Grand Valley's National TRIO Day celebration is focus on connections, resources

Anthony Webster, now the director of TRIO Student Support Services at Eastern Michigan University, said it was his TRIO family that helped, coaxed and pushed him to pursue a doctoral degree.

Webster included his own Eastern TRIO students in that large family. "One of my own students asked me the other day when I was going to find time to work on my paper," he said.

He was the keynote speaker February 22 during Grand Valley's second National TRIO Day celebration. Webster spoke to a crowded Kirkhof Center room full of area high school students and others who participate in one of Grand Valley's 11 TRIO programs

Anthony Webster speaks into a microphone, posters of TRIO students behind him
Anthony Webster, director of TRIO Student Support Services at Eastern Michigan University, gives a presentation to a National TRIO Day audience in the Kirkhof Center February 22.
Image credit - Lauren Seymour

As a first-generation college student, Webster, who grew up in Greenville, Mississippi, said planning for and talking about college did not happen at his house. Despite a low ACT score, he was accepted at Jackson State University in Mississippi. He recalled the day before his first semester when his mother dropped him off.

"Suddenly, I was alone in my room. I sat down and thought, 'Well, this is what it's going to look like,'" Webster said. "I knew I had to plug in and master resources to get by."

His first challenge came quickly. Webster said the financial aid office told him there was a $1,300 balance on his account. "Could I call home and ask my mama for $1,300?" he asked the crowd. He told the office worker he might have to leave the university.

Someone in JSU's financial aid office advocated for Webster and found scholarship money to apply to his tuition bill. 

"From that moment, I knew I had to speak up. Since then, it's been a passion of mine: opening my mouth and saying what I needed," Webster said.

four people seated in chairs on stage for a panel discussion, woman at podium as moderator
From left are Rebecca Muzamhindo, Jordan Meade, Graciela Ramierz and Jeremias Perez. The high school and college student panel was moderated by Dantya Jennings, director of the McNair Scholars Program, pictured at far right.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

He found a work-study position in the Dean of Students office and began to thrive on campus. Later, someone suggested Webster apply for the McNair Scholars Program, a TRIO program that supports first-generation or low-income students who want to pursue doctoral programs.

Webster joked and recalled his response, "I thought to myself, 'I'm struggling with my bachelor's degree right now. She wants too much from me.'"

That was his second piece of advice for students: "Do it afraid."

Webster said he left Mississippi for EMU with $60, his clothes and a 12-inch television set. "I was terrified but I knew I had to do this. The dean of students said I needed another degree," he said. He is about five months away from earning his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies at Wayne State University.

Donta Truss speaks in front of a room of students seated at round tables
B. Donta Truss, vice president for Enrollment Development and Educational Outreach, welcomes TRIO students.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
Nykia Gaines points as she talks into a microphone, people seated at tables in front of her
Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, answers a question from the audience. Grand Valley has 11 TRIO programs, serving high school, college and adult learners.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

"My McNair family has been my biggest champions. I had a built-in family when I came to Michigan," he said. "I want all of you to connect with your TRIO families. You are part of this movement in our country. Learn to show up full and whole and take up space."

Throughout the day, participants attended breakout sessions, listened to a panel of high school and college students and had a dance party.

The first federal TRIO program, TRIO Upward Bound, was established at Grand Valley in 1977. Since then, more than 8,500 students have participated in Grand Valley TRIO programs. Recently, programs in Detroit and West Michigan earned grants from the Michigan Department of Education to serve more students.


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