In this episode of The College Access Chronicles, we discuss the job of a TRIO advisor at Virginia Commonwealth University, what TRIO is and how it connects to college access, and share a little joy at having graduated from the same class at the University of Maine at Farmington (Go beavers!).

Show Notes:

We started off The College Access Chronicles with this episode’s joke: What is a math teacher’s favorite type of tree? Tune in for our next episode to find out the answer.

Aurora Turmelle, from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), joined us to discuss the TRIO program and how her role as a TRIO advisor allows her to help low-income, first generation, and disabled students to be successful during their college experience. First generation college students are people whose parents didn’t graduate with a 4 year degree from an accredited college or university in the United States. 

Aurora, herself, is a first generation college student and owes her college journey to the TRIO programs she was involved in as a high school and college student. Her TRIO journey started when she was 14 years old with Upward Bound, a federally funded 4-6 week summer program for low-income and first generation high school students to prepare for college applications and provide cultural enrichment opportunities that students may not otherwise have. 

“Having that TRIO support was really important to me,” Aurora shared. “Because had I not had Upward Bound while I was in high school, I wouldn’t have graduated.”

And while Upward Bound helped her prepare for college, it also helped her decide where to go. When Aurora was choosing which college she wanted to attend, she chose the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), where she’d spent her four years of Upward Bound. “For me, it was a pretty easy choice–go somewhere where I had that support system,” she said.

But Upward Bound isn’t the only TRIO program out there. “Starting in the 1960s, as part of the War on Poverty, [President] Lyndon B. Johnson started three federally funded student support and student access programs to help students with getting into college and obtaining college degrees,” Aurora explained. These initial programs are: Talent Search, aimed at 6th through 12th graders; Upward Bound, aimed at 9th through 12th graders; and TRIO Support Services, which supports students while obtaining their college degree. In the last 60 years, five more programs have been added, which you can learn more about here.

Aurora participated in the TRIO program at UMF while she worked towards getting her degree, which is a Self-Designed Major called the Inclusive Mathematic Curriculum Design. As she progressed, she realized that math education wasn’t necessarily what she wanted to do after college. When she sat down and thought about what she wanted to do, she realized that maybe TRIO was another option.

“I spent 10 years in TRIO,” Aurora realized. “I want to do the work that my advisors have done for me because if my TRIO advisors are the reason I graduated high school and I’m able to finish my college degree… I want to help someone the same way they helped me.”

As if to cement her decision, Aurora worked as a Peer Mentor for the TRIO program while she was in college, and that experience solidified her interest in working for TRIO overall. “That work was what really opened my eyes,” she shared. “I loved the way that I was able to help my students, and help them be successful, and they were the reason that I realized that this was something I could definitely want to do for the rest of my life.”

But a career path in TRIO wasn’t the only thing Aurora learned while participating in the program. One lesson was learning that you can appeal the financial aid package the college or university offers you with no penalty towards your aid package, and that you can actually get more aid than you started with by appealing it (a secret we’re tucking into our back pockets). Another was the importance of developing a growth mindset, meaning having the belief that you have the potential to grow, emotionally or professionally, even when you feel like you can’t accomplish anything. You can, and you will.

This is a skill Aurora is helping her students learn as well in her role as a TRIO advisor, and helping them along in their college experience is one of her favorite parts of her job. “I love being able to watch my students grow,” Aurora said. “They’re just so incredible and I’m lucky to be able to be here and support them in their journey.”

We ended the podcast with a speed round about Aurora’s own journey to success. She’s a University of Maine at Farmington alum, class of 2021, go Beavers! Her favorite part of college was playing on the rugby team or being a RA (which UMF calls a CA, a community assistant). Advice for incoming first years? It’s okay for you to grow out of friendships during your college journey, but don’t worry. Aurora reassured, “You’re going to find your people. It may just take a bit of time.”

Don’t forget to tune into our next episode, Admissions Advice, to find out the punchline for our earlier joke, “What’s a math teacher’s favorite kind of tree?” and to find out more about the college admissions process.

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