Purdue student petitions legislators to continue federal funding for TRIO programs

Shenetha Shepherd Shenetha Shepherd

Purdue student Shenetha Shepherd sat at a table in Washington D.C., poring over notes about a proposed bill that threatened federally funded TRIO programs. The next day, Shepherd would stand in front of members of Congress and advocate on behalf of Purdue’s TRIO program, Horizons – she wanted to be ready.

As it turned out, what legislators found most compelling was Shepherd’s own story.

She came to Purdue in 2014, the first in her family to go to college. At the Council for Opportunity in Education’s 2018 Annual Policy Seminar, Shepherd told several members of congress that at first she struggled to navigate the higher education system, but soon found a “home away from home” in Horizons Student Support Services.

Horizons helps first-generation and low-income students overcome social, cultural and academic barriers to success in higher education. Students in the program receive career counseling, academic support, and leadership opportunities from specialized staff, at no cost to the student.

The program served more than 340 Purdue scholars in 2016-17, with 95 percent persisting from one academic year to the beginning of the next academic year, and 96 percent continuing in good academic standing. 

When recounting the policy seminar, which took place in March, Shepherd detailed the ways in which each Horizons staff member had changed her academic trajectory for the better.

She said Josh Milligan, Horizons counseling coordinator, helped her change her major from law and society to corporate communication, which better aligned with her passion and career interests. When she took a Maymester math class, RJ Eisma, Horizons STEM program specialist, worked with her for hours to ensure she grasped unfamiliar concepts.

“I hadn’t taken a math class in years, and I struggled a lot,” Shepherd said. “We had an exam every two weeks, and sometimes I would email RJ at 8 p.m. because I didn’t understand something, and he would email back right away. He was so helpful and patient.”

She talked about becoming a student leader in the Horizons reception area, a teaching assistant in a first-semester student success course, and participating in Horizons’ annual global leadership initiative, which enables students to study abroad at a reduced cost. She went to Thessaloniki, Greece – it was her first time leaving the United States.

She talked about participating in the Indiana House Democratic Internship Program, where she acquired hands-on experience with the legislative process. She mentioned a letter of recommendation that Horizons Director Baraka Corley wrote on her behalf, which helped her application stand out.

And at the policy seminar, it was Horizons Assistant Director Ronnell DuBose who told a legislative aid that Shepherd was looking for another internship. They exchanged business cards and Shepherd emailed her resume; a few days later, she had a phone interview. This summer, Shepherd will intern for U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky, who represents Indiana’s First Congressional District.

The sum of these experiences points to a promising future for Shepherd. Someday, she hopes to run for office herself. Meanwhile, she wants to make sure students from less advantaged backgrounds continue to receive support like what Horizons provides.

“Horizons is my favorite thing about Purdue,” Shepherd says. “When you’re really struggling and don’t know where to go, you can come here and get the help you need. If you talk to Horizons students, they will tell you how the program helped them stay in college, how it saved their lives. That’s why I went to D.C. to share my story – these programs are so necessary, and I want them to continue.”

When Corley interviewed for the Horizons director position in 2017, Shepherd brought a student perspective to the hiring committee. Corley recalls that her questions were genuine and thorough, and remembers being impressed.

“She had exceptional leadership skills then, and she has never plateaued,” Corley said. “Programmatically, our goal is to help our students develop skills they already have and develop their confidence so they can see what we see, and that they run with it. That’s exactly what Shenetha has done.”

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754, andrea@purdue.edu

Last updated: May 18, 2018

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