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Past MO-KAN-NE TRIO Achievers

Sergeant (Retired) Robert Dwight Wake, Sr., participated in the Student Support Services program at Three Rivers community College and is currently the CEO and Founder of the Wake Foundation. Sergeant Blake states, "I needed to sure up myself with a better education which was something I never had. Dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), I was very concerned about whether I would succeed. I joined the ACHIEVE Program, and they took me under their wings and helped calm the fears I had. Through a lot of tutoring and counseling, they made a difference in my college experience that would have never happened without the ACHIEVE program. They were always very patient with me, and if they couldn’t find a solution that made sense to me, they found someone who did. There is no doubt that a lot of students’ struggles would have been more severe if it was not for this program."


Dr. Meladee Garst, Ph. D., participated in the Wichita State University McNair Scholars Program and currently serves as a Staff Psychologist at Wichita State University.Dr. Garst states,"The McNair program helped guide me to my rightful path. I was able to see that "someone like me" does go to graduate school and can have their DREAM career. I believe being part of this program made me a great student, but an even better psychologist. The connections I made within the program helped provide additional support, but also allowed me to learn the research process more in-depth. Conducting my own research, and developing mentoring relationships on both an academic and a personal level, has proved invaluable.”



Vicki Silvers Gier, Ph.D
Vicki Silvers Gier, Ph.D participated in the University of Central Missouri McNair Scholars program in 1993-1994 and is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at Mississippi State University. She earned a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology with a Cognitive Emphasis from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2003. While a McNair Scholar, she was awarded a summer research internship that allowed her to publish her first research article, The Effects of Pre-existing, Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension. In subsequent years, that research won Vicki the Ig Nobel Award for Literature from Harvard University and was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. Before beginning her faculty position at MSU, her career came full circle when she accepted a position as Academic Coordinator for the McNair Scholars program at her alma mater, University of Central Missouri. She made a promise to herself to pay forward the impact that TRIO had on her life as a first-generation, low-income student and is extremely proud that a McNair Scholar under her tutelage during her time as an Academic Coordinator has just completed a Ph.D. Dr. Gier continues to conduct research with her McNair mentor and long-time friend, Dr. David Kreiner, and hopes to get a McNair Scholars proposal funded at MSU.

Benjamin D. Schears participated in Cowley County Community College IMPACT Student Support Services in 2000-2001. He attributes his success to his mother and grandparents, his IMPACT math tutor who is now his wife of 15 years, and the TRIO staff who helped him reach his potential as a first-generation, low-income college student. “I am walking testimony of what can happen when quality programs, with caring individuals running them, encounter students who need help.” Benjamin earned a Master of Arts in History from Emporia State University while simultaneously climbing the Cowley ranks. He was named the Executive Director of Enrollment and Outreach Services, only six years after completing his bachelor’s degree. In 2011, Ben was promoted to Vice President for Institutional Advancement. His future goals include earning his doctorate degree and becoming a college president.

Jamie Bezdek, Ph.D. participated in the University of Kansas McNair Scholars program in 2000 - 2001 and currently is employed as a Research Associate at the University of Kansas Lifespan Institute. Dr. Bezdek’s passion and commitment for disadvantaged students started with her undergraduate research projects as a McNair Scholar and her commitment to educational equality is grounded in her beginnings as a TRIO student. Dr. Bezdek is a TRIO champion at heart and will continue to advance the lives of many underrepresented populations.

John Crooker, Ph.D. was a member of the first McNair Scholars program at the University of Central Missouri, Class of 1992, and currently serves as the Director of Institutions Research and the University of Central Missouri. Dr. Crooker successfully overcame the varied and burdensome barriers associated with being raised in a first-generation and low-income family. Dr. Crooker states that “without a doubt, participating in the McNair program was a pivotal moment in my academic career and ultimately my life. There is not anything that has had a larger impact on what I am doing now.”

Maaskelah K. Thomas, Ph.D participated in Wichita State’s Upward Bound program in 1973 – 1975 and is the Founder/Principal Consultant with Transformative Concepts Consulting Group. She is a constituent volunteer in the Wichita community and works tirelessly to close the gap between the elders of the community and the youth. Dr. Thomas explained that “I knew that I wanted to attend college, but I was not sure exactly what that meant, not having had a history or role models in my family for how that might be achieved. My first summer on the campus of Wichita State University provided such an inspiration for me to do whatever I could to achieve this dream."

Dr. Hieu Minh Doan was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2013. She participated in both Upward Bound and Student Support Services at Garden City Community College. She earned her Associate in Science degree at Garden City Community College, a Bachelor of Science degree at Kansas State University, and her Medical Doctor degree at the University of Kansas School of Medicine where she is currently in an Internal Medicine Residency. Dr. Doan shared the following in her personal statement, “Student Support Services provided opportunities for me to further explore my career interests, meet great instructors/advisors who provided guidance, encouragements, knowledge, and letters of recommendation which greatly contributed to my success.”

Tanesha Forte was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2013. She participated in the Educational Opportunity Centers program at Metropolitan Community Colleges in Kansas City, MO. Tanesha earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and a Master of Arts in Education from Rockhurst University. She is currently employed as a Facilitator for The Women’s Clinic. Tanesha stated in her personal statement that “…the Educational Opportunity Center changed my life completely. I know for a fact that I would not have made it to college, complete my studies to get my B.A. and my Masters of Education without the guidance the program offered me. If I had not received the support from EOC, I’m 100% sure I would not have the productive and goal/community oriented life I have now.”

Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Ph.D. was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2013. She participated in the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Central Missouri. She earned a Masters of Arts degree at both Texas Tech University and Central Missouri State University. Amber earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Kansas. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Central Missouri.

Juan M. Izaguirre was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2012. He participated in the Educational Talent Search Program from 1993-1994, Upward Bound from 1994-1996, and Student Support Services from 1996-2001 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He earned both his Bachelors and Masters degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He currently is the Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Pre-College Programs at Florida Atlantic University. Juan shared the following in his personal statement, “My history with these programs has helped shape who I am and has given me memories that I have cherished for the past seventeen years.

Jaswant Sullivan, Ph.D. was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2012. He participated in the Ronald E. McNair Program from 1996-1997 at Truman State University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Truman State University, two Master of Arts degrees from Southern Illinois University and Indiana University, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University. He currently is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University. Jaswant’s recommender shared the following in her letter of recommendation, “Jas’ dedication to helping others from disadvantaged backgrounds like himself embodies the ideals of TRIO and helps fulfill the dream of Dr. Ronald E. McNair.”

Willie Lewman was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2011. He participated in the Veterans Upward Bound Program from 2001-2002 and the Student Support Services Program from 2002-2003 at Western Nebraska Community College. He earned an Associate of Arts from Western Nebraska Community College and Bachelor of Science from Chadron State College. He currently is a teacher at Rawlins Cooperative High School. He is pursuing a Master's degree and received the 2010 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. Willie stated in his personal statement, “I could never repay TRIO VUB for all they have done for me and my family.”


Sonia Esquivel, Ph.D. was honored as a TRIO Achiever in 2011. She participated in the Student Support Services Program from 1994-1998 at Garden City Community College. She earned an Associate of Arts from Garden City Community College, Bachelor of Fine Arts/Master of Science from Fort Hays State University, and her PhD from Kansas State University. She currently serves as the Academic Advisor and Assistant Professor for United States Air Force Academy. The focus of her doctoral research was the adjustment process of Latino students to college. Sonia said in her personal statement, “I will never forget (and will always be grateful for!) the sense of belonging I felt while in the TRIO Program at GCCC. We were more than students and staff; we were more like a family – always encouraging each other and providing support when needed."

EOA Foundation

The EOA Foundation provides scholarships and awards to TRIO and educational opportunity program students in the ten-state region served by EOA.


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