Trinity Young stops by Frist Hall three or four times a week to use the printer. Or for guidance. Or just to talk.
Frist Hall is where Student Support Services—known as SSS—is housed. SSS serves as a home away from home for Young, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior majoring in biochemistry.
“SSS has really been an anchor in college, a place you can go to if you need support of any kind or if you just need a place to feel welcomed,” said Young, a first-generation college student born in Memphis and raised in Nashville.
This week is First Generation Week, created in 2017 as a way to recognize students who are the first members of their family to attend college.
“Being first-gen, nobody in my family has experienced being in college and what it means to be in college,” Young continued. “If I ever have a problem that I don’t know the answer to or if I need guidance of some sort of where to go in college or what I should be doing, I can always come to SSS. They always point me in the right direction.”
That’s precisely how the program’s director, Melissa Laseter, wants students in SSS to feel.
“We want to be a place where you can come and get a word of encouragement, be able to ask for advice and know that you’re going to be taken care of and heard,” Laseter said. “But our main goal is to help students graduate from college, and the students that we help are students who have more barriers than your average college students.”
Student Support Services is a federal TRIO program funded through a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant process. The program, which serves 200 students on the UTC campus, targets low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities. Funds are awarded to higher-education institutions to provide academic development opportunities, assist students with basic college requirements and motivate them to complete their postsecondary education.
SSS offerings include tutoring, career coaching, skill-building workshops, individualized counseling, job preparation and financial literacy assistance.
“We also provide advising assistance, which goes hand-in-hand with the academic advising the students receive from their advisors on campus,” Laseter said. “A lot of these students are working part-time—or more than part-time now—so we’re trying to help them find a good balance and help them pick classes that work at a good time of the day for them.”
The UTC program recently learned that it had received its TRIO grant renewal for another five years. As part of the renewed grant, SSS was funded this year at $338,961 for a five-year projection of almost $1.7 million.
“This program has been at UTC for a long time, so we have pre-existing proof that this program is successful on this campus. “That does help when it comes time to rewriting the grant because you do get prior experience points for efforts made in the last five-year grant cycle,” said Laseter, who began working for SSS in 2008, taking over as the program’s director this year following the retirement of Shirl Gholston.
Laseter said the program continually strives to remove barriers, open doors and create access for its students.
“I tell students all the time, ‘I hope we have the same goal: You want to graduate, and I want you to graduate.’ But we recognize these students may be experiencing some different kinds of things than your average college student,” she said. “We try to provide an atmosphere where they feel safe and nurtured and supported.
“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of giving someone the encouragement that you can pass those tests, that you can manage your money better, that you can do something different with your refund check than you did last semester.”
And sometimes, Young said, a college student just needs a friendly face for venting or talking about life.
“When you think about being in college, it’s not just about taking classes and then going home. It’s really about how well you’re able to balance schoolwork and your personal life,” Young said.
“So just having Melissa here to support me, it feels like I’m taken care of on all fronts. After talking to her, you always feel so much better about everything.”