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Wednesday, May 16, 2018 03:53 pm

Helping students navigate college

TRIO helps tackle problems, while reassuring parents

TRIO students at graduation


Deanna Blackwell, director of the TRIO program at Lincoln Land Community College, got word that a student had a serious medical issue so she got in her car and went to the hospital.

As Deanna says, “We provide refuge and support to our students.” Going to see the student just seemed to be the right thing to do.

TRIO is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education through a competitive grant. It originated with the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964 which created an experimental program known as Upward Bound. A year later the Higher Education Act created Talent Search, and in 1968 a third program was launched, called Special Services for Disadvantaged Students. Three programs evolved into one, which takes the name “trio.”

Across the nation over 5 million students have been helped.

“College can be overwhelming,” Blackwell says, “and many students have questions along the way. We are here to answer any question a student might have. That could be about financial aid, academic advising, student life and tutoring opportunities. We provide a connection to all the resources at Lincoln Land.”

The TRIO team of four currently serves 190 students. Blackwell says that two of four criteria are used to determine the eligibility of a student: a first-generation student, low-income status, a disability, and the goal to transfer to a four-year college after Lincoln Land.

TRIO students on a college visit to Illinois State University

After acceptance into the program, the student sits down with a staff member for a one-on-one conversation, discussing the student’s challenges, career goals, support network and obligations that might affect schooling. A strong bond is the “secret ingredient to build rapport,” according to Blackwell. Throughout a student’s time at LLCC the TRIO services are free and include check-ins by the staff, help in study skills, access to tutoring, and sessions on leadership development. Individual counseling, as well as group workshops, provides assistance.

Although the LLCC timeframe is usually two years, some students must take longer to complete their coursework due to circumstances that arise. Blackwell says, “Some 70 percent of the obstacles that students face come from homelessness, food issues and transportation problems.”

Blackwell, who is originally from Springfield, has a varied background that has helped her in her current role. She was an educator and earned a Ph.D. in social justice education from the University of Utah in 2011. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in China for two years, teaching English as a foreign language and then training other volunteers to teach English. When she moved back to Springfield, she was a permanent substitute teacher at Southeast High School, and then in 2015 accepted the position as the director of TRIO.

She loves the work with the students in the TRIO program. “They are strong students, and it is a privilege to serve a smaller cross section of students here at Lincoln Land.”

Parents, too, often are nervous about their child’s entry into college, especially if they had never gone to college. Blackwell says many parents are very interested in the TRIO program. “Parents get reassurance. They don’t have to have completed college to have their children get support they need.”

Alexis Morris, a student in the program, says TRIO makes you “feel more comfortable coming to school.” Jolif Rathod explains, “It is a great place to start from if you are anxious about starting college. I would not be who I am today academically if I had not used the services that TRIO offers.”

For students the TRIO program has proven to be instrumental in keeping them on track, well-equipped with the right tools and resources, and on a path to success.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna is the immediate past president of the Illinois Education Association. She taught high school English at Southeast High School for many years.

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