TRIO events focus on improving support for first-generation students

Closeup of Edwardo and Margarita Magana.
After transferring to WSU from Columbia Basin College, Edwardo and Margarita Magana both turned to WSU’s TRIO Student Support Services program to help them navigate the landscape of a four-year university.

In celebration of National TRIO Day, Washington State University Pullman will host a webinar and panel discussion focused on providing support for first-generation students.

On Thursday, Feb. 20, noon-1:30 p.m. in Compton Union Building (CUB) room 204, the campus community is invited to attend a recorded webinar titled “Starting from the Bottom: Building First-Gen Support Offerings with Little to No Resources.”. As many institutions like WSU attract more first-generation students, there is a pressing need to have quality programs to support them, often requiring collaboration and a shared investment in student success.

Presenters La’Tonya Rease Miles and Symone Morales, director and coordinator of the First Year Experience program at UCLA, will provide concrete ways to establish buy-in from administrators and others when pioneering initiatives from the ground up. Topics will include the importance of institutional context, establishing unlikely allies, and garnering faculty partnerships. Attendees are invited to bring their lunch to the event.

On Friday, Feb. 21, 1-2:30 p.m. in the CUB Junior Ballroom, a panel of WSU faculty and staff will discuss the local and national history of TRIO, enrollment trends for first-generation students, and how the campus can share expertise and resources to better serve this population. Panelists include Laura Lavine, chair and professor of the Department of Entomology; William Hall, assistant professor of mathematics education; Alexander Spradlin, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology; and Carrie Bullock Ben-Yisrael, academic coordinator and retention specialist in TRIO Student Support Services (SSS).

“We are excited to bring together people who have been doing this work, but also those who are interested in getting involved,” said Lucila Loera, executive director of the Office for Access and Opportunity in the Division of Student Affairs. “It’s an excellent opportunity to get together to talk about how we can serve this population more effectively.”

Robust statewide offerings

TRIO award winners pose for a photo.
TRIO award winners and new scholars pose for a photo during last spring’s end-of-the-year recognition ceremony on the Pullman campus.

In 1986, a congressional resolution declared Feb. 28 as “National TRIO Day” to commemorate the annual achievements of the federal TRIO programs. Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Student Support Services, which existed within this reauthorization of The Higher Education Act, were designed to assist eligible students to begin and complete a post-secondary education.

Today, the WSU system boasts 12 TRIO programs including three SSS programs (Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses), eight Upward Bound programs (Pullman, Spokane and Tri-Cities campuses), and a Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program (Pullman campus). The programs serve a combined 935 students and are supported by over $3 million in grants annually from the U.S. Department of Education.

Loera said WSU’s robust offering of TRIO programs is largely responsible for the university being named as a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-Generation Student Success last year, an initiative of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) and The Suder Foundation.

Believe in me

Married with good jobs and two beautiful children, Edwardo and Margarita Magana say they are living out their dreams in the Tri-Cities, thanks to the TRIO programs at WSU.

Last month Edwardo began a new job as a detective on the West Richland police force. Margarita is teaching math and science methods to students at Heritage University while preparing to complete her doctorate degree this spring.

Their life is something they never imagined when they were students at Kennewick High School. While they had the motivation to attend college, they lacked knowledge and support to be successful college students. After transferring to WSU from Columbia Basin College, they both turned to WSU’s SSS program to help them navigate the landscape of a four-year university.

“From the very start it made such a huge difference for me and changed the whole trajectory of my life,” Margarita said.

In addition to helping with things like where to find classes, building study skills and even finding a job, Margarita’s SSS advisors encouraged her to find leadership positions on campus. She helped plan and lead SSS workshops, became a mentor in Multicultural Student Services, an ambassador in the College of Education, and a tutor in the Academic Success and Career Center and WSU Athletics.

“Being the quiet kid who lacked a lot of self-confidence, my SSS advisors believed in me, kept pushing me, and that was a big deal,” Margarita said. She also credits the McNair Scholars Program for helping to guide her way to graduate school.

Edwardo said there were times when he thought about giving up in college and his colleagues in SSS encouraged him to keep going.

“I owe a lot to this program,” he said. “If I had stopped my education, I wouldn’t be here today helping so many people in my community.”

WSU graduate Vanessa Delgado feels the same about the impact McNair had on her success. The University of California, Irvine Ph.D. student recently won a 2019 National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Award for her work exploring how legal status impacts the way children of immigrants help their parents navigate life in the U.S.

“My exposure to research really early on, and the mentorship and support I got from the McNair program, solidified for me that the Ph.D. was a track I wanted to go on,” said Delgado, who just had a paper published in the sociology journal Law & Policy.

Enjoying bipartisan support

Funding for WSU’s TRIO program, and others across the state, has been strong in part due to the work of advocates like Glynda Becker-Fenter, assistant vice president for federal engagement, who leads WSU’s Government Relations efforts in Washington, D.C.

Becker-Fenter met with TRIO students on the Pullman campus when she first took her position in 2012 and came away from the meeting inspired. She takes every opportunity to share their stories with members of Congress.

“TRIO is making such a positive difference in students’ lives and I tell legislators that their support of these programs is the best investment they can make,” Becker-Fenter said. “These students are motivated to achieve at the highest level because they want better lives, and to live the American dream.”

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