Educational Talent Search at 50
Jesse Austin '19 wasn’t brought up thinking there was a value in going to college. But he does now and he’s here, thanks to a visit from UNH’s Educational Talent Search staff when he was in the seventh grade.
“College wasn’t on my radar,” Austin told the crowd that recently gathered in Huddleston Hall to celebrate the federal educational support program’s 50th year. “The reality was there wasn’t any money. My parents’ efforts could only go so far.”
That’s where Educational Talent Search (ETS) came in. Launched in 1965 as part of the TRiO programs, ETS helps low-income, first-generation college-bound youths find their way to higher education. While it is UNH, as administrator of the ETS program in New Hampshire, that prepares students for college, participants may attend any school they choose. For Austin, UNH was the first place he visited.
“I was inspired. I thought ‘I could do this,’” the Danbury, New Hampshire, resident said, adding, “I think the goal of Educational Talent Search is to remove the hurdles for students so they can concentrate simply on running the race.”
The TRiO programs — named for the original three: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services — were created during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration as part of his War on Poverty. Today there are eight such federally funded programs.
Talent Search offers advising, study skills and test-taking guidance, college enrollment support and financial assistance to qualified students in sixth through 12th grade. More than 1,100 students in 21 high schools and 10 middle schools are enrolled in the ETS program in New Hampshire.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, who attended the anniversary celebration along with representatives of U.S. senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen and U.S. representatives Frank Guinta and Ann Kuster, told students of the importance of a well-rounded education and that sometimes, achieving that doesn’t come easy.
“One of the challenges is learning to ask for help when things seem difficult,” Hassan said. She then spoke of conversations she had with her mother, a history teacher, while Hassan was in high school.
“We talked a lot about why some kids were more successful than others. It boils down to kids needing to know they have grownups in their corner,” Hassan said. “That’s what Educational Talent Search is about, being there in the corner.”
Director of Educational Talent Search at UNH Debora McCann underscores that belief. “Educational Talent Search has worked with middle and high school students in New Hampshire for 46 years. We have helped thousands of students to succeed in school and enroll in post-secondary school. Each year more than 80 percent of our students enter college.”
James Hussey is another one of those who entered. The Farmington, New Hamsphire, resident credits Educational Talent Search with steering him toward the future he wanted. In 2011, he graduated from Rivier University with a degree in business management followed by an MBA in 2012. Today he works at a Nashua agency with individuals who have developmental disabilities.
“I grew up in a ‘needs versus wants’ environment. College wasn’t a possibility,” Hussey says of his early belief system. “Then in sixth grade, I learned about Talent Search.
“My mother used to talk about me going to McIntosh College (which offered degrees in vocational areas that didn’t interest Hussey. It closed in 2009). That would have been a career I didn’t want,” Hussey says. “Educational Talent Search allowed me to be the person I wanted to be.”