McNair Scholar introduces president to KU community

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

image with ObamaLAWRENCE – Alyssa Cole, a senior from Garden City, Kan., was honored with a rare opportunity to introduce President Barack Obama during his visit to the University of Kansas on Jan. 22, 2015.

Alyssa Cole is a TRIO student first participating in Supportive Educational Services and is currently a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. As a TRIO student and a single mother of three, Alyssa recognizes the importance of educational opportunity programs for underrepresented students in higher education.

In 2013, Alyssa wrote a letter to the president discussing her educational attainment and child care costs. In January 2015, Alyssa received an exciting email from White House staff, inviting her to introduce the president prior to his address in Lawrence.

Thrilled at the opportunity, Alyssa carefully wrote her introductory remarks in order to highlight what is most important to her and her family. She saw this opportunity as a way to speak on behalf of many who share her background.

In her introductory speech, Alyssa stressed the importance of reducing barriers to higher education for working-class families.

“I was almost forced to make the decision between obtaining an education, working, or taking care of my children,” she said. “I wrote the letter because I did not want to make a choice among the three.”

Along with working nearly full-time and raising her children, Alyssa is excelling as a student. She is an honors student, double majoring in African and African American Studies and History. Alyssa aspires to pursue a Ph.D. in history to expand her field of study into the history of war.

Alyssa is interested in spending her academic and professional career exploring the role of African,American women in the United States military. Her current research explores the contribution of African American women to the United States military during the Vietnam War. In the future she will be exploring the contributions of African American women to the United States military after Sept. 11, 2001.

In May, Alyssa will graduate with departmental honors and will pursue a graduate degree in African and African American Studies.

In recounting her conversation with President Barack Obama, Alyssa noted that he took time to inquire and learn about her research interests and her future goals. The president encouraged her to publish a book that accounts her research.

The purpose of the TRIO-McNair Scholars Program is to diversify the academic, research, and professional fields by preparing low-income, first-generation, and unrepresented college students for doctoral study. As a budding historian, Alyssa Cole is already on the path to fulfill the program’s goals for her and to making an impact in her field by reanalyzing history, challenging gaps in literature, and ensuring history is rewritten and retold to represent all people involved in its making.