Standing Together for Student Success: TRiO Student Support

Lake Region Woman Magazine (ND) April|May|June 2012

From a simple smile to being a sounding board, the TRiO team at Lake Region State College guides students to success. “They are who they are because they stand together,” said Lauree Wangler, LRSC graduate and former TRiO student. “They are a wonderful bunch of professionals working with a needed program, assisting those with various needs and obstacles. They help clear the fog to personal success,” she said.

Wangler’s testament to the value of TRiO and its wonderful staff is not unique. This story has been retold by voices of countless other students, some of whom are now nurses, social workers, business professionals, information technicians, and entrepreneurs who work in the Lake Region and throughout North Dakota.

Those graduates assert that their dreams might have vanished without the support of TRiO director Theresa Leiphon and the staff of TRiO at LRSC. “I feel like the TRiO Program and the remarkable staff treated me in a holistic manner. They guided me academically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. They stood for me when I was weak, encouraged me when things were rough, and always understood,” Wangler said. Today, Wangler is working as Director of Nursing Services at the Good Samaritan Society in Devils Lake.

TRiO Student Support Services (SSS) is a grant funded through the Department of Education to qualifying colleges and universities. Lake Region State College has been funded to offer such a program since 2001. The goal of this program is to increase its participants’ college retention and graduation rates. TRiO serves students who are first generation college students (meaning that the students’ parents did not complete a bachelor’s degree), students with low-income backgrounds, and/or students with a disability.

“TRiO is a great tool for students to utilize. It is great to watch students succeed, especially when they come in to TRiO in the beginning of the year, so unsure of themselves. With a little guidance and support, they can do great things. It is heartwarming to be a small part of their success,” Leiphon said.

Leiphon has served as the director since the program started in 2001, and maintains that TRiO weaves a balance between supporting students and challenging them with goals and objectives. This balance helps students gain the confidence and self-awareness needed to tackle college challenges without excessive apprehension.

The program provides tutoring, financial literacy classes, college expectation guide, cultural enrichment, and more. Leiphon expressed that there is a strong need for tutoring in classes such as statistics, chemistry, and algebra.

Kateri Long, LRSC graduate and current student at UND, said that TRiO's tutoring was a great tool to use while on campus at LRSC. “Annette Schmid (TRiO staff member) went above any tutoring expectations. She was a great help.”

The TRiO program at LRSC serves 160 students each academic year, two-thirds of which are women. That could be due to a higher number of women—both traditional and older-than-average—who are going to college, many whom are juggling family, college, and work. For that reason, the TRiO staff keeps the office area family-friendly, welcoming kids with a box of toys near one of the worktables to keep children busy if mom needs to pop in and talk to her advisor.

At first glance of any college classroom or student union, one cannot know the personal story of each student. College entrance exams guide advisors and instructors in placing students in the right classes and career tracks. But, those exams do not measure other influencing factors such as finances, support systems at home, and balancing priorities of children, career, and earning a degree. All of these factors are a part of daily life for many college students.

Leiphon added that students who are eligible for TRiO come into the office with those very concerns.

For Melanie Gehrtz, returning to college to complete her degree while commuting, working, and raising a family made the mountain called college appear insurmountable. Then, she met the TRiO staff at Lake Region State College. “I needed that confidence boost—just knowing someone was there,” she said. “I went from not wanting to walk in front of a class to not being afraid to speak in front of 500 (people).”

Today, Gehrtz has not only earned her associate’s degree from Lake Region State College, but has completed her bachelor’s degree from Mayville State University. She still pops in to the TRiO office occasionally. “Once TRiO always TRiO,” she said with a smile.

Kateri Long also stays in touch with members of the program. “They continue to support me on my journey,” she said.

Along with Leiphon, three other staff members are dedicated to work with students. Coordinators Annette Schmid and Patty Wallace work with students, depending on their majors. Wallace works with students who plan to transfer to universities for advanced degrees, and Schmid works with students in the career and technical fields.

Leiphon and Wallace have been with the program since it started 10 years ago. Leiphon also mentioned past staff members Melinda Martin, Andy Wakeford, and Lane Azure, who were all fantastic additions to her team. Administrative Assistant Heidi Becker completes the LRSC TRiO team.

Heidi Becker is also a product of the TRiO program. She can’t believe that she now works in the same area where she sought advice during her college studies. “There was always someone there to answer my questions and guide me through the college process. They kept me on track to my degree,” Becker said. Now she’s there to lend a helping hand.

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