GV receives $1.2 million for TRIO Educational Opportunity Center


GVL / Jonathan Lantiegne

Jacob DeWeerd, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University’s TRIO program has received a $1.2 million federal grant to establish the Laker Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) on campus. The Laker EOC will provide resources and support for Kent and Muskegon County adults 19 years or older that are currently not attending post-secondary education institutions.

The grant, which was written by GVSU TRIO-STEM Director Dr. Nykia Gaines, Mike Messner, Linda Rettig and Tim Marroquin with support from Sarah Keranen-Lopez and Leslie Vaas, will allow TRIO to offer financial and academic assistance to adults who want to pursue a college degree. Throughout the five-year grant period, around 850 adults will be served annually.

TRIO’s services are aimed at first-generation students, limited-income students and students with disabilities – three groups that are vastly underrepresented at most higher education institutions. The program aims to eliminate career and education gaps for those groups. 

“The goals for the eight programs we host at GVSU are to assist participants to progress through the academic pipeline up through earning a terminal degree,” Gaines said. “The Laker EOC staff will work to break down barriers which include limited financial and economic awareness, career readiness and access to postsecondary institutions.”

The Laker EOC will be the first TRIO program offered by GVSU focused on outreach to Kent and Muskegon County adults that are not already in college. While the program’s area of effect will stay fairly local for now, the center could expand to cover other areas of the state, including Detroit.

“We have the potential to apply for another grant in other parts of Michigan,” Gaines said. “We have our Detroit Center in the heart of Detroit, along with neighboring communities in West Michigan are always considered when researching and understanding the needs for these communities.”

Dr. William Washington, Director of GVSU’s TRIO program, is looking forward to the new center because it expands the program’s reach beyond the educational pipeline.

“This program can give hope to those that may have thought that their chance of improving themselves through an education was over,” Washington said. “This program will also cross all kinds of cultural barriers and bring resources to communities of people that may have not had access because of their situations. This excites me because the goal is to not leave anyone without an opportunity to further their education if they so choose.”

The Laker EOC’s physical location on campus has not been finalized yet. There will be space dedicated to the center in the DeVos Center on the Pew campus, and there is a tentative plan for the center to occupy space in the Innovation Hub in Muskegon. Even though the center needs two locations, the Laker EOC’s team still aims to spend as much time outside the office as possible.

“The majority of the staff’s time will be in the community,” Gaines said. “We will meet our community members where they visit – alternative high schools, career centers, veteran offices, etc.”

The TRIO team at GVSU, and the work that they do, is unique because all members once belonged to one of the underrepresented groups aided by the program. TRIO employees are especially passionate about their jobs and find great joy in helping students in situations they once found themselves in.

“Our desire to serve this population has to do with meeting our students and participants where they are while increasing resources that would lead to success and motivating each of them to achieve their academic, community and career goals,” Gaines said.

The Laker EOC is expected to open this fall. More information about TRIO and the services it provides can be found at www.gvsu.edu/sss.