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TRIO at ASU offers disadvantaged students a community of support

Disabled, first-generation and low-income students can turn to TRIO for academic and personal guidance


ASU junior and TRIO Devils public relations officer, Emiliano Espino, poses for a photo in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2018. 

As a first generation college student with parents who never graduated high school, the odds of success were stacked against Emiliano Espino. TRIO helps Espino be someone he's proud to be.

TRIO is a federally funded program designed to help disabled, low-income and first-generation students through college.

TRIO Student Support Services at ASU’s downtown Phoenix Campus fosters a community of support for these disadvantaged students.

Sharon Smith, the dean of student affairs for the Downtown Phoenix campus, said TRIO offers these students resources such as tutoring and skill-building workshops for the purpose of increasing retention and graduation among these demographics.

ASU Downtown campus' first TRIO program was introduced in 2010, followed by a branch of TRIO specific to STEM students in 2015, Smith said.

She said the students enrolled in the TRIO program meet up regularly for skill-building workshops and attend cultural events as a group, such as plays at ASU Gammage.

Espino, who is a public relations representative for TRIO and a healthcare administration junior at ASU, said he was shy coming into college from a low-income, first generation American family, but TRIO helped him come out of his shell.

"When I went to class, I never spoke to anyone," he said. "But when I would go to TRIO, I would change. I would be this person that I like to be, because I get confidence from them because they know me so well, and I have really good friends in there."

Espino said his father dropped out of school in the sixth grade to work on his family's farm and was able to immigrate to the United States in the 1980s due to Ronald Reagan's Immigration and Refugee Policy

His mother dropped out of school after becoming pregnant as a high school freshman, and Espino said his parents have instilled in himself and his siblings that "education is (the) number one priority in life."

He said his parents pushed him to go to college right after high school because "they understood the opportunities (he) would receive" in college. 

TRIO helped Espino make the transition from low-income high school student to ASU Sun Devil, he said.

Espino said TRIO assessed his career goals, strengths and weaknesses and gathered information the program needed to help him succeed.

Once officially a part of TRIO, Espino said the program took him and other freshman students on a tour of the campus to familiarize them with their surroundings and show them to their classes. 

“We learned about college before we (went) in so we could have that understanding,” he said.

Espino also said he learned a lot through TRIO’s workshops and gained a better understanding of things such as money management through the program.

He said he “would definitely be more lost in college,” had he not joined TRIO.

Andres Santiago, office assistant for TRIO and a criminology junior, elaborated on some of the services TRIO provides for students. 

He said TRIO offers small tools such as clickers (classroom response systems) and calculators for free. Beyond just the material and monetary things that TRIO offers, Santiago said the program has given him many networking opportunities, which he said is in part due to the close relationship TRIO has with ASU Career Services.

Santiago said that TRIO does more than help develop its students’ careers. The staff regularly checks on his mental health and his progress growing as a person rather than just as a student. 

“It’s a family,” he said. “They’re not just professionals working here, it feels like they actually care about you.” 

He said TRIO has made him more involved at school than he would have been otherwise, pushing him to form connections with new people and attend football games and other school events.

Espino agreed with Santiago that the program is doing more for its students than just providing tutoring and resources. He said that TRIO is about the unity of its students as much as it is about the academic support.

“Being in TRIO has given me an emotional backbone,” Espino said.

Coming into college as a scared freshman, he said he is thankful TRIO was there to welcome him into a community and put him at ease.

“I’ve become a better person through TRIO,” Espino said, “When I walk into TRIO’s office … I see people like me … people who want to change the world."

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