By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities
RICHLAND, Wash. – Jacinto “Jason” Nunez was able to make a successful life for himself and his family as a detective for the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, but he always felt something was missing.
The 43-year-old said he had wanted to go back to school for some time to earn his bachelor’s degree, and about seven years ago he did so. He began at Columbia Basin College but desired to complete his undergraduate degree at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
Three years ago, he transferred to the WSU Tri-Cities campus to pursue a degree in physical science with an emphasis in chemistry and secondary emphasis in mathematics.
“I was intrigued by chemistry,” he said. “I was already doing things in forensics (with the sheriff’s office). I wanted to learn more.”
Free tutors help with toughest class
Nunez was able to complete the majority of his classes without complication, soliciting help from tutors while working at the same time. But when it came to one of the hardest class of his undergraduate career, physical chemistry, he was unable to find a tutor that could aid him in understanding the material.
Nunez found out about the WSU Tri-Cities TRiO Student Support Services program through a school email. The program provides support to undergraduates who are first-generation college students or underserved. Representatives in the WSU Tri-Cities TRiO program were able to find him a couple of different tutors who were willing to work with his busy schedule, all at no cost to him.
He successfully completed the class he needed to graduate on time this weekend, in addition to receiving help for some of his other classes.
“I don’t think I could have made it through without them,” he said. “They found me two tutors who were scientists. It worked out really well.”
Celebrating five years at Tri-Cities
The TRiO program celebrates its fifth year at the WSU Tri-Cities campus this year. The program graduates an average of 30 to 40 students with bachelor’s degrees in Tri-Cities, combining to make up 135 students since its inception in 2010. Last week, the program held an awards ceremony to honor the more than 30 students who graduated or will graduate this school year.
Shiloh Penland, director of TRiO at WSU Tri-Cities, said the program has been a tremendous help to many students.
“The students in our program may be the first in their families to attend college or have other personal barriers to overcome,” she said. “We see them push through those barriers every day to earn the grades and the privilege of becoming a college graduate.”
Support beyond academics
From providing students with tutors, to connecting them with other community resources, to even, at times, visiting students in the hospital, it is a resource that those at WSU Tri-Cities hope will continue to be offered for years to come, said Keri Lobdell, WSU Tri-Cities TRiO retention counselor and advisor.
She said TRiO can be a life-changing resource for those who are interested in taking full advantage of all the program has to offer.
“While our primary focus is on our students’ academic successes and degree completion, as TRiO alumni, ourselves, we know that life can throw some curves,” she said. “Finding people who can support your whole self and understand the difficulties you may face is equally important. TRiO is that place.”
Applying education to law-enforcement career
Nunez graduates Saturday with a degree in physical science. He said he couldn’t be more grateful for the WSU Tri-Cities TRiO program and the education he received at the university. He said he plans to use what he learned in his career as a detective.
“In the field, it will help me to better understand elements of the crime scene,” he said. “I now have a better understanding of how blood decomposes and various chemical functions of different fluids. I have also gained a better understanding of the chemical properties of DNA.
“Reconstructing crime scenes also requires a lot of math, and I believe I can use what I have learned in future course work,” he said. “It has really brought a lot of understanding.”
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-7333, firstname.lastname@example.org