TRIO celebrates first-generation students


Christopher Mercado

Various students participate in a TRIO gathering in hopes to learn more about what it means to be a “first-generation” student.

Student Support Services, Upward Bound,  Ronald E. McNair, 21st Century Scholars Program and Educational Talent Search (also known as TRIO Student Support Services) celebrated first-generation students with several hundred middle school and high school students at gatherings held on the Westville campus Feb. 26 and on the Hammond campus Feb. 27.

According to TRIO, “The concept of ‘first-generation’ students was introduced into federal policy by the TRIO community in 1980, during the passage of the Higher Education Amendments to the Higher Education act of 1965.”

The 80’s style theme of the gathering was chosen in accordance with this fact and featured timely music, activities and food. Over the two days, nearly 400 people participated in the event.

The joint educational opportunity programs work together within the same entity to service students from low-income areas, first-generation college students, minorities and students with disabilities.

Catalina Rodriguez, director of TRIO student support services, said the network of programs is available to help students navigate through the college process, including financial aid assistance, career coaching and aiding in finding scholarships.

“We are here to make it clear that there are a number of moving pieces, and we are here to help you put them together,” Rodriguez said.

Seven surrounding community schools attended the events, many of which were a part of the first-generation demographic.

Initial background information was provided to the audience by Roy Hamilton, assistant vice chancellor for Educational Opportunity Programs, who recalled his educational experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student. He expressed high hopes and aspirations for the students in attendance to uncover what post-secondary options await them following graduation.

By attending, students were given background information about the importance of education via celebrity screenings featuring former First Lady, Michelle Obama and Academy Award-winning actress, Viola Davis. Those in attendance listened to the experiences of a wide spectrum of panelists including current PNW students, PNW alumni and faculty. All of which related their personal college experiences and responded to inquiries from the audience.

Among those inquirers was Lasia Manney, a junior at Michigan City High School, who expressed her reasons for attending by saying, “I wanted to gain more information about the TRIO program and what they have to offer because this is my first year [being a part] of this. I also wanted to get the point of view from someone who has [experienced] or is still experiencing the college life.”

The visiting students also engaged in a campus scavenger hunt and tour after the formal presentations.

Rodriguez plans to continue the tradition in holding the celebration on both campuses as well as engaging the local schools.

“These students are pioneers. They have excellent mentors; meanwhile, others may not have that same kind of support,” Rodriguez said. “And for the college students that are here, I want them to recognize that there are a lot of us. That they can be proud to say I am navigating across this, too, and I am also a pioneer.”