Joseph D. Aguirre
Where you work:
Northern Wyoming Community College District
What you do:
Director of the TRIO/College Success Program
Where did you grow up?
Patrick Henry Village Military Base in Heidelberg, Germany. I moved to the U.S. when I was 12 years old. The remainder of my childhood was spent in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
If you attended college, where and what did you study?
I attended Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice and a Master of Education in counseling. I focused my studies and research on counseling Latino student populations.
Describe what the Sheridan College Success Program is? How did it come about?
The College Success Program is a program designed to increase student retention and graduation rates at Sheridan College, by providing each student with a professional mentor that works to assist students in college processes, remove barriers and foster an institutional climate supportive of their success. We assist students in a holistic manner by providing academic, career, financial and personal/social assistance through individual mentoring. CSP came as a result of the successes our TRIO program has had at NWCCD. TRIO is a federally funded program designed to keep non-traditional and underrepresented students in college until they gain their degree, certificate and/or transfer. The TRIO program at NWCCD has many rigors for entrance, whereas CSP has only a few, this allows more students to obtain services. Through institutional support and Whitney Benefits we are now able to expand TRIO and offer CSP individual services to any student that applies. Mirroring TRIO, CSP also provides cultural enrichment activities, field studies abroad, community service and social events to tie our students to the community and college, increasing a sense of belonging.
How have you seen the program make a difference already? Can you provide an example?
Yes, the positive difference was noticed and felt right away. For the past few years we have had a waiting list for the TRIO program from students who did not meet federal eligibility or they were not taking enough credits. As soon as we “opened the door” to CSP we had a flood of applications and interested students. Some students needing significant skill building while others just needed a person they could talk through life’s challenges. A clear example we have is from a student who is a single mother coming to college for the first time. She was referred to our program needing more support in helping her find resources, understand college processes and learn more about funding her education. She works hard to provide for her child while attending school, both of which are not easy. After a semester of working with her program mentor she is excelling in the classroom and one can feel the sense of confidence she has in her ability to complete her degree. This is one example of many, where students who need just a little extra guidance can grow with the right meaningful intervention.
You have a couple photographs on Facebook in which you note your support for DACA. Have you had personal experience with Dreamers? What do you wish people knew about that population?
Yes, I have had tons of experience with undocumented students and Dreamers while I have worked in higher education from Pennsylvania to Sheridan. I think it’s important for all people to understand why people immigrate to different places. It’s usually to flee an unstable homeland and/or to make a better life for one’s family. We must remember that we are all immigrants to this country, with the exception of the Indigenous First Peoples. This country was built on the backs of immigrants from the east to the west coast and everywhere in between. If we are truly concerned about doing what is best for humanity, providing access to an education is key to society’s success. Helping Dreamers obtain an education can make the difference between a life in continued poverty or contributing to our society. It is important to realize that borders are socially constructed and control of these borders are used to benefit the host country. Labels such as citizen and even Dreamers just further divides us as people. I have had DACA students who have lived in the United States since they were 9 months old; the only country they know is this country. We need to remember the great equalizer for all people is an education. Everyone should have the opportunity and access to an education regardless of citizenship.
What’s your favorite thing to do in the area?
I really enjoy hunting; however, with time constraints and my lack of luck to draw any good tags; I have found a new passion. As my children have grown older, my favorite thing to do with them here in Sheridan is to go camping. We love being outside when the weather is nice and being disconnected from the world is so nice. As a single father, I find it very hard to have quality time with my kids without thinking about something that needs done. I feel that I am more able to just “be” with my children in the mountains and enjoy them. I love to play with them, cook over an open fire, look for animals and watch them using their imagination as they play with whatever they find. Therefore, my favorite thing to do here is to be outside with my kids.