TRiO Student Support Services launches at Utica College

Photo from Susan Johnston

Photo from Susan Johnston

Special Assignments Reporter, Isabella Hudziak

Hubbard Hall is the home of several Utica College offices that were created to support students. One such office, signified with a distinct TRiO sign beside the glass door, is the TRiO Student Support Services office.

The title “TRiO” refers to the three original programs funded under Title IV in the Higher Education Act: Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search and Special Services. The program exists in a multitude of colleges, including university and community campuses, across the United States, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

The TRiO programs serve several people: First-Generation Students (FGS), low-income students and students who have documented disabilities that impact academic experience. Students whose families’ income is equal to or less than 150% of the poverty level are eligible.

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The origins of TRiO date back to the 1960s when the Higher Education Act was established. What once started with Upward Bound expanded into Student Support Services and Talent Search. Title IV of the Higher Education Act was funded toward access and retention programs. Despite the historical range of the program, it is fairly new to Utica College.

“The aim of the grant is to provide greater support for economically and academically disadvantaged students, with a focus on improving retention and graduation rates, as well as assisting first-generation college students,” Director of TRiO Student Support Susan Johnston said. 

The grant was awarded on Sept. 1, 2020, and is a five-year grant, she said. 

Students who believe they qualify for the program can submit an Interest Form on the Utica College TRiO webpage, schedule a meeting with the TRiO office or send an email to [email protected]. Once the staff has reviewed the application and found there is an available spot the student will be invited to a meeting to talk over future goals and the commitments TRiO SSS requires.

The office promotes individualized support by collaborating with the students involved to create a plan for professional and academic development. The program works in conjunction with other Utica College staff, such as financial aid Counselors, success coaches, faculty academic advisors, career coaches and learning services as needed.

“Some basic indicators we look at include successful completion of credits, attendance to classes, meetings and TRiO SSS activities,” Johnston said. “We also look at timely completion of FAFSA and on-time scheduling of classes.”

The TRiO SSS office officially started during the turbulent COVID-19 pandemic. In preparation for the office’s start in February, a shell of the program was established by Project Director Karen R. Ferrer-Muniz, the associate vice president of enrollment management, and Johnston. Once the spring semester kicked into gear, the shell would be fleshed out.

“We were able to continue to build on the shell by hiring staff, getting visibility on the website and across campus and enrolling student participants,” Johnston said. “As we are enrolling students into the program there have been some challenges in engaging the students and having them be really excited about it.”

According to Johnston, the first UC participants have adapted as the spring semester has moved along. In the future, the TRiO Student Support Services at Utica College has the mission to empower students.

“We want to empower students to be the best version of themselves, encourage them to believe in their goals and aspirations, and motivate them to complete a degree,” Johnston said. “TRiO SSS promotes student persistence, good academic standing and degree completion.”