Programs mark TRIO Day

Three federally funded programs located at Western Carolina University observed National TRIO Day Saturday, Feb. 24, in recognition of a nationwide effort to help young people overcome barriers to educational success.

More than 10.5 million Americans, primarily from low-income and working families, have benefited from the services of the TRIO pre-college and college programs since 1965. At WCU, those programs consist of Talent Search, Upward Bound Math and Science, and Student Support Services.

Congress established the TRIO programs nearly 35 years ago to enable Americans, regardless of economic circumstance, race or ethnic background, to successfully enter college and graduate. In many communities throughout America, the TRIO programs are the only programs that help low-income citizens enter college, graduate and move on to participate more fully in the nation’s economic and social life, said Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education.

Specific TRIO programs identify promising students, prepare them to do college-level work, strengthen their mathematics and science skills, provide tutoring and support services to students once they reach campus, and provide information on academic and financial aid opportunities. Currently, more than 2,000 projects are hosted at some 1,200 post-secondary institutions and 100 community agencies.

Two of the TRIO programs at WCU are designed to provide support services to middle and high school students, while another program provides support services to students once they reach WCU’s campus.

The Talent Search program, directed by Todd Murdock, is an early intervention program that helps students understand their potential to succeed in college and assists them in completing their high school studies and moving on to a program of post-secondary education. A majority of the 900 students served by the Talent Search project at WCU are the first generation of their families to enroll in college, and many come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Talent Search office at Western serves students attending 12 schools in Cherokee, Jackson, Graham, Macon and Swain counties, as well as on the Qualla Boundary. The program identifies students at the seventh-grade level, and follows the same group through graduation from high school. A recent survey indicated that 95 percent of the program’s participants graduate from high school, and more than 75 percent enroll in post-secondary education, Murdock said.

In addition to individual and classroom sessions which focus on academic and career preparation, Talent Search offers a summer educational excursions component for student enrichment. This coming summer, a service learning camp will allow middle school students from all across Western North Carolina to live in Western residence halls and go out into surrounding communities each day to work on service projects. “This is a great opportunity for students to experience a college campus and give a little back to the community,” said Maggie Donahue, a Talent Search outreach counselor.

Also this summer, in a new pilot program involving service learning called “On the Road,” 20 local Talent Search students will take part in a cultural exchange with Talent Search students from the Salish Kootenai Reservation in Montana.

WCU’s Upward Bound Math and Science Program also focuses on providing support to promising high school students. Through this program, which began in 1991, students who are interested in math or science are motivated to pursue their academic interests by spending six weeks during the summer at WCU conducting environmental research. Fifty students from eight Southeastern states are chosen each year to participate.

Upward Bound Math and Science students live in university residence halls for six weeks while they work in small groups to design and implement scientific projects, and then the students present their findings to peers and the public in a campus symposium. An evaluation of program performance has shown that 86 percent of the students attend college and 67 percent major in a math- or science-related area, said Beth Denmon, the program’s interim director.

While the Talent Search and Upward Bound programs work to help get students through high school and into some type of post-secondary education or training, the third TRIO program at Western, Student Support Services, provides assistance to those students already attending Western.

The primary focus of Student Support Services is to provide eligible students with services that assist them in working toward their goals. “The bottom line is that we want to see students stay in school and graduate,” said Carol Mellen, program director.

Student Support Services works with approximately 250 Western students, helping to facilitate their transitions to higher education. The staff of four counselors provides academic, career, and personal counseling; tutoring; academic advising and mentoring. The program also provides academic accommodations for students with disabilities. All program services are offered free of charge.

For more information about these programs, contact Carol Mellen, Student Support Services, at (828) 227-7127; Todd Murdock, Talent Search, at (828) 227-7137; or Beth Denmon, Upward Bound Math and Science Program, at (828) 227-3880.