It was not the return to school Star Oswald envisioned, and it left her questioning her decision.
“I failed my first exam in the first class I had taken in 20 years and was sure I had made a huge mistake coming back to school,” Oswald said. “In desperation, I went in to talk to my advisor, but she was busy and one of the other advisor’s saw my distress and was free, so she saw me. After I spilled my guts and fears to her, she walked me over to the DRC (Disability Resource Center) and got me set up for an appointment with them, and then she walked me next door to SSS (Student Support Services) and introduced me to them and got me set up for an intake appointment with them, as well.”
Oswald no longer questions her decision about returning to Utah State University to continue her education. With help from USU’s TRIO SSS, she now finds herself excelling in the classroom.
“From the day I was first introduced to the TRIO program, I now had people I knew I could go to,” said Oswald, a management information systems (MIS) major. “They have become my safe place when I need to talk. I took the classes that they offer, which benefitted me by not only reimbursing me the tuition for those classes, but I had many resources opened to me to help me be successful in those classes. They provide a writing and math tutor for all SSS students, but they also provided tutors for classes other than math when I felt I needed extra help. With their support, I currently have a 3.91 GPA. I am graduating next May, hopefully magna cum laude.”
The Federal TRIO Programs are outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.
USU TRIO SSS was recently awarded a $1.74 million continuing grant to support students on the USU Logan campus who are first-generation, low income and/or experience disability. This new grant funding is anticipated to support SSS for five additional years, beginning the fall semester of 2021 and running through the spring semester of 2026.
Like Oswald, Kortni Gardner has benefitted from the TRIO program, not just at Utah State University, but when she was attending Burley (Idaho) High School, as well.
“I found out about the program through the TRIO advisor who worked at my high school,” Gardner said. “When I was told about the benefits of the program and that I fit the criteria, I became super interested in all that it had to offer and thought that it could help me prepare for my future endeavors.”
TRIO SSS has been operating on the Utah State University campus continuously since 1989, having provided academic support for approximately 2,500 students over that time. Participants receive services across multiple years, from the time they join SSS through the duration of their undergraduate study. Each year SSS supports approximately 200 participants.
TRIO SSS provides high-touch, individualized support for students including:
- Team Support: regular one-on-one visits with SSS staff.
- Advising support for major and course selection.
- Registration assistance.
- Small math/stat classes, limited to 15 students, with extra support (Math 0995, Math 1050, Stat 1045).
- Study skills and academic support classes (sections of USU 1730 and USU 1750).
- Financial aid – applications, information and planning.
- Basic financial literacy.
- Help with graduate school applications (for admissions and financial aid).
- Other support and advocacy as needed.
“As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, I can honestly say I had no clue what to expect from college,” Gardner said. “I really had no idea how to balance my time between homework, classes, studying and social time, and I struggled to provide for myself financially. I picked the first major I thought I would feel comfortable with, and didn’t bother to look into or explore anything else.
I had no idea how I would be able to keep a job while trying to make it through 15 credits of my first semester, one of which was a five-credit stats class, and eventually ended up failing several classes by the end of my first year of school, ending my freshman year with a cumulative GPA of 0.64. I had originally made the decision to attend USU in part because of the Western Undergraduate Exchange scholarship I received by living within 100 miles of Cache Valley, but by the end of my freshman year, I had lost my scholarship and had moved home. I had little hope that I would be able to return to school, let alone pay for it.”
Between the end of her freshman year and beginning of her sophomore year, Gardner found out about USU’s TRIO program. After applying for the program, she was accepted.
“I also appealed for financial aid and was granted my aid back if I agreed to the terms and achieved better grades,” Gardner said. “I learned better study habits, retook my stats class through the TRIO program, and passed my classes. From there, I developed a determination and drive that propelled me forward.”
It certainly did. Gardner graduated from Utah State with two bachelor’s degrees, one in agricultural communication and another in journalism.
“The TRIO program was a saving grace in achieving my childhood dream of receiving a degree,” Gardner said. “As the oldest child of five, I took it upon myself to become an example for my siblings to follow. I wanted to show them, and myself, that hard work and dedication is the key to everything we could ever want in this life. As a first-generation student, I knew I wanted to walk across that stage and help my siblings know that it’s possible. It’s possible to work hard. It’s possible to make it through the hard classes and financial difficulties. It’s possible after six years of group projects, tough teachers and rigorous classes to make it, and that’s exactly why I chose to finish and make something of myself.
“TRIO gave me the resources to succeed. Not only that, but it helped me put those resources to use, and helped see me through until the very end, until I achieved what I had set out to succeed.”
Added Oswald: “The people that work there really have a vested interest in our success. I know how proud they are of our successes, as well. They check in on us if they haven’t heard from us in a while just to make sure everything is okay. When my fiancé passed away almost three years ago, Carol (Sainsbury, an academic advisor at SSS) came to my house and took me to lunch, because I wasn’t eating, and took me to the store to help me pick out winter boots. It was such a simple thing that I just couldn’t bring myself to do. They really, truly, unconditionally care for us.”
Any USU undergraduate who is first-generation, low-income or experiences disability and is interested to benefit from our SSS services is welcome to apply. Click the application link here. Participants selected for the program will receive services from the time you join SSS through the duration of your undergraduate years.
“TRIO is an incredibly vital and important program for high school and college students alike,” Gardner said. “There are so many amazing resources available for students to take advantage of that one might not always consider. Sometimes it is worth recognizing that you need help, and seeking for resources beyond your usual scope of influence. The USU TRIO program is such a great program and serves a variety of different students. No matter the stage of life, the staff of the TRIO program is willing to help in any and every way they can.”
Utah State’s TRIO SSS office recently moved under the Office of Student Retention and Completion, where they will be working more closely with the Aggie First Scholars (AFS) program. AFS and SSS programs complement each other in serving first-generation college students at USU.