As we know, much has been said and written, in the local media, and will likely continue, about Mr. Surangel S. Whipps, Jr., (SWJ), as our president, a leader, a politician, and a businessman. However, little is known about the man as a person from a humble beginning, to who he is today. One of the things that many people may not know about SWJ, together with his lovely wife, Ms. Valerie R. Whipps, our First Lady, is that they were both participants of the TRIO Upward Bound (UB) program at the then Micronesian Occupational College (MOC) during their high school years. SWJ was from 1984-85, and the First Lady from 1986-1988, respectively. They completed the program, and graduated from Palau High School as valedictorians in their respective classes. SWJ in the Class of 1985, and the First Lady in the Class of 1988, respectively. After high school, they both went on to obtain their college degrees in the USA. SWJ went to Virginia Tech and later transferred to Andrews University and received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1988, at the age of 19. He then went on to obtain his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California Los Angelels (UCLA) in 1992. The First Lady earned her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Social Control from Washington State Univerity in 1994. We can credit the UB program at MOC for building a solid foundation for their college success. They returned home and built a very successful life together and are now both serving our nation and our people. Last month the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) in Washington, DC., a national organization for the TRIO programs, recognized their outstanding achievements in their respective lives, and awarded both as two successful former participants ofthe UB program at MOC, the 2023 TRIO Family Achievement Awards. These awards were presented last month during the COE’s 42nd annual conference in Washington, DC. This is one of the highest awards that COE presents to former participants of any TRIO programs during its annual conference. The conference was attended by about 1,500 TRIO professionals throughout the nation, its territories and the Freely Associated States (FAS) including the Palau Community College (PCC). This was the first time ever in COE’s forty-two year history to present this prestigious award to a Head of State and the First Lady from an independent country.
In her letter to President SWJ dated November 8, 2022, announcing the award, and inviting them to attend the annual conference, Ms. Maureen Hoyler, president of COE, said, “COE is more than happy to cover your expenses, and those of the First Lady, in traveling to and staying in Washington for this event.” However, SWJ, a very giving and generous man, responded by offering two suggestions for Ms. Hoyler to consider. First, SWJ indicated in his letter dated December 12, 2022, that he will take care of their entire travel expences to and from Washington, DC, but in exchange COE is requested to consider sending someone to Palau to conduct a training at PCC to all the TRIO staff at no cost to either the programs or the college. SWJ had several meetings in Washington, DC., that he had to attend at about the same time as the COE conference, and he will pay the travel cost for the First Lady. Secondly, SWJ requested Ms. Hoyler to consider sending someone to Palau to conduct a training on grant writing to PCC staff to write a new TRIO Student Support Service (SSS) grant proposal so that PCC would have a program that serves college students. PCC currently have a Talent Search (TS) that serves middle and high school, Upward Bound (UB), and Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) programs that both exclusively serve high school students. PCC used to have an SSS program but lost it about ten years ago. I heard the college tried to write a new SSS grant proposal, but was not successful. Ms. Hoyler happily accepted both requests. On July 23-24, 2023, two staff members from COE namely, Ms. Angelica Vialpando, one of the most recognized and respected trainers for all TRIO programs throughout the nation, conducted the training, and Ms. Andrea Reeve, a professional TRIO grant writer, held grant writing training to PCC staff in preparation to write a new SSS grant proposal. These two trainings that were held at PCC were the first time ever for COE to send a TRIO program’s trainer and a professional grant writer all the way to Palau at no cost to the programs or the college. This was made possible, thanks to our SWJ’s generosity, but more importantly his continuing support for Palauan students, to complete their high school and college education. PCC has a new TRIO UBMS program with the entire staff members who are new and may not have attended any training due to, among others, a very high cost for off island travel, registration fees and other related expenses. President SWJ in the same letter indicated that the training in Palau will be extended to TRIO professionals from the University of Guam, COM-FSM, and the College of the Marshall Islands. These offisland guests stayed at the local hotels in Palau which also helped with the travel industry.
Ms. Andrea Reeve told the TRIO staff from PCC that she will read their new SSS grant proposal during the next competiton and provide needed assistance to hopefully ensure success at no cost to the college. This will hopefully bring additional federal funds that the college need but more importantly to secure another TRIO program to help our college students. Imagine if the TRIO staff from PCC who may not have had any training, were to go off island to be trained. The cost would be very high and perhaps even prohibitive leaving them untrained to follow the required US federal laws and regulations to administer these federal grants. This means all the TRIO staff at PCC were able to have a nationally recognized trainer and a professional grant writer to provide much needed training for the Palauan staff without going off island. The costs for travel that many would have had to spend for off island training can now be used instead to provide direct assistance to our Palauan students here at home. President SWJ also generously hosted a very good dinner reception to all the participants who attended this TRIO training in Palau.
Finally, TRIO programs serve students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities. These are 100% US federally funded programs by the US Congress which means the three programs at PCC are not using any money allocated to the college from local and other funding sources. COE is a national organization that was established in 1981, in Washington, DC., that helps TRIO programs to get their annual funding from the US Congress and provide training to thousands of TRIO professionals. Currently, on a daily basis, TRIO programs serve close to one million students nationally, as well as those in the other US affiliated territories and the Freely Associated States. The success rates for students who are participants of TRIO programs to complete their high school education and successfully obtain their college degrees from bachelor’s to doctorate is high. For President SWJ to personally and successfully have COE to hold a TRIO training, and a professional grant writer to help write their new SSS grant proposal means PCC saved a lot of money that will enable the college to continue to provide the needed and direct educational services and suport to our very own Palauan students. This goes to show that President SWJ’s motto, “A Kot ar Chad er Belau” was and is, as always, his reason to do what he did to make sure that the TRIO programs at PCC will continue to prosper with sufficient funding and well trained staff to administer these US federal grants for years to come to serve, “rar Chad er Belau.
Retired Director of TRIO Programs, University of Guam