TRiO provides support for first-generation college students

TRiO Student Support Services relocated to the Henry F. Meyer Student Media Center.

TRiO Student Support Services has found a more accessible home on campus.

Formerly located in the basement of Montgomery Hall, TRiO Student Support Services has moved to a new location in the Henry F. Meyer Student Media Center, in-between Subway and The University Florist.

TRiO Assistant Director Teretha Conner said the program provides assistance to low-income and first-generation students.

“It can be challenging when no one has gone before you,” Conner said. 

Carlos Villanueva, a senior biochemistry major, works as a coach for TRiO. Villanueva has been involved with the program since his freshman year. He first found out about TRiO when he received an email as a freshman.

“I didn’t know much about it, but I gave it a shot and I applied,” Villanueva said. 

Villanueva became a coach his sophomore year of college. In order to become a coach, he was required to apply for the position and go through an interview.  Villanueva said coaches generally must be juniors or seniors within the program, although sophomores have been given the position.

According to Villanueva, there are anywhere from six to eight coaches and each coach has eight to 10 first-year students they meet with either weekly or biweekly. The meetings consist of reviewing topics relevant to the student’s success, such as budgeting, scheduling and applying to graduate school.

“You have that one-on-one interaction in case you run into any problems,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva said one of his favorite things about being a coach is giving the students a sense of relief. As a first-generation college student himself, Villanueva said he understands the obstacles his mentees face.

“Once you get to talk to them and mentor them, they feel better,” Villanueva said.

As a first-generation and low-income student from Birmingham, Alabama, Villanueva didn’t think he would make it in college, but he anticipates graduation in May of 2020.

“It seemed really unattainable,” Villanueva said. “I didn’t know how the whole process worked, so I didn’t put any effort into the idea until my senior year of high school.”

From entering the program as a freshman and receiving coaching, to ultimately becoming a coach for students, Villanueva said he has learned a lot from being a part of the program.

“The most important thing I got from my coach was my time management and budgeting skills, but also that I shouldn’t be afraid to go out and try something new,” Villanueva said.

Emily Nolt, a sophomore secondary education major with a concentration in physics, found out about TRiO by browsing OrgSync during her freshman year. After researching the program, Nolt contacted a representative and after completing her application and interview, she was accepted.

While Nolt is not being coached this year, she still sees the program as something that is beneficial to her and returns week after week.

“My favorite thing is probably the amount of information they make available to you with different resources on campus,” Nolt said. 

Nolt said if a first year student asked her about TRiO and asked for her opinion on joining, she would only have good things to say.

“I would definitely recommend it because it’s no cost to you and you get all of these opportunities,” Nolt said. “I just think, why not?”

As a first generation and low income student from Louisville, Nolt saw college as a place full of opportunities, but she also saw college as something that was not easily attainable. Because of TRiO, those opportunities became attainable.

“I never expected to go straight to a university,” Nolt said. “I think TRiO really planned things out.”

Brittany Radford, a former coordinator for Student Support Services, worked with TRiO for a year. Radford was also a first generation college student, so Radford said she understands the obstacles students in the program face.

“They face different barriers because they feel like they’re alone,” Radford said. “We all understand the burden because we’ve lived it.” 

Radford said her job focuses on assisting students with their academic plans and she helps students find opportunities for research, service, leadership and networking, along with helping students in the process of applying to graduate school.

According to the Institute of Research on Poverty and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, an estimated 58,000 college students are homeless. This is just one of the challenges low-income and first-generation students face.

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“As first-generation college students, they carry a lot of the financial burden on them,” Radford said.

The goals of Student Support Services are to develop academic skills, boost graduation rates and help students enter into graduate and professional programs. Conner said she hopes the students are impacted positively by the program.

“My hope is that each student who enters this program has found a place to belong,” Conner said. “I hope we have shaped and fostered their lives in some way.” 

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