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Long-running TRIO Student Support Services program renewed at WVU Tech

TRIO Student Support Services staff and students visit Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, October 2019.TRIO Student Support Services staff and students visit Lost World Caverns in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, October 2019.

WVU Tech’s TRIO Student Support Services program is one of the oldest in the country. Last week, it got another five years to look forward to as Senators Manchin and Capito announced another round of funding for the vital program.

The funding – awarded at just over $408,000 each year for half a decade – is the largest such program grant in the state. The money will be used to serve some 215 students in the program who come from low-income homes, are the first in their family to go to college or who have accessibility concerns.

SSS is a boon to students who need a little help. The program offers free academic advising and tutoring. It supports students as they grapple with financial aid, graduate school and career prep. It provides scholarships to deserving students, employment opportunities, educational seminars, cultural enrichment events and travel experiences.

That all adds up to a group of college students who work in a tight-knit community towards better grades, global experiences and a strong network.

And it’s a program Congress believes in. According to data from the United States Department of Education, TRIO SSS programs received $337 million in funding during 2019, offering services to more than 200,000 students across 1,066 programs.

“We’re one of the few programs that both sides of the aisle in Congress agree on,” said Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO and Diversity Programs at Tech.

“I think it’s a program that folks believe in because they understand and connect to the stories of our participants. We share the stories of our students and the struggles that our students face. So, legislators can see that we work across campus to develop partnerships that really help these students succeed.”

And there’s no shortage of success stories. Robertson has overseen the program since 2014. He said students in SSS average a 94% good academic standing rate. Graduates are landing quality jobs in engineering, health care and other fields in the United States and abroad. Students who came to Tech as shy freshman who simply needed a hand with a course are now excelling in graduate programs.

Robertson points to graduates like Cody Walker, a first-generation student who grew up in Oak Hill, West Virginia in a single-parent household.

“With Cody, I just happened to meet him on campus. We talked a bit and I gave him an application. In the years after that chance meeting, he really grew as a student and as a person. We were even able to send him to the Netherlands to study abroad. He became the first in his family to get a degree, and he’ll tell you it changed everything for him,” said Robertson.

Today, Cody is working for an engineering firm in West Virginia that’s owned and operated by a WVU Tech grad.

( See what students and graduates like Cody think of the SSS program [VIDEO])

A strong program to help students thrive in uncertain times
SSS was born in a tumultuous year. The program was founded in 1968, when young people were making big waves on college campuses and across the country. They were demanding better access to education while navigating the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and political unrest.

More than five decades later, students are facing their own wave of troubles. For people like Robertson and the thousands who work in TRIO programs, our uncertain times are another chance for powerful learning experiences.

“We want our students to be adaptable. We want them to succeed, no matter what gets thrown at them, and we’ll continue to evolve to meet their needs,” said Robertson.

The program plans to still incorporate travel experiences, but with a heavy focus on how to do so safely – and how to do so using the most accurate, evidenced-based information available to them. SSS employees are coaching students on how to use online communication resources like Zoom and how to prosper in online classes. Robertson and crew are even hiring a success coach to help program students navigate the college experience, and beyond, in the modern world.

“For us, helping students develop and flourish, especially in uncertain times, is something that is so valuable. It makes them a better student. It makes them a better professional when they enter the workforce. It gives them the grit they need to push through tough times and to make their way in their careers and in their lives,” Robertson said.

Preserving the sense of family in the program is important, too.

“We are a little family inside the Tech family,” he said. “I’m still in touch with a lot of these students, some of them once a week. We work one-on-one with every student who moves through here. They connect to an institution because they’re connecting with the people who work in that institution. And its more than support for academics. They come to rely on our group, even if they’re just having a down day and need an ear.”

So, as Robertson and his team celebrate a new lease on the future and plan for the next five years, they look at adaptability. They look at technology and how it can play a role. They look at safety, support and culture. And they look to ways they can keep what is perhaps the most vital part of SSS going strong: diversity.

“Our program brings together folks from different parts of the country to not just learn about college but to learn about what the world is like. When you see these friendships between students from places like Texas and West Virginia, you’re seeing something that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. That’s diversity of people, diversity of place and diversity of experience. It’s authentic, and it happens in the blink of an eye – in a way that changes these young people forever,” he said.

To learn more about the TRIO Student Support Services program at WVU Tech, visit  triosss.wvutech.edu.

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