TRiO scholars visit Washington, D.C.

Jerry Wright
Jerry Wright

During spring break this year, a group of NIU students in the Student Support Services program visited the nation’s capitol.

They traveled with other students representing TRiO Programs throughout the state. TRiO Programs are federally funded initiatives aimed at helping students who are first-generation, low-income and/or learning or physically disabled.

The students took part in the Washington, D.C., Leadership Seminar sponsored by the Illinois Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (ILAEOPP). The seminar was coordinated by Jerry Wright, director of Student Support Services at NIU.

From the Natural History Museum to the Air and Space Museum, the educational experience was one they won’t soon forget.

TRiO scholars visit Howard UniversityOn the first day of the excursion, students got the opportunity to explore the Smithsonian Museum on the National Mall.

On Day Two, students visited the monuments. The double-decker bus tours allowed students to see all of the historic sites in D.C. The new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial seemed to be the most popular attraction.

Afterward, students pressed their way into the crowded Ben’s Chili Bowl, a popular eatery made more famous by a visit from President Obama while he was president-elect.

On Day Three, students toured educational institutions including the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, Howard University and Georgetown University. On the last day in the nation’s capitol, the students visited Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, the highlight of the tour.

Here are Wright’s thoughts on this spring’s trip:

Every year, TRiO Programs in Illinois send a group of students to Washington, D.C. The Illinois Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (ILAEOPP) sponsors a leadership seminar each year.

In the past nine years, I have had the honor of coordinating the seminar eight times. It is a labor of love.

TRiO scholars visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.The benefits:

The Washington, D.C., leadership Seminar allows me to interact with TRiO program staff and students throughout the state. I learn a great deal about TRiO just from these interactions.

I also learn a great deal about state and federal government.

In D.C., we meet our legislators from various districts. It is my job to coordinate meetings between students and every legislator from the great state of Illinois.

The students get excited as they take advantage of the opportunity to have dialog with Jesse Jackson, Jr, Jerry Costello, Bobby Rush, Judy Biggert, Danny Davis and Dick Durbin, just to name a few. We may even see President Obama!

Last but not least, Washington, D.C., is one of the most historic sites in the nation. There are plenty of arts, museums, monuments and memorabilia. Almost any thing pertaining to the history of America can be found in D.C.

The costs:

You may gain a few pounds on the trip to D.C.

Because I nearly starved on my first Washington, D.C., Leadership Seminar (1995), I may still be over compensating. In 1995, the coordinator had meals like burgers one day, pepperoni pizza another day, a six-foot bologna sub the next day. That may sound cool to you, but at the time I didn’t eat beef or pork.

Now we eat on university campuses to give variety. If you are ever in D.C., there are four places you have to try to get to for a meal.

1. Georgetown University
2. Union Station Food Court
3. American University
4. The Great American Steak and Buffet, Alexandria.

The biggest detractor to the whole trip is the 14-hour bus ride there and back.

As the coordinator, it is the part of the trip that I also believe bonds the group. When you have to sit next to someone for 28 hours, you do get to know them. On the bus we watch movies, play cards, sing songs and listen to music; some students even manage to study (few). Each trip is like a family reunion, and since I am a big family man, I absolutely love the Washington, D.C., Leadership Seminar.

by Jerry Wright

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