This fall, Luther’s TRIO Achievement Program (formerly Student Support Services) received a $1.5 million grant from the federal government to continue programming. TRIO is a U.S. Department of Education program with outreach programs nationwide that serve first-generation college students and students with financial need. More than 180 Luther students currently benefit from the program, which sees 92 percent of its participants graduate or continue toward graduation each year.
Funding for TRIO programs is allocated every five years through a rigorous application process. Luther’s TRIO program scored full points on every measure of assessment. We talked to Luther TRIO director Tammy Hove to learn what Luther’s team is doing right.
Federal TRIO programs are in place, Hove says, to provide equal opportunity for students to access and complete a postsecondary education, which benefits families, communities, and society. “These programs position students to thrive in college and beyond,” she says.
Students entering Luther’s TRIO program, are matched with one of three advisors, who ensure that participants establish specific goals and have the resources, opportunities, and information they need to achieve them. This advising is in addition to a student’s academic advising, and it helps students gain what Hove calls “college knowledge,” in addition to fostering their personal potential.
All first-year participants receive materials to help orient them to college life. Contents of the TRIO guidebook, for instance, range from a “first things first” checklist to time management tips to a chart highlighting key differences between high school and college.
New TRIO students are also encouraged to enroll in a two-credit Foundations for Learning and Development course, which helps them examine their skills, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and think about how a liberal arts education can best contribute to their holistic—emotional, ethical, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, and vocational—development. The course is a valuable primer, especially for students without a family history of higher education.
“Our Foundation course and other programming empowers students to successfully transition to and through college,” Hove says. “More students leave college because of disillusionment, discouragement, or reduced motivation than because of lack of ability or poor academic performance. That first semester is really crucial in a student’s college experience and can determine whether they continue on in college.”
Hove says that the academic background of new TRIO students is “as diverse as that of the entire student body. So TRIO’s academic support is very customized in order to meet students wherever they’re at so they can best capitalize on their liberal arts education.” The program offers peer tutoring, both group and individual, in addition to any tutoring a student may seek through other campus centers.
TRIO alumnus Chad Sonka ’12 found the program’s tutoring service invaluable as a student. He became a TRIO tutor himself and discovered an unexpected love of teaching. Now a full-time private voice teacher and current alumni guest lecturer in Luther’s Music Department, he says, “TRIO helps shine a light onto a potential path for students, and I’m so proud to be a product of their guidance.”
Luther’s TRIO program also influences its students’ financial education. TRIO staff help students identify and pursue scholarships, fully understand state and federal financial aid, and use resources like GradReady, an interactive online tool that teaches practical money skills. While the tool is available to all Luther students, TRIO students can earn a grant by completing GradReady training and fulfilling several other requirements. TRIO also helps students financially by administering textbook and technology lending programs and offering scholarships, including the Karen Julesberg ’60 Scholarship and the endowed memorial Steven Mark Anderson ’85 Scholarship.
While Luther’s TRIO program promotes students’ academic success and financial literacy, it also offers them something less measurable: a sense of fellowship and community. From workshops to panels to social events to group meals, TRIO encourages connection.
In October, it hosted a BBQ&A, during which a panel of faculty shared a meal and conversation with TRIO students. Hove says that the meet-and-greet “helps students get past the intimidation factor and see that professors are interested in getting to know them and in helping them realize their goals.”
TRIO also hosts an annual workshop with the Center for Global Learning and the Financial Aid Office about making study abroad a reality. “It’s too valuable and powerful an experience for them to miss,” Hove says of global study. “I don’t ask them if they’re going to study abroad; I ask where are you going?”
It’s one of many enthusiasms that Hove and her staff share with students. Hove says, “Luther provides opportunities for a diverse student population—including socioeconomically-diverse students—because this is a wonderful place to learn. The TRIO Achievement Program is a living and breathing example of the college’s commitment to student success and mission fulfillment.”
Seven Luther students benefitted from scholarships designed specifically for Luther TRIO participants this year. Recipients of the Steven Mark Anderson Scholarship for 2015–16 include: Makeda Barkley ’17, Samantha Ea ’16, MaiTeng Moua ’16, Fred Scaife ’16, Pedro Lopez Vega ’17, and Chris Wieseler ’17.
The 2015–16 recipient of the Karen Julesberg Scholarship was Kalinda Kolek ’17, who led a scholarship-application workshop this fall for other TRIO students. “It was a really neat opportunity to teach people about a topic that we don’t learn enough about in life or classes,” she says.