Welcome to Montana TRIO, COE, and Educational Opportunity/Access Colleagues! 
I am delighted to have you join us in Missoula, the “Garden City”, for the 42nd – 2018 Annual ASPIRE Conference. We have packed a lot into the agenda affording opportunities to enhance your knowledge, enjoy cultural experiences, network, and promote a healthy lifestyle. I want to thank our Conference Co-Chairs, Peter Donaldson and Alysa Arrowtop for a fantastic job of getting us here today! Their time and enthusiasm deserves a huge applause! A huge shout-out to all the committee volunteers who readily jumped on ship to help! Much appreciation for your engagement.

I am especially excited about our pre-conference sessions. Many thanks to Paul and Marilyn Thayer and faculty, Andrea Reeve, Oscar Felix, and Amy Verlanic for their inspiration and vision to extend their expertise to ASPIRING leaders in our new ASPIRE Leadership Institute training (ALI). Now, more than ever, we need ASPIRE members to be equipped with skills and knowledge to be active in ASPIRE leadership opportunities. Our SSS grant writing pre-conference would not happen without the efforts of our TRIO Professionals, Andrea Reeve and Amy Verlanic. Andrea and Amy, in addition to Maureen Hoyler, COE President, are volunteering their time to coach us for the upcoming competition. Many thanks for your support!

Over the past year, as I served as your ASPIRE President, we have addressed many challenges and have been victorious! This does not happen without your engagement and advocacy. We need to continue to be vigilant and active every day. I hope you understand your membership gives you voice and is valued and important to the ASPIRE region.

I have to say I have grown leaps and bounds this last year, often lamenting I wish I had taken on a larger ASPIRE leadership role earlier in my career! It has been extremely valuable to me and it can be for you, too. Your ASPIRE Board has been a superb team to work side-by-side with this past year. My heartfelt thanks for your dedication, tireless work, and commitment to ASPIRE. If you have an opportunity, please thank these colleagues! In as much as I have built my career around TRIO, I can honestly say the leadership opportunity to serve you has been challenging but also a year of immense personal satisfaction and growth. I hope I have been one small part in making a stronger ASPIRE region.

I hope the “boundless opportunities” you take with you at the end of the conference inspires and refreshes your tool kit as you return to your programs to support your students. Have a wonderful conference, make new friends, and have a bit of fun!

With much appreciation,

Darlene Samson