By Jake Huffcutt —
The charismatic and poetically named United States Congressman, Ron Kind, visited the University of Wisconsin–Stout on Oct. 19, to congratulate the ASPIRE Student Support Services office on their successful renewal of two TRIO five-year federal grants. The program provides financial and academic assistance to students who come from low-income backgrounds, are first generation students or are students with a disability.
Earlier this year, Kind himself announced that Stout would be rewarded with two grants: the ASPIRE SSS Classic Grant and the ASPIRE SSS Disability Grant. The grants are worth $311,397 and $247,561 a year respectively, and account for the entirety of the office’s funding. The grants were written by former ASPIRE Director, Sharon Franklin and Dean of Students, Deb Shefchik.
Kind first stopped at the ASPIRE office on the third floor of Bowman Hall to congratulate the staff. Then he headed to a conference room on the first floor of Bowman to hear testimonials from students involved with ASPIRE, who got to explain to him how helpful the program was for them.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to support the TRIO program,” Kind said while on campus, “so that the doors of education are not determined by how rich your family is, but rather by your own motivation and willingness to work hard, and that there will be programs there to support you. In my view that’s what ASPIRE is all about.”
The grants are competitive, meaning that the office had to prove its need on campus. The program had their grants renewed because of its proven excellence with these services in the past; the center consistently surpassed objectives set by the grant.
ASPIRE provides a number of crucial services for Stout students, which include: individual academic advising, writing and math support, career counseling, college study skills, peer support, financial planning assistance and graduate school preparation.
ASPIRE is a part of the TRIO program. “TRIO” refers to a series of programs that were funded after the Higher Education Act of 1965, which was created with the intention of providing college success support for students who are at a disadvantage.
The ASPIRE office at Stout was formed in 1980 and will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. In 2001, Stout’s ASPIRE program was recognized for its excellence through the National Model Program.
Now that the grants have been renewed for another five-year cycle, the center is looking towards the future. One of the interim directors at ASPIRE, and Director of the Classic Grant Angela Swenson-Holzinger said, “[the program] is trying to connect with South Hall and become actively involved with the hall and its staff. We’re trying to bring some of the ASPIRE programs to them, so they don’t have to come to us.”
The other interim director and Director of the Disability, Grant Angie Ruppe, is excited to bring back an early bridge program for members. “Essentially students would come to campus early to participate in workshops on student success strategies, to get acclimated with campus and to find out where their classes are,” Ruppe said. “All of this so that they have a good solid start when the term begins.”
Both Ruppe and Swenson-Holzinger were in consensus that the most important part of ASPIRE is that it can feel like a second home to students, and that it’s a place where they can feel understood.
“Our staff wants to help students know that there’s someone in their corner,” Swenson-Holzinger said, “someone who wants them to be successful.”