Janell Ramos-Ramos, left, and Jullianie Mackey stand outside the Depot, where the TRIO office is.

Staff at TRIO pre-college program are on 'front lines' at area schools, providing resources and guidance to students

In the top photo, Jullianie Mackey, right, stands next to Janell Ramos-Ramos outside the Depot, where the TRIO ETS office is located.

If she needs a reminder that her work matters, Jullianie Mackey can find that on Tuesdays in her office. 

Mackey is an advisor for TRIO Educational Talent Search (ETS) and has many personal examples of how the program has helped students achieve success. On Tuesdays, Mackey only needs to look to a student worker to be reminded.

Janell Ramos-Ramos, a first-year student majoring in biochemistry, works in the ETS office Tuesday afternoons. As a student at Wyoming High School, Ramos-Ramos participated in ETS and said the advisors helped her successfully get to Grand Valley.

"As a first-generation student, I had no idea of how to do anything regarding the application process," she said. "The program helped me prepare for college by giving me resources to be successful."

ETS is one of eight TRIO offices at Grand Valley. ETS staff and advisors primarily work with middle and high school students, providing admissions and financial aid application assistance, scholarship services, academic and career counseling and tutoring and financial literacy referrals, plus secondary and post secondary re-entry services.

Ramos-Ramos now participates in Grand Valley's TRIO STEM-Health Sciences program, geared toward helping students in those disciplines be successful by providing holistic support.

High school students stand outside a GRCC building
Students from Southwest Middle-High School who participate in TRIO ETS visit the Grand Rapids Community College campus.
Image credit - courtesy photo
two high school students and a GVSU TRIO advisor are seated looking at two laptop computers
(Center) Ashley Fritz, TRIO ETS advisor, works with Wyoming High School students, assisting with financial aid forms.
Image credit - courtesy photo
A Van Andel Institute staff member leads a presentation in front of a room of high school students. Two library books are in the foreground.
Staff from the Van Andel Institute lead a presentation and STEM experiments for Southwest Middle-High School students.
Image credit - courtesy photo

Last year, the ETS office received a five-year, $1.99 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand its services in Kent County. Sarah Keranen-Lopez, program director, said adding Grand Rapids Public Schools' Southwest Community Campus was a labor of love for all involved. Also new to ETS's roster of schools were Godwin Heights Middle and High Schools and Wyoming Junior High School.

"The Southwest Campus assistant principal, Julian Ramirez Torres, was a Grand Valley ETS student of ours and helped to make it become a target school in the new grant," Keranen-Lopez said. "He reached out to our program because it helped him reach his goals and he wanted that for his students."

Mackey travels to the Southwest Campus and two other schools. She said interest and participation at Southwest, a bilingual school, was almost immediate. "Within the first three weeks I was there, I had 96 students sign up," she said.

ETS advisors provide workshops and assist during parent-teacher conferences or other special events. Mackey said she provides a constant presence for students, even when learning is done virtually.

"When GRPS schools were remote last year, we still held Wednesday workshops and had breakout rooms per grade, all of our schools together. This year it's nice to connect with them in-person and get motivation from a student who gets it," she said.

Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, expressed appreciation for how ETS staff members responded during the pandemic and continued serving students.

"That barrier did not stop our team from connecting and delivering services to our middle and high school students," Gaines said. "I truly appreciated their ability to pivot and execute when faced with an obstacle."

B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, said all TRIO staff members in the pre-college and college programs are supporting first-generation students in West Michigan and proving Grand Valley is focused on its mission of creating educational equity and access and empowering students.

"From middle school to adults who need help re-entering college, Grand Valley's amazing TRIO staff members are on the front lines of providing resources and guidance to help individuals succeed," he said. "Many of the team members — including me — were the first in their families to go to a four-year college, and I believe that helps our team to understand the barriers that must be removed for other first-generation students."


Sign up and receive the latest Grand Valley headlines delivered to your email inbox each morning.