On Tuesday, Sept. 7, SCTCC was host to several area TRIO programs as they met with Minnesota District 7 Senator, Aric Putnam. Along with SCTCC, Sen. Putnam represents students at Central Lakes College (CLC), St. Cloud State University, and the College of Saint Benedict (CSB), who all had representatives present to discuss the program. Additionally, TRIO students from SCTCC shared their stories, showing why support from TRIO is such an important aspect of their educational and personal experiences.
SCTCC President Annesa Cheek welcomed everyone, saying “It’s so good to bring like-minded folks in the room to celebrate all the good work that’s being done at this institution and throughout the state.” She recognized TRIO’s importance, noting that experiences like those that TRIO provides come together in ways that can be very affirming and affect people’s dreams of what’s even possible.
“These experiences that we create within that TRIO sphere are so so important,” Pres. Cheek said. “There are so many barriers that we unintentionally create, and TRIO is teaching us how to remove those barriers and obstacles so that we can truly be student ready and student-centered instructions.”
The TRIO programs are federally funded and include eight services for post-secondary education, including Student Support Services and Upward Bound. These programs provide a supportive environment and experience at the college level for students who are first generation, income eligible, or have disabilities.
Central MN TRIO
CSB has provided an Upward Bound program since 1995, serving 64 students this year. Upward Bound serves high school students in their preparation for college, through academic support and assistance enrolling in college. “We feel really fortunate that we’re able to see the success with kids who may not believe they’re capable,” said Shelly Gemza. “With our program help, advising, and working with other tutors who are college students, they just start to see that it is possible.”
Sen. Putnam was a Summer Bridge teacher with Upward Bound, and is a strong advocate for students in TRIO and education in general. “Being on [a college] campus expands our understanding of what’s possible. To me, that’s what higher education is about,” said Sen. Putnam.
In addition to Upward Bound, Central Minnesota colleges provide TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), a program that assists enrolled college students with successful completion of their education. This includes academic advising, tutoring, help with financial aid, activities through the year, and a sense of community.
SCTCC’s TRIO SSS program has been serving students since 1997, with nearly 190 students taking part this year. The camaraderie among students alongside the wraparound support from advisors makes a lasting difference to those who are in the program.
“Our focus is to improve the lives of students, to support the students, and to help them graduate. These are the three points we look at, and we have been very successful at it for the last 24 years,” said William Tuoy-Giel, the TRIO SSS Director at SCTCC.
St. Cloud State’s TRIO SSS program just became fully funded in September of this year. Kenard Booker, the program director, said of the program, “We’re excited to get up and going.”
Kevin Lattu, an advisor with CLC’s TRIO and a Minnesota TRIO representative, noted that TRIO serves about 16,000 students overall in Minnesota, and in Sen. Putnam’s district, 385 students are served each year, representing a $922,000 early investment on the federal level.
“Students, you should know that you have a fierce advocate at the state senate in Sen. Putnam,” Lattu noted.
TRIO Student Stories
The gathering was primarily organized so Sen. Putnam could hear from students who are in TRIO—participants from SCTCC’s TRIO program were in attendance to share their stories and explain what TRIO means to them.
Tim Cavalieri moved to Minnesota from New York a little more than four years ago and is working on his AA degree.
“TRIO has been a blessing because it made my transition a lot easier. It’s been three years and there’ve been challenges, but TRIO has made it a lot easier…I look forward to seeing what the next chapter in my journey is going to be,” Cavalieri said.
He does think he will stay in the St. Cloud area, which Sen. Putnam was happy to hear. “We need to keep our smart, ambitious, capable people in St. Cloud,” he pointed out.
Noe Zamora is not planning to stay in St. Cloud after he graduates; he plans to return to Los Angeles and “help the kids that are lost like I was.” After witnessing a dead body at eight years old and asking “What can I do to help someone?”, he came to Minnesota at the prompting of a family member. He received his EMT and then applied to SCTCC’s Paramedicine program.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve seen good along with the bad,” Zamora said. “TRIO has been great support wise. I really do love being in TRIO.”
Bountouraby Sylla, a Health Information Technology student, is from Guinea and the self-proclaimed “shy one” of TRIO, saying that she wasn’t going to talk very long. “This is my second semester in TRIO, and I think I doing great,” she mentioned.
She thanked Sen. Putnam for meeting with them and was excited to get a photo with him.
Edith Ojewale was likewise excited to get a photo with Sen. Putnam.
Also a Health Information Technology student, Ojewale is from West Africa and is really happy she is in the St. Cloud area.
“Being in St. Cloud is a good opportunity," she said. "I want a good future for my kids, and St. Cloud is a good place for me to raise my kids.”
Janice Sims is getting her AA degree and has been a part of TRIO for the past two years. “As an older student and a person of color, I had some mixed messages about returning to school.” She started in TRIO right at the beginning, which really motivated her to press forward.
“I know students who have a hard time asking for help, and I ty to encourage them. I’ve been disadvantaged growing up and I never would have thought I’d have continued my education. This school has really brought a lot of change out of me,” said Sims.
Nimo Farah, who is getting her AA degree, is not just in TRIO – she is also a leader on campus in several capacities, including on the campus-wide COVID Response Team. She chatted with Sen. Putnam about her involvement on campus and in TRIO.
Sen. Putnam’s intent listening during the students’ stories drove home how invested he is in education and that he will advocate for students. After his election in 2020, he became a member of the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee in the Minnesota Senate, an appropriate committee after years of teaching at the college level.
During the gathering, Sen. Putnam was asked if he had to leave for another meeting, and he took a moment to text his next appointment to cancel, saying that meeting with TRIO and hearing student experiences was much more important: “[This is] what TRIO programs are about: it’s expanding our possibilities so that you see yourself being able to do things you didn’t even know was an option.”