I can vividly remember the first time I was in TRiO, 12 years ago. I was in 6th grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and in a meeting with five other 6th graders and a woman, Jeronda Robinson, from OSU-OKC Talent Search. It was the beginning conversation of going to college.
From 6th to 8th grade, our group size increased to a full classroom of middle school students and our meetings were filled with college material, campus visits, and free pizza. When I made my jump to high school, I transitioned to another TRiO program – Upward Bound at Oklahoma City Community College. These four years truly changed my life. Upward Bound was my second family, a place away from home and school, a place where I could be myself. Since the summer before 9th grade, I closely bonded with people from other schools–we kept each other accountable for those $40 monthly stipends, we went to in- and out-of-state trips for campus visits and cultural activities, and we made an effort to see each other. We called Upward Bound home.
After Upward Bound, it was time for college. This was the moment that Talent Search and Upward Bound had helped us get to. I did everything I could to prepare for college, such as taking concurrent courses, asking questions, and going to campus visits. However, as a first generation and low-income student of color at a predominately white institution, the University of Oklahoma, college was hard. Even though I held many leadership positions and was well-known on campus, I still struggled. I felt anxiety throughout my body when I entered classrooms; I took deep breaths before organizational meetings; I wished more people who looked like me and came from the same community were with me; I worried about money every day; I worked 20+ hours; I helped and translated for my parents when needed; I thought about dropping out; I wanted to transfer schools; I almost or did miss deadlines for applications and assignments; I asked for paper extensions; I held invisible heavy weights.
Even with all of these burdens, I had two places on campus that I could always find myself at home: TRiO Student Support Services – Project Threshold and Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program. I had a place where I could cry about the struggles of being first generation, poor, and a student of color. I had a place where I could have food and snacks. I had a place where I could nap or rest during my 12-hour days. I had Scott Cady from Project Threshold, Dr. Sophia Morren from McNair, and the students in the programs who checked in with me consistently to make sure I had enough support on my best and worst days. I called Threshold and McNair home. Because of them, I made it through college, and I know I can always lean on them for a lifetime.
#TRiOworks because I see friends, peers, and people from my community join these programs, have an immense amount of much-needed support, graduate college, and are now working professionals who give back to their community.
#TRiOworks because my older brother and I are the first in our family to graduate college. It is with great joy and pride that I can say because of TRiO, I have a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and I aspire to get my master’s degree and Ph.D. in the future.
#TRiOworks because I, after 10 years of being a participant of TRiO, am a professional working at another TRiO Student Support Services program – LA META (Latino Americans Motivating, Educating, and Transforming America) at the University of Central Oklahoma. Like the staff members from the TRiO programs, I am making sure that my students can make it through, graduate college, and have a lifelong support system.