Left to right, TRIO staff: Gayla Myers, Alex Musgrove, Travis Boyd, Lauren Bolyard pose recently with a birthday cake celebrating TRiO’s 50th national anniversary. Courtesy photos
SCCC/ATS program part of 50-year legacy
On the campus of Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, 50th birthday parties are not common: After all, more than half the students are under age 21.
Even so, students and staff gathered Thursday to celebrate 50 years of the national TRiO program, now part of the college’s Student Support Services.
“TRiO has just been at SCCC/ATS for 10 years, so not many people know about its history nationwide,” said Alex Musgrove, who serves as Student Support Services secretary and unofficial mom to more than 150 students each year. Director of Student Support Services Gayla Myers heads up the program and oversees SSS Academic and Career Advisor Lauren Bolyard and education specialist Travis Boyd.
The team provides an array of services to students who qualify — anyone whose parents did not obtain a bachelor’s degree by the time the student reached 18 years of age, those with income challenges, documented disabilities, students with academic challenges and those with transfer plans. Once a student has qualified for TRiO, he/she can receive academic and career advising, professional and academic tutoring, peer tutoring, workshops, help in setting up university visits, training in financial literacy and some grant opportunities.
Those benefits don’t come without expectations.
“Dreams don’t work unless you do,” declares a motto on the wall of the TRiO study center. The staff expects students to apply their best effort to succeed at college. What TRiO provides is support, encouragement — and, sometimes, snacks.
“Most of our students come from families that aren’t familiar with college, and (the families) just don’t understand what it takes to succeed,” Myers said. “Just knowing they have a support system helps.”
Though college began just 11 days ago, Myers has already welcomed several drop-in visitors who are uncertain about how to navigate the unfamiliar waters of college life.
“They might be scared about a first quiz, wondering if they should drop the class, and my message is often, ‘Let’s get rid of this defeatist attitude,’” Myers said. “Just knowing the students, being familiar with them, seeing them in the hallway, encouraging them to pop in — that helps them know they aren’t doing this alone.”
Slowly but surely, she said, students adopt a new mindset.
The TRiO staff aim to keep a balance, offering support without accepting excuses or low standards. Students are required to come at least three times a semester. They might attend a single session about time management or drop by for individual tutoring. Some need help to understand how to apply for and maintain eligibility for financial aid.
“They sign a contract,” Musgrove said. “We can’t help them if they only come in once a semester.”
When that happens, Musgrove is direct in communicating the rules.
“I’ve had students who just weren’t working hard, didn’t seem ready for college, and sometimes I’ve had to sit them down and say, ‘maybe you need to take a break, rethink this, go get a job and come back in a year,’” said Musgrove. It’s the hardest conversation to have, she said, but she’s been pleased to see several students take her advice — and show up some time later, ready to take college seriously.
The history of TRiO itself is progressive — fitting for an organization that aims to change the trajectory of young lives through educational support. Originally created as part of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in response to the administration’s War on Poverty, the program was known as Upward Bound. Its intention was to identify and provide services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds — and it worked.
High-profile graduates include journalist John Quinones, Oprah Winfrey, Troy Polamalu, Patrick Ewing and Angela Bassett.
Today, TRiO participants reflect the broad spectrum of American students. At SCCC/ATS, TRiO staffers work with students of all ages and races, from single mothers who never got around to starting college until their own children grew up, to students whose families immigrated to the United States and are not familiar with higher education.
“We see trends and waves of different races and cultures,” Musgrove said. “Here, it’s more the Hispanic group, and a lot of low-income, first-generation students. It’s not the same group as 50 years ago, but there is still a need.”
Because the TRiO program is federally funded, not all students at the college are eligible to receive services.
“If they are asking, though, I can always find them help,” Musgrove said.
The college offers tutoring services to all students through the Writing Center, the Math Lab and more. Knowing to ask for and obtain help is a skill in itself, noted Myers.
“That’s part of the process – informing them, we’re here and helping them reach the point of realizing, ‘I need that. I don’t know how to do that,’” she said.
TRiO aims to be the safe place to learn how to do the things it takes to succeed in college.
“I often tell them we’re a home away from home,” Myers said. “You come in, we’ll help you with anything. That gives them a warm feeling, and it makes us feel great, too.”