TCC academic counselor John Thao is perhaps uniquely suited to serve as co-chair of the education committee for the mayor’s New Tulsans Initiative.
“Both of my parents were born in Laos, and came to the United States knowing no English,” says Thao. He experienced first-hand the challenges they had to overcome in their new home. And if that were not enough, he works in the TRIO program at TCC.
“My passion is working with underrepresented and underserved populations to give them access to opportunities for higher education,” says Thao. “Given the position I’m in in TRIO, I thought this would be a great opportunity to reach out to immigrant communities about programs that can be available to them, especially for those who want to pursue higher education.”
The TRIO Programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to a bachelor's degree and beyond. Through Federal funding, TCC offers two TRIO programs: Educational Opportunity Centers and Student Support Services.
It seems a small step from his work in TRIO to the New Tulsans Initiative.
The initiative, announced by Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum in September, aims to develop a strategic plan to promote socially responsible immigrant integration. According to the mayor’s office, it is key for the city’s future to remove barriers to integration for immigrants and their families, especially in areas of education, development and entrepreneurship.
“Given the city and its diverse communities, of which a big part are immigrants, this initiative will help immigrant families to be more aware of all the different types of services that are available to them. Adjusting to living in a whole new society and culture can be especially challenging and frustrating when you’re trying to navigate all the systems – medical, health, housing. This initiative is taking a proactive approach to addressing those issues and expanding awareness in Tulsa.”
Thao will co-chair with Diane Eason Contreras, Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at the YWCA. They will facilitate meetings with community leaders to develop a strategic plan to identify the educational needs of immigrants and how to provide them resources and services.
“We plan to reach out to the community and get them to share their opinions, challenges, and needs in the realm of education so we have a better idea of how to serve them effectively and efficiently,” says Thao. “The City of Tulsa wants each of the committees to come up with a strategic plan based on our research.”
TRIO is one way TCC fulfills HLC’s expectation that student support services be consistent with the mission (1.A.2) and that student support services are suited to the needs of students (3.D.1). For more about TRIO, check out the video or visit the TCC TRIO webpage.