TRIO program helps UNK students succeed in college

TRIO program helps UNK students succeed in college
UNK student Christian Mikulecky of Omaha, left, and TRIO Student Support Services Assistant Director Rashawn Harvey chat inside the Academic Success Offices on campus. TRIO assists first-generation and income-qualified students and those with documented disabilities during their pursuit of a college degree by providing academic and personal support, financial guidance and career development opportunities. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
February 23rd, 2021 | TYLER ELLYSON UNK Communications

KEARNEY – The transition from high school to college can be challenging.

For many students, their journey into higher education is filled with unknowns.

What classes should I be taking? How do I apply for financial aid? Where can I turn for help?

Christian Mikulecky, a third-year student from Omaha, admits he was a bit overwhelmed when he first enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“It was my first time being away from family. I don’t have them here with me,” said Mikulecky, who struggled academically during his first semester on campus.

“College is not like high school,” he said. “You need to take more initiative, and I didn’t have the best organizational or study skills.”

Mikulecky found the support he needed through a UNK program designed to help students navigate the higher education system and achieve their academic goals.

TRIO Student Support Services is a federally funded program that assists first-generation and income-qualified students and those with documented disabilities during their pursuit of a college degree by providing academic and personal support, financial guidance and career development opportunities.

Part of UNK’s Academic Success Offices, the program’s mission is to increase student retention and graduation rates through services such as:

  • Academic tutoring (in partnership with the UNK Learning Commons)
  • Course selection and four-year planning
  • Advising and success coaching
  • Financial planning and financial aid support
  • Foundations for Learning, a three-credit hour transition course that counts toward graduation
  • Peer mentoring
  • Personal and academic counseling
  • Assistance with graduate school and scholarship applications
Courtesy/UNK Bambi Sell

“Our primary focus is academic support, but we support the student in all facets,” said TRIO senior adviser Bambi Sell. “It goes beyond just the classroom. We help the student as a whole individual.”

Participating students join TRIO during their first semester on campus and remain in the program until graduation, allowing them to develop close connections with staff members. This relationship is important to Mikulecky, who appreciates having someone who’s there for him on a personal level.

“I’ve had a lot of bad things happen, and Bambi has really helped me stay focused on what my goals are,” he said. “She’s been there for me when times have been hard. That’s what makes TRIO feel like a family.”

The advisers are a strength of UNK’s TRIO program.

COURTESY/UNK Rashawn Harvey

“Every one of our TRIO advisers meets the program criteria. We were all one of these students,” said assistant director Rashawn Harvey, a first-generation college graduate who joined TRIO when the program was launched at UNK in 1993.

Harvey earned a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from UNK in 1998 and a master’s degree in instructional technology in 2016. Sell participated in TRIO while attending Western Nebraska Community College, where she received an associate degree in psychology. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Chadron State College, and recently completed her master’s in higher education student affairs through UNK.

“We know what these students are going through and we can relate to them and say, ‘I was in your shoes. I’ve experienced that,’” Harvey said. “There were advisers who helped guide me through college and keep me on the right path.”

UNK students meet biweekly with their TRIO advisers, who also teach the Foundations for Learning classes that help freshmen transition to college life. TRIO has a mentoring program that pairs students with fellow program participants, as well.

“This gives our participants an opportunity to grow while helping their peers gain success,” Sell said.

Mikulecky has definitely benefited from TRIO Student Support Services.

Christian Mikulecky of Omaha participates in TRIO Student Support Services at UNK and he’s also a student worker in the program’s learning lab. “The TRIO program has really helped me become a better, more responsible student,” Mikulecky said. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)

“The TRIO program has really helped me become a better, more responsible student,” he said. “It allowed me to recognize what areas I needed to work on and what areas I was really strong in. Just because I’m not good at one thing doesn’t mean I have to completely give up. I just have to focus on the areas where I can be successful.”

Mikulecky currently works in the TRIO learning lab and he’s interested in pursuing a degree in recreation, outdoor and event management.

These success stories are the best part of the job, according to Sell.

“I love watching the students grow and succeed,” she said. “It’s amazing seeing how shy and timid they are when they first start at UNK – not really sure what program they want to explore or what they want to do after graduation – and then by their second or third year they’re self-advocates, they’re excited about their career path and they’re achieving success.”

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