Whether pre-college or currently enrolled students or alumni, participants in federally funded TRIO programs at Washington State University are unanimous in their appreciation of how the programs support their success.

“My first week of classes this fall was pretty overwhelming, so when I went to my first (TRIO) meeting  where there were people supporting me, I couldn’t have been more grateful for that experience,” said first-year student Sebastian Sanders, an ambassador for the Teacher Prep Student Support Services (SSS) program, formerly ATLAS.

“The Cougs Rise (TRIO Upward Bound) program has given me great mentoring from a currently enrolled WSU student for the past three years who checks in with me frequently about grades, helped me build a vision board and set goals for this year, and answers my questions about college classes,” said Alejandra Pulido, a senior at Bremerton High School who is a Cougs Rise ambassador there and has applied to WSU for fall 2021.

“My (TRIO) involvement—in the  Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Scholars Program – was a wonderful thing because I had no idea what graduate school might be like, but it helped me become qualified for it and to take the necessary steps to get there,” said Majel Boxer, who graduated from WSU with a bachelor’s degree in Comparative American Cultures and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in ethnic studies at the University of California-Berkeley. She is now chair and associate professor of Native American and indigenous studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

“McNair is where I gained academic research skills and developed relationships with my cohort partners, faculty advisor, and mentors that continue to carry on more than a decade later,” said Mapuana C.K. Antonio, who earned her B.S. in psychology and M.A. in counseling psychology at WSU and her DrPH in community-based and translational research at the University of Hawaii-Mānoa. She is an assistant professor there and head of the Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health Specialization program in the Office of Public Health Studies.

This month, WSU participants and administrative staff are talking about TRIO in anticipation of national TRIO Day on Feb. 27. Across the U.S., participants and administrators are celebrating the accomplishments of the various programs and their impacts on student success. At WSU, a committee organized a panel discussion, a LinkedIn how-to event, and guest presentations throughout February. Keywords for this year’s WSU events are “celebrate,” “reflect,” and “act.”


TRIO refers to a set of federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and assist individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, including low-income, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities. The goal is to help them progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to graduate school.

There are 15 TRIO programs at WSU that serve nearly 2,000 individuals, with nearly $4 million in grant funding annually from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The programs are managed by several university units on three campuses—Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Spokane.

For example, Washington high-school students participate in Upward Bound programming that helps prepare them for college-level academics. Current WSU students engage in a number of programs; three Student Support Services (SSS) programs received $4 million in a five-year grant  last fall, including the ongoing ATLAS program recently renamed Teacher Prep, plus two new ones for STEM and veteran students, managed in the Office of Academic Engagement (OAE). WSU students bound for doctoral-level studies are served by the McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which provides guidance from undergraduate into graduate programs at the university; it was the first WSU TRIO program in 1999.

OAE Executive Director Michael Highfill noted that the proposals for the three latest DOE TRIO grants were entered into an extremely competitive process at the national level. He credits OAE’s Ali Bretthauer for taking the lead on proposal development for all three. She serves as co-investigator with him throughout their duration. OAE collaborated with WSU’s College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Veteran’s Center on that grant process.

Reflections by Teacher Prep SSS Participants

Students applaud TRIO programs for helping them thrive at college. One such is the Teacher Prep SSS. The Pullman-based TRIO program serves future educators by helping them develop a sense of belonging at college, establishing habits to support their academic pursuits, and seek professional certification while still in school, said Bretthauer. Coordinator Josefina Galvan said Teacher Prep SSS utilizes student-level connections, with experienced peer advisors to help participants stay on track academically and otherwise.

“Other students relate when they can say, for example, ‘I’ve gone through that Univ. 104 course’ and ‘This is what to look forward to in the teaching program,’” said Galvan. “We emphasize financial literacy, so we have a pretty well-rounded set of tools to help our students in this program.”

Peer Advisor Ryley Griffiths, a sophomore, said this TRIO program has helped him immeasurably at college. As a person with dyslexia, a reading disorder, he was worried he wouldn’t be able to keep up academically or fit in with others at college. He said, “Being part of the Teacher Prep SSS has helped me focus on my own studies, bridge group projects, talk to peers with confidence, and positively address issues.”

“I’ve been a part of the program for three years, and I’m forever grateful to it for so many reasons including the leadership skills it’s given me—I was even asked to be on a hiring committee,” said peer advisor and junior Madeline Jones. “Last week, I interviewed for a student teaching position related to my major and I told my interviewer about my Teacher Prep SSS experiences. What I’ve gained from my position in Teacher Prep added a lot to my interview conversation.”

Peer Advisor Tracy Schirer, a sophomore, said the TRIO program has helped her build a knowledge base with things she can take into the teaching profession. She said, “In addition to developing networks and gaining confidence, I’ve been encouraged to reach beyond what is right in front of me. For example, I’ve taken on the task of learning more about social media like Twitter and Instagram. I use them to reach out to groups of students on behalf of OAE. I’ve even been invited to become a member of a campus social media work group.  That’s something I’ll put on my resume.”

More information is online about the federal TRIO programs, their history, and the national day of celebration.