Henry Bonilla Counts the Ways COE Makes a Difference

June 1, 2021

By Henry Bonilla

COE has had a profound impact, helping millions of young people from underserved areas who had no exposure to college and are the future of our country. I shudder to think what would happen if not for the vision that Arnold Mitchem had many years ago to start this organization, do the necessary outreach, the training, the advocacy for funds, and contacting federal representatives.

My first exposure to COE — although I was a beneficiary of TRIO when I was 17 — was in my freshman term in Congress. Dr. Mitchem approached me about the incredible opportunity that I suddenly had as a member of the appropriations committee that funded the Department of Education to help pay it forward. We worked together for many years to increase the funds for TRIO, and we did it in a bipartisan way.

COE has just impacted so many young people around the country in underserved neighborhoods who would have otherwise had no chance.

COE makes a difference in so many ways: through training, using alumni to expand its network, extending themselves from campuses to their elected officials and the staff in those offices. When elected officials learn about TRIO through COE, then they too can carry it forward for the federal financial resources TRIO needs.

When COE has its annual conference every September, you can just feel it when you walk in the room. Professionals are so fired up. They are so energetic. They can't wait to tell stories about the successes that they've had with the students back home. COE coordinates all that.

[Click here to register for the 40th Annual Conference in September.]

COE honors an incredible list of alumni who are examples of people who have come through the system and are now accomplished in engineering, law, broadcasting, Hollywood, and every profession in the country. Everyone leaves those conferences even more fired up, and they go back home and continue to touch those young lives in their neighborhoods.

The events I participate in generally are the ones that get into the weeds on how to reach out to your elected officials. Those contacts are priceless. And other details that matter like how to welcome your Congressperson to your campus with a marquee sign, for example, at the entrance or letting people know — parents especially — when the visit is happening or handling photos.

Elected officials can use and are very grateful for that kind of recognition to solidify their position.

[Click here to make a special $40 contribution to COE to commemorate the anniversary.]

TRIO helped me successfully apply to the University of Texas.

TRIO changed my life. I had no idea how to fill out a form for financial aid or even to make sure that my paperwork was all proper and done the right way to get into the University of Texas at Austin.

I walked into the TRIO office in my high school — it had just a little piece of paper taped to the door — and the counselor, who had that “TRIO spirit,” took the time to help me successfully apply to the University of Texas. And he helped me with some financial aid, which I didn’t even know it existed because no one in my home had ever been exposed to higher ed.

I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in broadcast journalism and had an incredible career in television news for 15 years before I switched gears and ran for U.S. Congress and had another 15-year career doing that.

So, boy, it is just good fortune that I had that hand extended to me. Later, I was able to help TRIO expand when I was a member of Congress for all those years on the committee in charge of increasing those resources for TRIO programs.

Henry Bonilla is a former congressman who represented Texas's 23rd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.