Nov. 11, 2021 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Teera Wilkins has helped students prepare for college success for years. As the new project director of Grand Rapids Community College’s first TRIO Educational Opportunities Center, she’ll use her skills to help adult learners from across the region access higher education.
GRCC was awarded a five-year, $1.16 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create the center, where unemployed or low-wage workers, prospective first-generation college students, and other adult learners can work with campus specialists to explore higher education options and connect with on- and off-campus resources and programs to support their educational goals.
The Educational Opportunities Center will connect people with programs and services that help with high school diploma or GED certificate completion, academic advising and personal counseling, tutoring and mentoring, career workshops, student financial assistance and help with completing college admission processes. The work will cover a region of 13 counties.
“I want to make sure everyone has access to a college education that can change their lives,” Wilkins said. “There are many resources in our greater community that can help students of all ages be successful. Many people might not be aware of the support that is available to them. Our new center will make those connections and help them start -- and complete -- a postsecondary credential that can lead to rewarding careers.”
The center supports a range of adult learners, including those with limited proficiency in English, those with disabilities; those facing housing insecurity; people aging out of the foster care system; military service persons, veterans, and their dependents; and members of other groups traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education. The TRIO program also supports students who are low-income or are potential first-generation college students.
Educational Opportunities Centers, launched in 1972, are part of a set of federal programs known as TRIO, which is authorized by the Higher Education Act to help low-income, first-generation students and those with disabilities succeed in higher education.
During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, 139 Educational Opportunity Centers served more than 192,000 adult learners.
Wilkins has used her experiences and expertise to assist students in a variety of roles.
She graduated from Grand Rapids Public Schools and participated in the GRCC Upward Bound program as a high school student. She worked as a summer residential staff member for GRCC and Upward Bound after graduating.
She continued her education at Tennessee State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in biology.
Her interest in science and the medical field led her to work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for 10 years until she discovered her passion for working with underserved students and helping them reach their educational potential.
As a GRCC college navigator, Wilkins worked with Grand Rapids Public Schools students from elementary school to high school, sharing information about GRCC and helping those interested in attending find the support and resources to enroll and be successful.
She mentored GRCC students along their educational journey to assist them in reaching their academic goals -- whether they plan to step into a career, or transfer to a four-year college or university.
Wilkins also has headed a peer-to-peer program -- Raider Guide – to connect experienced GRCC students with newly enrolled classmates to encourage and help them adjust to the college experience.
She also was a member of the Promise Zone team, providing city students interested in GRCC with information and resources to help them pay for college. Those resources include the Grand Rapids Promise Zone Scholarship, GRCC Foundation scholarships, and grants and low-interest loans from Federal Financial Aid.
Wilkins and the center can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by text at (616) 236-5017 and by phone at (616) 234-3399.
Photo by Andrew Schmidt.