Pia Trigiani is the new Co-Chair of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative Steering Committee. She is a partner at the law firm Mercer Trigiani where she specializes in common interest community association law. She is a past president of the Virginia Bar Association. Pia is one of seven children raised in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Her close knit family is very devoted to giving back to their communities.
1. You’ve spent your legal career working with communities across Virginia as an expert voice in homeowner association law. How do you see this experience benefitting rural communities across Virginia?
Growing up in a rural community has helped me in my practice to connect and understand homeowner interest, as well as where people are coming from. I’ve always said of my siblings (there are seven of us) that we find an easy way to connect with just about anybody. I think it’s due to growing up in a part of the world where people are all about community.
It’s all the same word – community college – community law – that is the connection. Community colleges bring communities together. My dad was a big supporter when Mountain Empire Community College opened because it brought higher education to Big Stone Gap. Dr. George Vaughan was the first president and his wife Peggy was our English teacher.
Community colleges connect communities of interest including high schools and businesses, and create an avenue for training. Whether it be vo-tech or businesses management, you have accessibility to learning and to better yourself.
2. What are you most excited about in your role as co-chair of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative Steering Committee?
I come from a family that believes in giving back to the community and this is my opportunity. My work has taken me far away from Big Stone Gap and I like to give back to what I was the beneficiary of throughout my life.
I didn’t go to a community college but the brightest guy in my high school class attended the community college when he advanced past our coursework and that left an impression. I believe that there is an absolute connection between higher education, degree completion and economic development. What the rural areas in Virginia need more than anything is job and work opportunities. The Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative on so many levels is an economic development driver. We have to give people the opportunity to better themselves and that’s what community college does.
3. The numbers are staggering –the Rural Horseshoe ranks 50th in the nation for educational attainment while the rest of Virginia ranks #2. What is the biggest challenge your committee will be tackling to address this huge discrepancy?
I think it’s getting this word out and convincing the very people who can benefit from the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative to go to community college. Secondly, it has shined a spotlight on the challenge and created an awareness among supporters of the initiative. But this message needs to reach more people so we can equalize things in Virginia. That is critical in my mind.
4. What advice would you give individuals who feel passionately about communities within the rural horseshoe and would like to help?
Support your local community college – whether it be through attending programs, taking classes or sharing your treasure – whatever it is. Encourage people in your community that community college is an option for them and will give them opportunities.
5. On a personal level, please tell us three things about you that others don’t already know (hobbies, interests, etc.)?
I am a self-proclaimed workaholic who would love to read more for pleasure, needlepoint and spend more time with family and friends. My mom is still in Big Stone Gap so I like to visit as much as I am able. Going home to southwest Virginia restores the soul and brings you back to your center.
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