In honor of National TRIO Day, eight TRIO programs from across Tennessee visited the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The event was organized by TN TRIO, a non-profit educational organization that helps disadvantaged students persevere and matriculate. Due to COVID-19, UTC had not hosted the get-together since 2020.
TRIO programs, which have been part of the UTC campus for more than 50 years, are federal outreach systems designed to identify and provide services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The initiatives are intended to serve and assist low-income and first-generation college students and those with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline.
There are 60 different TRIO programs within the state spanning 22 institutions.
“This is one of our state’s student initiatives,” said Kristina McClure, education specialist for the UTC Upward Bound Math Science program and chair of TN TRIO’s Student Initiatives Committee. “National TRIO Day is when TRIO programs perform community service, come together and work together. So as a student initiative, this is a great way for students across Tennessee to meet their TRIO peers.”
Five of these programs can be found at UTC. These initiatives run from working with students in middle schools (Educational Talent Search) to high schools (Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math Science) to college students (Student Support Services) to adults trying to get back into college (Educational Opportunity Center).
The UTC TRIO programs are led by:
- Twyler Boykin (Upward Bound Math Science)
- Keith Bridges (Educational Opportunity Center)
- Melissa Laseter (Student Support Services)
- Belinda Lee (Upward Bound)
- Karen Vann (Educational Talent Search)
All programs except Student Support Services are part of the Center for Community Career Education, housed within the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies. Bridges also serves as the Center’s executive director.
Participants in TRIO Day activities included CHEPS Dean Valerie Rutledge, CHEPS Associate Dean David Rausch and TN TRIO President Elaine Tilley. Students also were treated to welcome video messages from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Gaby Watts, senior director for student service in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.
High school and middle school participants came from TRIO programs connected to UTC, UT Knoxville, East Tennessee State University and Monroe County Schools. Activities for the student visitors included a networking event; participation in a pair of competitions—the Academic Bowl and the Scholars Bowl; college access workshops; and campus tours.
McClure said she was grateful for the volunteer work provided by the UTC Student Support Services students and staff.
“The SSS students came and performed all the volunteer needs we needed,” she said. “For the student competitions, we needed readers, scorekeepers, timekeepers. We even had four or five SSS students sit on a student panel to talk to the TRIO students about ‘These are some of the challenges I’ve faced.’
“First-gen students have a very specific set of challenges that they face as they’re going through the college admissions process, so our SSS students volunteered their time to have conversations with the students about, ‘These are the things that I saw. These are the things that I faced. As you move forward, here’s some information to help you make informed decisions.’”
McClure said those students also led campus tours, sharing experiences and opportunities available to high school students if they decide to attend UTC.
“The visiting students heard from other first-generation college students, ‘This is what UTC has given me. This is why I love this school,’” she said. “After we thanked everybody for coming and wishing everybody safe travels, I had students coming up to me saying, ‘I can totally see myself here. I think that I’m going to come to school here.’
“Big picture, this was a great way for us to provide a little more exposure to students across the state; many of the kids had never been to Chattanooga before.”
Nationally, TRIO programs serve more than 800,000 students—and have more than 6 million alums. One-on-one and group academic counseling and advisement, tutorial support, mentoring, help with college admissions and financial aid, cultural enrichment and other supports required for educational access and success are among the services offered. Programs target low-income, first-generation students and work toward measurable outcomes by focusing on early interventions.