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Wiles Brings Advocacy for Students to National Stage

Kristian Wiles, executive director of OMA&D Retention and Academic Support Programs, just concluded his one-year term as COE Board of Directors chair. COE is leading the National First-Generation College Celebration that the UW’s campuses are participating on Nov. 8.

Kristian Wiles has dedicated his career to supporting educational opportunity for students from first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority backgrounds.

It’s a passion that is close to his heart. As a first-generation student himself, Wiles struggled to navigate educational spaces and often lacked confidence and resources to stay on course.

“I was very fortunate to find advocates who were willing to assist me in overcoming these obstacles and who made me feel like I belonged,” he said.

Inspired by his own experience, Wiles has sought to provide students the same reassurance and advocacy he was fortunate to receive. This passion is what led him to his current role as executive director of Retention and Academic Support Programs for the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D). And over the past year, Wiles’ leadership in the field expanded when he represented both the UW and OMA&D as chair of the Board of Directors for the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE).

Kristian Wiles speaking at a podium

COE is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the expansion of college opportunities for low-income and first-generation students, and students with disabilities in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., the Pacific Islands, and Puerto Rico. Since the Council was established in 1981, the COE board and staff members have worked directly with Federal TRIO programs, as well as educational opportunity leaders and organizations, to assist an estimated five million students in their pursuit of college degrees.

COE, along with the NASPA Center for First-Generation Student Success, also launched the inaugural National First-Generation College Celebration in 2017. Wiles has been leading the UW’s tri-campus participation since then and the UW will once again take part in the Nov. 8 celebration in 2019.

Under Wiles’ leadership as board chair over the past year, COE reached some significant milestones.

It led TRIO to several key victories through advocacy with Congress and the Department of Education. The result has meant increases in funding and better support for campuses administering TRIO programs to impact outcomes for student participants.

The Council’s position as a thought leader also continued to be strong, most notably, in its work through the Pell Institute to produce data on first-generation, low-income students in the 2019 Indicators Report. COE continued to grow its alumni network engaging current and former TRIO students at the local, regional and national level, and was able to offer a multitude of opportunities to engage in highly-rated professional development and technical assistance opportunities throughout the year.

Wiles’ tenure as board chair culminated in September at COE’s 38th Annual Conference attended by over 1,800 participants in Chicago.

Kristian Wiles interviews Charles BlowA highlight of the conference for Wiles was the opportunity to interview Charles M. Blow, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, author, and CNN contributor. Blow spoke about his coverage and research on social justice issues like racial inequality, gun violence and social activism as seen in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“Closing the year as chair of COE was bittersweet,” said Wiles. “It was an honor to engage with so many students, alumni and professionals across and beyond this continent, and to represent the work and impact of a powerful TRIO community.”

Wiles will remain with the COE board as past-chair for the 2019-2020 program year. He leads the orientation of new members, as well as the annual giving and resource development activities.

“Representing the University of Washington and TRIO nationally has been personally gratifying for me,” Wiles continued. “I have told the stories of people our work touches and tried my best to honor the legacy before me and the experiences of current students.”