TRIO programs built to support first-generation students show high retention rates
After hearing from a Grand Valley Latino student who had hoped "to talk with someone who speaks my language," William Washington moved to create TRIO's first Spanish-speaking virtual event.
Washington, director of the TRIO Student Support Service program, hired a graduate assistant who, among her other skills, speaks Spanish. "We want to be a Hispanic-serving institution and this is a step in the right direction," Washington said.
Estefany Paniagua-Pardo, who is pursuing a master's degree in education with an emphasis on college student affairs leadership, hosted a virtual study skills workshop in Spanish. It is one example of how underrepresented and first-generation students are supported at Grand Valley.
Washington said he will look for other programs Paniagua-Pardo can offer in Spanish as a way to increase access and be more inclusive. "I'm excited for us to have Estephany offer programs in Spanish," he said. "And this came about because of student activism. This sort of student engagement is one of the hallmarks of Grand Valley and it works to make us an even better university."
About 40 percent of Grand Valley students are first in their families to attend college. President Philomena V. Mantella said the university is committed to supporting all students, particularly first-generation students, during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Students deserve a well-constructed, well-supported path that anticipates and builds the right scaffolding based on their readiness, personal circumstances and needs," Mantella said.
Collectively, Grand Valley's three TRIO-SSS programs serve about 500 students. Many of those students participated either in-person or virtually in a November event to celebrate the successes of first-generation students. B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development, received an appreciation award for his support of first-generation students. TRIO programs are housed in the Division of Enrollment Development.
Truss said Grand Valley is focused on eliminating equity gaps in retention and graduation. "These programs will assist in eliminating these gaps by ensuring our students are engaged appropriately and they know that GVSU is the place for them," Truss said.
Nykia Gaines, director of TRIO SSS-STEM Health Sciences, said the TRIO programs should also be celebrated along with students. The three programs have a retention rate of 93 percent for first-generation students, higher than retention for first-generation students who do not participate in a TRIO program.
Darvell Reid, a native of Saginaw, will graduate in April with a bachelor's degree in cardiovascular sonography. Reid credited much of his academic success to TRIO.
"The TRIO staff has played a major role in the development of who I am today," Reid said. "So many opportunities have been given to me that on my own I may have never received. In the brief four years that I have been part of TRIO, I have had the opportunity to visit six different states, tour four different graduate schools and one different continent."
Reid was part of a 2019 TRIO study abroad trip to Chile, where 20 participants spent two weeks studying at the Universidad del Bío-Bío and taking in the culture. He said the tutoring support, and opportunities to attend workshops and conferences were ancillary to the moral support he received from staff members and other supporters at Grand Valley.
"I took so much from the programs that cultivated my perspective and gave me the means to overcome the predispositions the world has for me as an African American male. I can truly say that TRIO has changed my life," Reid said.
Learn more about Grand Valley's TRIO programs online.