Campus News

TRIO Helps Students Succeed

TRIO is a federally funded, academic support program designed to help eligible students succeed and graduate. Students must be a first generation student, low income, or have a documented disability in order to qualify for TRIO support services. A variety of services are provided, including the following:

  • regular meetings with your TRIO Coach
  • assistance with creating a plan for graduating
  • career or transfer goals
  • selecting and registering for classes
  • building skills to succeed in higher education
  • identifying strengths and values
  • opportunities for peer connections and mentoring
  • workshops and events
Katharine Lualdi
Katharine Lualdi, Director of TRIO Student Support Services

When asked to describe TRIO, Lualdi said, “The really cool thing about TRIO is that it’s a federally funded program that goes back to the ‘60s and came out of the equal rights and civil rights movement about equity and access. One thing that I find cool is to have students understand that they’re part of this incredible tradition. And that tradition has focused predominantly on how we level the playing field in higher ed, particularly for groups that are underrepresented, and who may face barriers that without support are going to limit their ability not only to access higher ed but to actually complete degrees.” 

Lualdi went on to discuss a key concept that the TRIO community embraces and embodies. “At the heart of it is the difference between equity and equality. In the TRIO community, it’s about, ‘okay, what’s equality and what’s equity?’ Often, people use equality as a way of explaining why some people succeed and others don’t, and they make it about the individual. Like all of us have access to [it], but some people don’t succeed. Others do succeed and ones who don’t; it’s got to be on them, right? Because we all have equal access, but equal access and equity are not the same. And among the kind of TRIO family, it’s about what is equity for whom? And how do we continue to push that? For me, it’s really social justice, but how do we push it and innovate at the same time? From the very beginning, TRIO focused on students coming from first-generation backgrounds, which, for reasons both anecdotal and data-driven, if you’re not coming from a family background in which you have some kind of frame of reference for higher ed, you’re less likely to pursue it, right? And then students that are coming from income eligible backgrounds, so again, students coming from lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to get to higher ed and succeed, and then the last group is students with disabilities.”

A major piece of the TRIO program is providing support and helping students gain skills to navigate higher education. “How do we help you navigate expectations? How do we help you map out a plan? How do we help you if there’s a hiccup in the plan? And that’s really common, like, oh my gosh, I can’t do what I planned to do and now everything’s over or I can’t finish. I would say that probably one of the most important things that we do is to help students pause and say, ‘Wait a second, okay. It’s not what I expected, it’s not what I wanted, darn it. Life has thrown me a curveball, let’s just adjust your plan. Don’t walk away from school.’ Providing extra academic skill-building support is a huge piece for some students.” 

When asked what her favorite part of being a TRIO advisor is, Lualdi responded, “What I love is relationship building. I love connecting with students for whom that’s a good fit. You don’t want to force it. And I really love it when I as an advisor get to see a student gain more confidence, gain more sense of agency, and feel like they are in charge of the choices that they’re making. And for many students, they don’t come into college with those attributes for a lot of reasons. It’s just really satisfying and I don’t take any credit for it. It’s just kind of like a sounding board. It’s having someone you can go to, and then the individual student is gaining more control, and I just find that super satisfying. And that doesn’t always mean the student graduates. You know, sometimes other things happen and the student has to make decisions, and it’s the best decision for that student, but they’re doing it in a way that they’re calling the shots versus feeling like life is calling the shots for them. So, I just love that relationship building. I like the fact that a lot of students invest trust in us, and they don’t mind being themselves even if sometimes that’s not easy.” 

When asked for her final thoughts on the TRIO program, Lualdi said, “We are here to help you make choices that are better for your goals, and not judging. And that can be hard because I think a lot of people fear being judged, and they fear failing, and they fear that people think that they should be better or they could be better, but we’re all human, right? I don’t think that’s unique to SMCC students. But I think, for a lot of SMCC students, they’re not necessarily coming out of high school. They’re coming after a pause, coming from other experiences that didn’t necessarily shape them in a positive way. And it’s really rewarding to help people or just to witness people kind of unpack that and get through it and get somewhere on the other side that feels authentic to them.”

You can learn more about TRIO and submit an interest form here.

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