WCCC Students Build Success with TRIO

February 12, 2016

Students entering college for the first time—whether traditional or nontraditional—are occasionally overwhelmed by the unfamiliar environment, academic expectations, or financial responsibility that goes hand in hand with higher learning. To help ease the transition into college, and to ensure that students have what they need to accomplish their goals, Washington County Community College is one school that participates in the federally funded TRIO Student Support Services program.

Initially begun in 1964, TRIO consists of eight programs specifically designed to assist underrepresented students. To qualify for the programs (which include Upward Bound, Talent Search, and the McNair doctoral degree program), students must be either low income, have a documented disability, or be a first generation college student, meaning neither of their parents completed a four-year degree.

In Washington County, meeting such qualifications is not a difficult task. According to Director Gayle Moholland, 93 percent of WCCC’s students in 2014-15 met at least one of the qualifications for membership. Of the school’s approximately 350 students, 160 became TRiO members. The demographic of the school and the participation level of the students are both reasons that WCCC’s five-year TRIO grant was renewed last year, making the college one of 1,081 schools in the nation that offer dedicated Student Support Services.

Students who participate in the TRIO program receive assistance in a variety of ways. Academic tutoring is provided for all subjects by tutors Christine Phillips, Anna Dill and Lura Jackson. Members are able to freely utilize computers, copiers, and printers to complete their assignments, with technological support provided by Administrative Specialist Stephen Newell. Students interested in transferring their two-year degree to a four-year college can do so with the help of Transfer Counselor Pam Feeney, who also coordinates visits to and from four-year colleges to enable students to explore their available options. Students with a documented disability will have their needs accommodated through the guidance of Accessibility Specialist Dora Adams.

TRIO students have been traditionally very successful as a group. Of the college’s past four students of the year, three have been TRIO members. Many members are on the presidential or dean’s lists for their academic performance, and members always get a substantial number of awards at the end of the year. In 2014-15, 75 percent of the student senate and all four SkillsUSA medal winners were members of TRIO.

TRIO hosts periodic workshops open to all members. During each free workshop, students are treated to a lunch (often prepared by the culinary arts departments of either WCCC or the St. Croix Regional Technical Center) as they learn relevant and useful information. The most recent workshop taught students about stress, its causes and how to cope with it, while the next workshop will build upon the previous by teaching students how to alleviate stress through activities and exercise. A tentative presentation on the National Park Service by Ranger Meg Scheid is planned for February 11th, followed by one on February 23rd on financial literacy. On the 8th of March, a career-exploration workshop will be held by Janie Small in conjunction with the Career Center. TRIO also holds Resumania at the end of the year, teaching students how to put together resumes and holding mock interviews, getting students familiar with “the whole gamut of getting ready to go out into the working world,” Moholland said.

Exposing students to culture is another goal of the TRIO program. Each spring, TRIO holds an annual Spring Arts and Fine Food festival in the college library, with food served by the college’s Culinary Arts program. “It’s kind of a ‘welcome to spring’,” Moholland said, explaining how the bright colors on display go a long way in alleviating winter doldrums. Students and staff are encouraged to bring in art that they themselves or their family members have produced, or to share pieces that they find particularly appealing. This year’s festival will be held on March 23rd.

While it is true that college can be overwhelming at times, through the TRIO program and the various other support systems available at WCCC, students have proven their ability to succeed and continue building on their successes.