TRiO students at an event meeting with poet B. Lythe ( Photo Credit: Rees Wilson)

Pierce Colleges’ TRiO Programs strive to support students facing equity barriers

TRiO is a federal support program that serves students at the Pierce College Fort Steilacoom campus. Pierce College offers two programs, Upward Bound for high schoolers and Student Support Services for Pierce College learners, to assist them throughout their academic careers.

The Federal TRiO Programs are funded and administered by the United States Department of Education to provide services to students from economically disadvantaged situations. The name TRiO refers to the first three programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services. Over time, five programs have been added to serve students, starting from middle school to individuals pursuing a higher degree than a bachelor’s.

Pierce College TRiO staff and students adapt to pandemic challenges by conducting events, student check-ins and recruitment opportunities online.

“Everything is virtual. We are really trying to make it interactive, play games, really get to know the students. Having an opportunity for students just to talk and vent and share their stories, share their challenges especially the challenges that they are experiencing as they navigate a global health pandemic,” said Dr. Ciera Graham, the associate director of College Access, Retention and Engagement.

TRiO is under Equity, Diversity and Inclusion which includes College Access, Retention and Engagement Services and focuses on student success by offering diverse services to students of different backgrounds.

The first TRiO grant earned by Pierce College was the Student Support Services program back in 2001. The grant funds 160 students enrolled at Fort Steilacoom that are planning to transfer to a 4-year university after obtaining their associate degree. 

TRiO staff provides mentoring and hosts social and cultural events to help students succeed throughout their time at Pierce College. 

The Women’s Basketball Team assists in building the Lakewood park alongside the Service Learning Department. (Photo Credit: Event Staff )

To be eligible for TRiO SSS, students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, completed a high school or General Educational Development diploma, present an educational need for support and either identify as a first-generation college student, have documented disability or meet the federal income guidelines.

Skyler Jensen-Hampton is a TRiO SSS alumna that graduated from Pierce College in 2017. She is a first-generation college student and earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations from Central Washington University in June 2020.

Jensen-Hampton graduated high school with a 2.7 grade point average and had no intention of going to college prior to moving to Washington state. One of the reasons Jensen-Hampton pursued a higher education was to meet and connect with new people. 

“Learning was more of a chore than it was a gift. I see learning as very much a gift now,” said Jensen-Hampton. 

Pierce College earned its second grant TRiO Upward Bound fall of 2017. Available at Clover Park High School, the program is called the Upward Bound Warriors EDGE in reference to the school’s mascot which is a warrior. Students that are in 9th, 10th and 11th grade who are interested in pursuing a post-secondary education after obtaining their diploma are qualified.  

Upward Bound funds 60 participants and prepares them with information and skills they need for high school and beyond.

“Because the Upward Bound program works with high school students, there’s a huge emphasis on SAT and ACT test preparation, applying to college, completing your financial aid application, visiting colleges,” said Dr. Graham. 

Students earn monthly stipends for participation in college visits, extracurricular activities, weekend trips and attending the summer academy. 

Every year, Upward Bound hosts a six week summer academy where students meet at Fort Steilacoom and take part in activities.

“For example, that’s a time where our Upward Bound students get to meet professors at the college and other staff from the EDI CARES team and get to meet students who are involved in EDI CARES and then the college and get a better sense of what college life looks like anywhere,” said Bess Nuland, the upward bound retention manager. 

Last year’s academy was held online due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s academy could also be held online, depending on Pierce College and statewide restrictions. 

Clover Park Upward Bound students posing for a group photo at the end of the Summer Academy 2019. ( Photo Credit: Jasmine Justice)

Considering the remote environment, Upward Bound staff host study halls on Wednesday and movie nights via Zoom. Student check-ins can be held over Zoom, telephone or when staff delivers monthly groceries to the student’s residents, practicing safe COVID-19 distancing in the process.

Before the pandemic, students were able to interact with each other, including when staff would purchase snacks and meals for the occasion. This year, students are instead given monthly grocery money to spend on food.  

To be eligible for Upward Bound, students must show academic potential by having a 2.5 GPA or higher, be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and either identify as a first generation college student or meet the federal income requirement. 

Both TRiO programs are specifically for students attending Pierce at the Fort Steilacoom campus and Clover Park High School for grant purposes. The EDI CARES department provides other services available to students at each Pierce College campus.

Programs such as the Legacy of Indigenous Native Knowledge and the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Reaching Their Potential Through Education, are services that support students’ cultural and educational needs. According to Graham, EDI CARES is working on building a support program for Latino students which will be accessible across the district.

In addition to community programs, EDI CARES hosted weekly virtual events this February in celebration of Black History Month. To be informed of upcoming events, follow the Pierce College TRiO program on Facebook or Instagram.  

TRiO Student Support Services and Upward Bound are currently in the process of recruiting participants. Students that are interested in joining can fill out the EDI C.A.R.E.S Student Intake Form and get connected with a staff member.

This year, Pierce College hopes to earn its third TRiO grant, the TRiO Talent Search which would serve junior and senior high school students across nearby school districts. 

Apart from receiving academic support during students’ time at Pierce College or Clover Park, TRiO participants can stay in touch with other members and staff throughout their personal and professional endeavors. 

“They wanna help you and they’ll always be there for you and for years after,” said Jensen-Hampton.

Interviews and article by @cpaezreporting on Twitter.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Celine Paez

Pierce Colleges’ TRiO Programs strive to support students facing equity barriers

by Celine Paez time to read: 4 min