The economic challenges of Washington County can occasionally produce individuals who are capable of significant resourcefulness and determination as they grow throughout their lives. Such is the case for – and the belief of – Tiffany Peterson, who recently received the Maine Educational Opportunity Association’s [MEEOA] Rising Star award for her steadfast work in Washington County Community College’s TRIO department.
Peterson grew up in a low-income family with neither parent having attended college. She graduated from Woodland High School in 2011 and was soon enrolled in the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. While at Woodland High School, she participated in the Upward Bound program at Bowdoin College, and she continued her involvement with the program when she worked for them for a summer. “That experience was my first taste of work for a program that fights for equal opportunity in education,” Peterson said. “From that point on, I was determined to continue fighting for students from underserved backgrounds so that they too could reach their personal and academic goals.”
After graduating from Smith, Peterson returned to Downeast Maine, taking a position as the Administrative Specialist in the TRIO program. Like Upward Bound, TRIO is part of eight federal programs created by President John F. Kennedy to provide academic and social support to students from underrepresented backgrounds. “I was a TRIO student in high school, so I understand the significant impact that these programs have on student success,” Peterson said. “The very nature of TRIO means that we fight for equal opportunity in education because of the students we serve.” Being able to assist students who come from Washington County is a continual joy for Peterson, who understands the background that they come from. “The students that I see every day work hard to overcome tremendous obstacles… Their circumstances should not dictate whether or not they are deserving of a quality education.”
From it’s website, the MEEOA Rising Star award “recognizes people just beginning to make an impact in their careers and communities and honors emerging leaders who strive toward the highest levels of personal and professional accomplishment.” As a long-time participant of Upward Bound currently working in the field, Peterson was a prime candidate for the award.
Creating an environment of equal opportunity is very important to Peterson, particularly in Washington County. “We don’t have the same resources that many large cities have in the southern part of the state,” Peterson said, noting the aging population of the area and how that affects the options in the area. “When we expand educational opportunities for young people in our community, we expose them to a world without borders and with fewer limitations.”
Peterson’s work directly expands the overall mission of the college, which is, in part, to strengthen the workforce of the immediate area. “Washington County Community College is a great school that fosters support for its students and a sense of community,” Peterson said. “The idea of equal opportunity is at its very core.”
Being named as a recipient of the award came as a surprise to Peterson, who says she was well aware of the competition she was facing. “It’s further validation that I’ve benefited from TRIO programs and that people from Washington County can do great things and not necessarily be limited by their geographic location.” Unfortunately, Peterson’s mother passed away the week before the notice of the award came, making the awards ceremony experience bittersweet.
Peterson plans to continue providing support to the student body of WCCC in her various capacities while she pursues a master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education through the University of Southern Maine.