given to faculty and staff members who strongly support the mission of the TRIO programs and empower eligible college students to fulfill their educational aspirations.

Dr. Vicky Thomas, director of Services for Students with Disabilities and Project AIM, says that SSD staff and faculty like Tester Morfoot make student success possible — efforts worthy of recognition.

“Many students would simply not be able to successfully complete their academic endeavors at UWEC without our committed SSD staff professors like Jamie Tester Morfoot," Thomas says.

The award to Tester Morfoot will be introduced by Jaryd Seever, a senior liberal studies major from White Bear Lake, Minnesota, who received unique opportunities in Tester Morfoot's classroom to speak to fellow students about disabilities. Seever received the TRIO Newcomer Award as a first-year student and is grateful for the support of faculty and the SSD office. 

"Jamie Tester Morfoot really cares for her students and is respectful and inclusive. Speaking in her classes gave me a platform to advocate for people with disabilities and also led me to learn more about social work," says Seever, who plans to graduate in December 2022. "I faced several challenges and obstacles over my college experience, and she was there to listen and offer support."

UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff, students and community members are invited to attend the TRIO Day activities. For more information, contact Dr. Bruce Ouderkirk, director of Student Support Services, at 715-836-4542 or