TRiO: Supporting First-Generation College Students

In fall 2015, APU received $1.1 million from the Department of Education to fund and start the university’s first TRiO Target Success program. With this new program geared toward supporting and motivating first-generation college students to succeed, APU set a new standard for current and future students seeking to become the first in their families to receive college degrees, and ultimately, to become difference makers in the world.

What is TRiO?

TRiO is a collection of eight federally funded programs that provide higher education access and support to those for whom access has not traditionally existed. TRiO Student Support Services provides opportunities for academic development to motivate students toward successful completion of their degree. With more than 20 percent of this year’s incoming class identifying as first-gen students—the first in their family to attend college— TRiO’s mission is to encourage these students to build a sense of belonging and confidence at APU. TRiO does this by providing free support services and incentives in a positive and engaging environment to ensure each student achieves academic success and strengthens their self-efficacy.

TRiO’s mission is met through a wide array of services that range from academic success coaching to enhancing financial/economic literacy, as well as identifying direct grant aid for eligible participants. With APU’s growing population of students who identify as first-generation, TRiO hopes to expand the amount of programs offered in the coming years.

Who is Behind TRiO?

The staff and students are charged with creating the welcoming and engaging environment that is so unique to TRiO. Located in the Undergraduate Academic Success Center, the TRiO staff work together to support student growth and success, and also to cultivate faculty resources to better serve first-gen students in the classroom. TRiO began in fall 2015, and in spring 2016, LaTesha Hagler, Ph.D., was named director of the program and has since helped solidify the foundation the program needs to flourish at APU.

As a first-generation college student herself, Hagler is passionate about supporting students’ academic development and fostering an environment where undergraduates can thrive. “I enjoy serving as a mentor,” said Hagler, “and advocating for underrepresented populations by expanding educational opportunities for culturally diverse undergraduate students.” Her experiences and passions have translated directly into the work she is doing here at APU through the peer mentoring program available to all undergraduate TRiO students.

Peer mentors Sandra Sandoval ’18 and Angel Súchite ’18, both Psychology majors, work one-on-one with students to provide academic, social, and spiritual assistance while encouraging a sense of self-advocacy and pride in each student’s strides and accomplishments. Both peer mentors want to create a safe and open space where students feel heard and understand that they belong. “So many times, as first-generation students, it is easy to feel like a guest instead of a member of your higher education community,” Súchite said. That’s why TRiO seeks to empower young men and women who identify as first-generation students to take hold of their future and feel supported and validated through the process.

Moving Forward

As TRiO takes off and closes their second year on the APU campus next semester, the staff continually seek to improve and expand services for students. According to The New York Times1, the number of first-generation students is expected to increase exponentially in the next 10 years. With numbers only expected to grow, TRiO plans to develop more services to help meet the needs of this important student group.

As for her students, Hagler shared her hopes for their time in TRiO and at APU: “You will look back at these four or five or even six years that you had and see all that you have overcome and created. You should be proud of it all, the failures just as much as the accomplishments.”