Arizona State University senior Jennifer Duenas is wrapping up her last year studying pharmacology, toxicology and neuroscience with an eye on medical school after graduation. Her time as a Sun Devil has been rich with professional development, community service and club involvement, and she credits a program geared toward first-generation, low-income students like her for helping set the stage for such a rich academic experience.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Duenas’ family moved to Arizona when she was young. After attending a first-year readiness camp through TRIO before starting at ASU, she made fast friends and applied for the program. She said TRIO provided her with books, free printing, tutors, lab materials, mentoring, workshops, networking opportunities within her field and much more.
“Resources such as TRIO have provided me the means to excel in my higher education and achieve my personal goals,” she said. “I dare to say my college experience would be nowhere near as good as it has been had I not joined TRIO.”
Duenas has been involved in the American Medical Student Association, Hispanic Honor Society, Changemaker Central and in neurodegeneration lab research, all while working full time as a phlebotomist. She plans on pursuing a career in medicine, focusing on behavioral health and addiction.
Duenas is one of more than 1,000 Sun Devils annually who have access to one-on-one tutoring, workshops, professional and graduate school mentoring, personal development, financial aid advice and mentorship thanks to grant funding of $9.3 million through 2025. The award starts this month to continue five TRIO Student Support Services programs for current students as well as adding two additional programs at ASU’s Tempe and West campuses. TRIO is a set of federally funded college opportunity programs designed to motivate and support first-generation students, low-income students, students with disabilities and veterans in pursuit of a college degree. ASU hosts robust precollege TRIO programs in addition to the services for current students.
The new grants will support students from all majors at ASU’s West campus and ASU’s Tempe campus. The renewed grants target students in science, technology, engineering, math and health science programs at ASU's West and Downtown Phoenix campuses, students with disabilities at the Tempe campus, as well as support for all majors at the Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix campuses
Principal investigator Sharon Smith, ASU associate vice president and dean of students for ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, said the new grants are a direct response to students’ request for all-major support.
“Students were asking for this, and it’s very rewarding to be able to respond to their direct feedback and now offer support for all majors on all four of our campuses. What these grants will do is allow more students access to really focused services and support,” Smith said. “Some of the students we are working with tell us that they would have left school if it weren’t for TRIO because they didn't feel connected. We see where these programs are very aligned with our charter in how we are promoting a college-going culture. Once students arrive here, we work with them to completion.”
First-gen students, low-income students and students with disabilities tend to have lower graduation rates than other students, Smith said. The persistence rate and good academic standing rate for all TRIO Student Support Services programs at ASU were well above 90% in 2019, and six-year graduation rates ranged from 60% to more than 75%.
Staff members such as Linda Torres, who is a program director at ASU’s West campus and has worked with the program for 10 years, can see the impact on the students she works with. She said the support TRIO provides — from cultural events to navigating the college experience to class selection — sets students up for success in the classroom and beyond. She is excited that the West campus program will expand to reach about 140 students with these experiences.
“The renewed and new funding allows us to continue to provide meaningful experiences and much-needed assistance to students who participate in TRIO programs,” she said. “TRIO programs provide students with a community within the ASU community where they can interact, learn and share experiences with other students of similar or different backgrounds.”
Torres got involved with TRIO because she wanted to change students’ lives, and she is gratified to be able to do that every day of her career.
“My favorite stories are the ones where I see first-year students arrive at the university, timid, unsure and afraid and by the time they graduate, they have blossomed into more confident and knowledgeable individuals who are able to recognize opportunities for themselves that they never saw before,” she said. “Every time I see a note or an email from a graduating student that expresses their gratitude for TRIO and us as staff members, I feel that my time continues to be well spent.”
TRIO Program Director Rafael J. Guzman, who manages programs on the Downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses, feels the same way about the students who come through TRIO. He said the support they receive is holistic and well-rounded, including wellness and financial literacy. Ultimately, all this support is in service of seeing students through to graduation and setting them up for their professional lives or graduate school.
“Our goal is to help our students to graduate. For the majority, this is the first bachelor's degree in their family,” he said. “My favorite success story is watching our students in their caps and gowns during convocation ceremonies. To me, every student who graduates from our program is a success.”
For TRIO students, any offset cost associated with college, from calculators to printing, can make a big difference. That’s why Guzman, who has worked with TRIO for six years and for ASU for 26 years, is happy to see the programs expand to reach even more Sun Devils with these services.
“I'm very excited to have these new programs. These programs will create a more significant pipeline for ASU. These programs align with our ASU charter on whom we include and how they succeed,” he said. “We are very excited to know that our program will have a lasting effect on our students and knowing they will be ASU graduates.”
Smith said these programs also get at the community responsibility that the ASU charter outlines. TRIO’s impact is on graduates but also on communities at large.
“Students take their skills and talent back home to their neighborhoods. They build strong communities and inspire others to pursue education,” Smith said.
The result is that resilient and well-rounded students such as Duenas are set up for academic success and a meaningful career after their undergraduate study is complete.
“TRIO has always provided me the resources I've needed to succeed. … TRIO is there for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and, in every way, helps unlock their full potential by offering the resources and support those students need,” Duenas said. “I feel confident that any student who forms part of TRIO and stays involved with TRIO, is not only more likely to succeed in their undergrad but will also receive lifelong friendships and support that will make their college experience so much more enjoyable.”
COVID-19 has meant some updates to TRIO operations, but offices are open for student services now. ASU students can apply now to access TRIO Student Support Services on a rolling basis for a limited number of spaces. Apply now to join TRIO.