Washington State University and Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program graduates will talk about their journeys to becoming faculty members at institutions across the country as part of National TRIO Day Celebration.

Mapuana Antonio from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Majel Boxer from Fort Lewis College in Colorado, and Sylvia Mendez from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will lead the WSU TRIO McNair Scholars Alumni Faculty Panel Discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 23 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom. It is one of several events planned to highlight WSU’s TRIO programs and the impact they have on student success.

A presentation titled “Policy to Practice: How TRIO and Teach for America Programs Provide Access to Make a Difference” will take place on the same day from 4-5 p.m. The final event, TRIO Trivia Hour, is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 26 from 3-4 p.m. More information and Zoom links for all the events can be found on the First-Generation Programs website.

Building a pipeline of services

TRIO is a cadre of national programs designed to help eligible students begin and complete a post-secondary education. Traditionally, the programs serve first-generation and low-income students. Some focus on high school students while others serve college students. The classic Student Support Services (SSS) programs include students with disabilities.

Luci Loera, executive director for the Office for Access and Opportunity in the Division of Student Affairs, said WSU’s TRIO programs are among the best in the nation and a source of much pride.

“It is pretty rare for a university to have as many TRIO programs as we have at WSU,” Loera said. “One of the biggest reasons why we have been so successful with them is because we have such a strong community of student advocates across our system.”

According to the U.S. Office of Post-Secondary Education, the first TRIO program created, Upward Bound, stemmed from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. It was soon followed by Educational Talent Search and Student Support Services. By the late 1960s, these three programs became known as “TRIO” programs. Over the years, other TRIO programs were created to serve a broader range of students.

The WSU system boasts 15 TRIO programs on three campuses that serve a total of 1,295 students a year. Each program is funded by U.S. Department of Education grants that, when added together, total more than $4 million a year.

TRIO programs at WSU include the McNair Scholars Program (Pullman), which prepares students for future doctoral studies, and several types of SSS programs, including the classic SSS (Pullman and Tri-Cities) and Teacher Prep SSS (Pullman). Following a competitive application process, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to the Office of Academic Engagement last year to bring two new programs to WSU: Veterans SSS and two STEM SSS programs.

In addition to the SSS programs across the system, the Pullman campus hosts five Upward Bound programs serving Eastern Washington, Western Washington, North Okanogan, and Central Okanogan. One of them, known as Cougs Rise, works with five high schools across the state and focuses on improving students’ math and science skills. Additional Upward Bound programs based at WSU Spokane and WSU Tri-Cities serve the Spokane, Yakima, and Columbia Basin regions.

Loera said having many types of TRIO programs allows WSU to provide “wrap-around” services.

“Our TRIO programs aren’t just serving students who attend our campuses,” Loera said. “By providing early outreach to high school students and offering students individualized attention once they enroll at WSU, we have built a nice pipeline of services to meet their needs wherever they are in their educational journey.”

Discovering the possibilities

WSU landed its first TRIO program, the McNair Achievement Program, in 1999. Mendez, who will be speaking on the alumni panel, was a member of the first McNair student cohort. She is currently the chair and professor in the Department of Leadership, Research, and Foundation at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“Programs like McNair are critical to opening students’ eyes to the possibilities,” Mendez said. “I would have never thought about a career as a professor if I hadn’t participated in undergraduate research as part of McNair.”

The daughter of a Mexican father and a Japanese mother, Mendez quickly found her niche in WSU’s multicultural community. She was a founding member of WSU’s first Latina sorority, Gamma Alpha Omega, and served two years as a student mentor in Multicultural Student Services. She also helped create the first SHAPING Conference – WSU’s annual recruitment program for Asian American and Pacific Islander high school students.

During that time, she was reading about economists like Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and dreaming about one day becoming an influential economist herself. One day, Mendez crossed paths on campus with Loera, who encouraged her to apply for the McNair program. While Mendez did eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in economics, her experience in McNair redirected her career path toward higher education.

“McNair provided the formal instruction I needed about how to apply to graduate school and how to get funding,” Mendez said. “But it was the importance of networking, the importance of understanding how to leverage my mentoring relationships to help guide me toward my career, that were very important to my career trajectory.”