By Mary Boynton
Recently appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee as Western’s student trustee, Trista Truemper, who is pursuing a Master of Business Administration, will serve on the Board of Trustees for the 2017-18 academic year.
“Western has been fortunate to have outstanding leadership from students on the Board of Trustees, and with her skills and experience Trista will be another superb trustee,” President Sabah Randhawa said in a press release. “The board will benefit greatly from her first-hand perspective on Western’s needs and opportunities to improve the student experience, and the leadership experience she brings from serving in the community.”
Western’s former student trustee Abigaíl Ramos said Truemper’s experience equipped her with a valuable perspective.
“She explained very clearly her approach of representing marginalized students, which was very settling for me,” Ramos said in an email. “I think she’s going to bring a completely different dynamic to the board, which I’m excited to hear about!”
Truemper believes that Western is going to have to address the changing needs students will develop in the future, and there is room for Western to continue to serve people beyond the bachelor programs it offers.
“Higher [education] doesn’t necessarily have to end when you’re 22 after you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree,” Truemper said.
The Board of Trustees chair, Sue Sharpe, has confidence that Truemper will commit to achieving her goals.
“Meeting the needs of today’s students and future students is one of our top priorities, and I think Trista is going to participate on the board with a really deep understanding of the concerns and issues that face those students,” Sharpe said. “We’re really pleased to have her on the board.”
Truemper spent some of her adolescence on the Kitsap Peninsula in Port Orchard, Washington, where her mom lived. Truemper moved to Stockton, California to be a student-athlete for the University of the Pacific swim team, but left after two years. Twelve years later, she completed her undergraduate degree at Western.
When Truemper first returned to college, she was interested in studying public health, but after taking her first sociology course at Western, she realized a career in higher education was her calling.
During the course, Truemper analyzed qualitative data and was drawn to the experiences of first-generation students. She discovered how many students were unsatisfied with their education due to outside obligations jeopardizing their ability to fully engage with the communities and opportunities at university.
“What I was seeing over and over in the data was just that [students] weren’t particularly satisfied with their experience after they had sacrificed so much to be here,” Truemper said. “And I really can identify with that experience.”
“What I was seeing over and over in the data was just that [students] weren’t particularly satisfied with their experience after they had sacrificed so much to be here and I really can identify with that experience.”
Raised by her mother, who only attended a few semesters at a technical college, Truemper refers to herself as a first-generation student.
Due to her experience as a nontraditional student, Truemper said she sees the importance of offering equal opportunity to students of all backgrounds.
When deciding her path toward higher education, she let her financial aid package and athletic scholarship dictate where she was going to earn her bachelor’s degree.
“Because I was an athlete, I let the colleges come to me. I didn’t do any research,” Truemper said. “I got totally burnt out, and swimming was too intense and people were unhealthy and the culture was unhealthy. I had to leave.”
After two years at University of the Pacific, Truemper let go of her scholarship and returned home. She left with failing grades and minimal confidence in what she wanted to study. Eventually, however, Truemper discovered her desired path.
She returned to school when the time was right and finished her undergraduate degree in sociology at Western in 2015.
“I can really identify with the whole idea of kind of feeling displaced, or not really knowing how to do the college student role,” Truemper said. “I’m fortunate that I had a second chance to pursue studies I actually cared about.”
She is now earning her graduate degree with a goal of working for a higher education institution, preferably Western, Whatcom Community College or Bellingham Technical College.
Truemper understands the hardships some students experience, and when she gave higher education a second chance, she said she realized her appreciation for education and how transformative it can be.
“It made me want to take part in making it more accessible and somehow a little easier for some students who kind of feel shut out of the process, or think higher education is really not for them because of various circumstances,” Truemper said.
Truemper plans to gather information from a variety of students and to get to know more people around campus to fully understand their concerns in order to fulfill her role as student trustee.
Sharpe said she is looking forward to having Truemper on the board because of her nontraditional path as a college student. The board always values the student trustee because of the perspective they bring to the board’s discussions and decisions, Sharpe said.
“Some of the most important things the student trustee does is describe their own experience,” Sharpe said.
Comprised of eight members, one of which is a student, the Board of Trustees’ role is to oversee the general management of Western and its strategic plan. Sharpe said the student trustee’s contribution is extremely helpful to this process.
“Student success is the focal point of all the work we do, whether it be looking at new programs or services, or budgets or any of the aspects that fall under our curve,” Sharpe said.
The board works with faculty, the AS, President Randhawa and the university’s leadership team to address issues and determine budget planning to ensure that Western students are offered the resources to ensure academic success.
The main responsibility of the board is to help guide the university, Ramos said.
“While much of what happens with Western comes to the hands of the university, it shouldn’t be seen as a final say, but a guide,” Ramos said in an email. “We help guide Sabah [Randhawa] and the university in what we believe to be the best for students, staff and faculty and Washington.”
Ramos said one thing she focused on while serving on the board was making sure students were aware of the board and its agenda, particularly the student trustee’s role.
The student trustee contributes to the board’s work by asking questions and offering suggestions, Ramos said. Adding another student perspective on the board would be helpful in the future.
Truemper said she knows whatever field and organization she ends up in after college is going to be a service organization because of her passion for education.
“I think in any organization, the most effective people are the ones that are really aware of who their consumers are, what their consumers are interested in and how to better serve them,” Truemper said.
Truemper’s first steps in a new project are always to gather information, she said. She plans to read publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education throughout her term to gain a better understanding of how to serve Western students.