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Trista Ostrom: Helping Wyoming’s Youth Succeed

September 21, 2018
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This year, Wyoming youth earned 56 gold Congressional Awards, second only to the much more populous state of California. These awards are Congress’ only charity and recognize young people’s initiative, service and achievement. The annual ceremony in Washington, D.C., took place in June. In total, 169 Wyoming students ages 13.5 to 24 earned bronze, silver and gold awards. The program is growing thanks to University of Wyoming alumna Trista Ostrom (B.A., ’13, M.S. ’16), executive director of the Wyoming Congressional Award.

“I’ve been here almost three years, and the program has gone from less than 100 to 3,200 kids,” Ostrom says. “I have a wonderful team, board of directors and volunteers in addition to being able to meet incredible people from across the state of Wyoming.”

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ award for young Americans. In the nonpartisan, voluntary and noncompetitive program, participants earn bronze, silver and gold awards. Each level involves setting individual goals in voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition and exploration. In addition to the medals and certificates the youth earn, gold medal winners receive scholarships toward their college educations. Ostrom works year-round to fundraise for those scholarships.

“To me, the most important thing is mentoring these young people,” says Ostrom, who is originally from Powell. “The Congressional Award does a wonderful job of making sure you’re improving all aspects of your life while still encouraging participation in other activities. Our kids can still be involved in 4-H or FFA or SkillsUSA. They can volunteer with their church or on the side, but they can use those hours and also have other opportunities and experiences. The Congressional Award is very individualized, so every person can make their own goals that help them be who they want to be.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Ostrom taught kindergarten and coached in Encampment. She also began pursuing her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. During that time, Ostrom served on the Wyoming Congressional Award board as the representative from Carbon County. When the director position became available, she jumped at the chance to get more involved in the program.

Her job includes fundraising, working with a state board and, of course, lots of time with Wyoming’s youth and their parents. Based in Cheyenne, Ostrom travels throughout the state. “I try to hit every town at least once,” she says. “I also spend time in D.C. making sure Wyoming is represented there.”

Ostrom looks back at her time at UW with great fondness and appreciation: “Laramie was one of the most wonderful things that happened to me. Not only did I get to be involved in a lot of activities, but it also prepared me for my career. I had opportunities through UW that led me where I am now.”

She participated in Iron Skull, Kappa Delta Pi and the Student Wyoming Education Association. During her graduate studies, Ostrom found a great mentor in her adviser, School of Teacher Education Associate Professor Tricia Johnson. She accompanied Johnson and UW Lab School teacher Meredith McLaughlin on a trip to Croatia with middle school students to attend an international education conference.

“My graduate degree from UW was everything to me,” Ostrom says. “I met some of the most incredible kids, and I got to go and be a part of that international experience while still improving my skill set.”

As she continues to build the Wyoming Congressional Award program, Ostrom and her team are creating a pool of youth advisors across the state. She also led a service retreat this summer, where youth volunteered in four Wyoming towns. “We’re teaching our young people that, yes, they’re getting service hours, but we’re also benefitting the places they live,” she says. “Ultimately, we’re trying to build that next generation of leaders so Wyoming has a prepared and skilled workforce.

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