The Advance-Titan

TRIO means more than three

The Campus Center for Equity and Diversity, CCED for short, is tucked away and nestled in between college houses on West Irving and Elmwood avenues. Located across the street from Horizon Village on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus, the CCED is engulfed in climbing vines and blooming trees, but these all build character and hide the gems that the building holds.

For Nancy Harrison, this is where she goes to work every day.

Following her into the building, Harrison is seen as purposeful and direct. From the way she purposefully walks to her office to the way she is organized with the multitudes of bags hanging off her shoulders, she means business.

But there is more to her than meets the eye.

Hidden from some and unknown by most, Harrison can be described in similar terms as the building can: stoic and storied, but most importantly, helpful.

Before Oshkosh

Having been associated with different types of TRIO programs since 1990, Harrison knows her way around student-focused organizations. Her 20-plus years of experience speaks to her knowledge of academia, but more to her focus and admiration of and for college students.

Once she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Harrison’s first position out of school was as a 4-H Club and youth development agent for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. Here, her job and her childhood all came together in one place.

“I had the privilege of working with youth and adults in the counties of Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Walworth over 10 years,” Harrison said. “I was in 4-H growing up and hold the program in high regard.”

Another position she has held includes serving as an adjunct faculty member at Lakeshore Technical College, which involved teaching human growth and development to both nursing and political science students.

She also was an overseer of returning adult students at Northeast Technical College, where she was instrumental in helping students with the transition of personal and academic situations from the workplace to the classroom.

After holding these positions, she went back to school at UW-Milwaukee for her master’s degree in educational psychology-counseling. Once completed, Harrison applied for a director position for a TRIO program for the UW Colleges Upward Bound Program, at the time something she said she did not fully grasp the purpose of.

“I had never heard of TRIO when I applied to the director of the UW Manitowoc/UW Sheboygan Upward Bound program,” Harrison said. “I had just completed my master’s degree and was job searching when I came across the position posting. Since my background was in higher education and working with youth, I decided to apply and the rest is history.”

TRIO, which includes Upward Bound as a sister program underneath it, is a federally-funded outreach program created to provide students with disadvantaged backgrounds a better chance to succeed in higher education. According to Harrison, this program helps set up high school students with the proper tools and knowledge to be better prepared for college.

This position was located on two UW campuses, Manitowoc and Sheboygan, where she worked with 60 students from various Sheboygan-area high schools.

After serving in this role for 14 years, Harrison then became the Director of College Readiness 21, a pre-college program that focuses on premises such as college preparation for incoming first-generation college students (similar to Student Support Services) for Wisconsin private colleges. In total, there were 16 institutions that are included under this label, with 10 being located in the greater Milwaukee area and the remaining six in northeast Wisconsin.

Harrison had jurisdiction over schools such as the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Cardinal Stritch University, Marquette University and Carthage College, among others. For the northeastern chapter, schools such as Lakeland University, Lawrence University, Ripon College and St. Norbert College were included under Harrison.

Staff opinions

Within the last five years, the entire staff, sans Harrison, has been comprised of the staff that is currently there. Five academic advisers and one program associate make up the current staffing for the TRIO program under Harrison.

Harrison has had direct influence on each and every staff hiring, including when Dustin Wagner was added to the team as the University Services Associate. Wagner said he knew from the start how important this program was to Harrison and how her focus was on helping students get the most out of their respective college careers.

“Nancy is a dedicated TRIO advocate, who is eager and passionate about helping first generation students succeed,” Wagner said. “Her commitment to the SSS program is imperative to the success of our team, and the success of our students. Nancy lives and breathes TRIO.”

Cindy Lopez Johnson, who is one of five academic advisers for the SSS program, understood from her first day what Harrison’s focus was on once she first stepped foot in the CCED building.

“My first impression of Nancy was that she was very passionate about the TRIO programs, in particular SSS at UWO and all the benefits the SSS students were receiving from the program,” Lopez Johnson said. “I know that she is very passionate about the work SSS does and the impact the program has on our students.”

From a student’s perspective, Harrison has a less-than-welcoming look to her when meeting her for the first time. However, these opinions were quickly changed once they became more familiar with the type of person Harrison really is.

As a Learning Group Leader for SSS, junior Alma Enciso has had the pleasure of interacting with Harrison for over a year now, as well as teaching groups of SSS-eligible students how to better adapt to college life through simple tips and tricks. Going into her second year as a leader, Enciso’s views of Harrison are drastically different than the ones she had when she first met her.

“Personally I thought she was scary,” Enciso said. “She just had this stern like look about her that makes her look very important. Since I have been hired as a Learning Group leader, I have realized that Nancy is the most sweetest lady ever. She personally cares about how all of our lives are going and generally always hopes for the best for her students.”

Also going into her second year leading learning groups, junior Hannah Weber echoed Enciso’s change of heart for Harrison, eventually understanding who Harrison really is.

“The first time I saw her I think I was scared of her because she is the ‘boss,’” Weber said. “After I became a leader and actually met Nancy, I learned that she is a very nice person and is willing to talk to you about anything.”

First-year leader Katelyn Wulff, who went through learning groups herself last year as a freshman, saw who Harrison really was and how much she means to the TRIO program.

“Nancy’s dedication to the SSS program has no bounds,” Wulff said. “She goes above and beyond by emailing people of proposed federal policy changes that could affect us, dropping in to some of the SSS meetings, and taking time out of her day to answer the questions of an inquisitive SSS Leader who is probably distracting her from her task on hand, me.”

Becoming a Titan

Harrison’s prior experience with Upward Bound afforded her a better understanding of what Student Support Services is. Even with this awareness, she still was not fully aware of what her current position at UWO meant when she applied for it.

“I was vaguely familiar with [SSS] as it is a sister TRIO program to Upward Bound,” Harrison said. “However, each TRIO program is unique in the students it serves and the services it provides, so I needed to become educated about the specifics of SSS. I entered the position assured I would have time to acquaint myself with general SSS policies and procedures, UW Oshkosh and specifically the UW Oshkosh SSS program.”

She has been associated with a TRIO program since 1990, including becoming the program director of SSS at Oshkosh in 2006. Her position at UWO and its importance are very prevalent and integral to the development of students, especially those deemed at risk coming from first-generation and/or low-income households.

As a sub-group of SSS, almost 30 percent of the students in the SSS program fall under the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) facet of the program, which was not established until September of 2015. Introducing the STEM program was an idea directed by Harrison, something Lopez Johnson saw as a passion of Harrison’s to bring to Oshkosh.

“She’s driven,” Lopez Johnson said. “She knew how much students were benefiting from the traditional SSS program, which resulted [in] her writing a grant to try to get the SSS STEM program, which allows us to serve more students.”

Being able to bring STEM aid to the SSS program at UWO, Harrison also is the direct voice for the program to the government, which is how the program receives funding. The relationship she has with representatives that believe in what she and the program are doing for students is what she believes is important.

“I view my position to be the person who is a conduit to the UW Oshkosh administration and to the U.S. Department of Education,” Harrison said. “It is my job to know and understand the policies and procedures of both entities and ensure the SSS programs are in compliance with those policies and procedures. One of most crucial aspects of my position is to monitor student academic success, retention/progression and graduation. SSS programs are evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education based upon those factors.”

The new normal

Every day is an adventure, so for Harrison, a “normal” day does not exist. She provided some insight when describing her daily adventures, which left nothing to be wondered.

“I am not sure there is a normal week, which is one reason I like my job so much,” Harrison said. “Every day is different and when you think you have a day mapped out, something may come along and change it.”

Harrison then broke it down by season to compartmentalize the daily events that transpire in the SSS building. Spring, summer and fall all have different tasks that need to be addressed every year, ones that vary from welcoming in new students to thanking the outgoing students for being a part of the program.

Fall is the busiest time of the year, as Harrison is tasked with submitting annual performance reviews to the Education Department for program evaluation. These reports are to show the government that the program is meeting the requirements described by the funding grant.

Winter interim trickles into the spring semester, as tasks like staff and program evaluation take place before the spring semester is fully in swing.

Harrison said even with the spring semester being quieter, things tend to come up and fill schedules.

“Other tasks often present themselves as changes take place within UW Oshkosh, the UW System and U.S. Department of Education impacting the SSS and SSS STEM programs,” Harrison said. “The SSS and SSS STEM take advantage of professional development opportunities, [ensuring] they remain current of best practices and student trends so the programs provide relevant assistance to the students we serve.”

Summer is when the previous year is evaluated by the staff, according to Harrison. Planning for the upcoming year ensues, where advising and registration for incoming students occur to fully establish a line of communication with future students.

Communication is a key facet of Harrison in the workplace, according to Wagner. Her style of leadership makes the team more cohesive in nature and able to work through any issues they may face on the fly.

“I was impressed with how involved Nancy is with her team,” Wagner said. “In some fields, the supervisor or director, stays in their office and is distant from the rest of the team. They govern. They don’t participate. But I could tell Nancy was one of those directors who truly wanted to be part of the team, not just govern.”

Outside the office and beyond

A consistent thread echoed throughout the academic staff and students is how they strictly have interactions with Harrison in a work and academic environment, but none outside of the Oshkosh campus. Even while knowing she has hobbies that are frequently discussed, Lopez Johnson was unsure of what keeps Harrison going outside of the office.

“I haven’t had too many outside of work interactions with Nancy, but she did come to my wedding last summer,” Lopez Johnson said. “I know in the free-time Nancy likes to go to Door County, go to craft-shows, and spend time with her loved ones.”

Tied to this topic of leisure activities is the passion Harrison shows on a regular basis at work. Regardless of the level of conversation or topic, Wagner knows Harrison’s devotion to the TRIO program knows no bounds.

“I enjoy those moments when [she] gets passionate about SSS and TRIO, and talks about not only our program, but other programs state and nationwide,” Wagner said. “She has a lot of insight on TRIO programs, and her experience is valuable when working as a team on a new project for TRIO.”

The amount of new projects remaining for Harrison is dwindling, as even though the SSS staff’s plan is outlined for the upcoming academic year, Harrison’s is not. When pressed on the subject of her remaining career, which had been previously brought up, Harrison produced a slight twinge as she re-adjusts in her chair.

“[I] do not want to dwell on this,” she said.

With Harrison being in the educational field since receiving her master’s degree, the timeframe for her at Oshkosh has been mentioned before, but effectively sidestepped. Not that Harrison does not know the answer to the question; she just does not want to make it about her.

Through and through, Harrison has always had the students in her best interest. Regardless of when her time comes to an end at UWO, she hopes her accomplishments and impacts on the program and its students are what people cherish the most.

“I want to be remembered as someone who truly believed in the power of TRIO and SSS,” Harrison said. “Even though much of my work was behind the scenes, I hope the students I did get to know realized that commitment. I also hope the staff felt that I allowed them to grow and develop as professionals and they had a voice in designing the program components. I am so fortunate to have crossed paths with students who inspire me every day and to work side-by-side with talented and dedicated colleagues.”

“It has been an honor to be affiliated with TRIO and UW Oshkosh.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
TRIO means more than three