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Profile: SSS TRiO Helps Students Navigate through College Life

Submitted by on September 9, 2011 – 1:23 pmNo Comment

From left: Sandi Klepinger, Ricardo Pantoja, and Vivian Scott help students earn their degrees through the SSS TRiO program.

College can be overwhelming for any student, but first-generation college students who find themselves without a knowledgeable support system to turn to for college-related advice can often feel as if they are on their own. The Student Support Services (SSS) TRiO program was created to guide and nurture these students through their college experience. South Florida Community College began offering the program to students in the 2010 fall term.

The SSS TRiO program is a federal program that offers free services to first-generation, low-income, and disabled college students who are enrolled in an associate in arts or associate in science degree program and plan to seek a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university. The program acclimates students to college while providing resources to help them successfully transfer to a four-year college or university by offering academic advising, financial aid advice, tutoring and mentoring, and career counseling. The program also provides tours of state colleges and universities, giving students a chance to visit the campuses when they might not have otherwise had the opportunity.

Students are held accountable to their four-year degree and career goals and must provide two academic progress reports per term to show they are keeping up their grades. “We have students of all backgrounds in the program,” said Vivian Scott, director, Student Support Services. “Some have strong grade point averages, are dual enrolled, and are in advanced classes. Others are in developmental classes and need additional academic support.”

When students apply to the program, they first meet with Sandi Klepinger, student support services program specialist. She verifies that students meet all of the qualifications for the program. Klepinger organizes college tours as well as transfer fairs and workshops.

Once a student has been accepted into the program, Klepinger sets up an orientation session to familiarize the students with the program, its services, and what is expected of them in the program. During the orientation, they fill out a college student interest survey, which helps identify areas in which students need additional support such as motivation, general coping skills, and receptivity to provided services, and helps in developing their individualized success plans. Then they meet with their SSS TRiO advisor. Scott serves as the advisor for DeSoto and Hardee campuses as well as disabled students, while Ricardo Pantoja advises students at the SFCC Highlands Campus.

After reviewing their college interest survey results, the advisor meets with the students, and together they create a success plan based on which school the student wants to attend and their career choice. The advisor also researches the school’s requirements and then advises the student on the required classes they need to take to be accepted.

Along with his work as an academic advisor, Pantoja occasionally fills in as a tutor. He also provides a shoulder for his students to lean on when they have personal struggles or other barriers that may prevent them from achieving their degree. “I was a first-generation college student myself, so I understand how difficult it is to get good advice when you don’t have anyone with prior experience,” Pantoja said. “It’s my job to do whatever it takes to help these students get their degrees. If I can’t help them myself, I will find someone who can.”

Pantoja also uses his experience working in the SFCC Career Center to help his TRiO students. “It’s a benefit for the students, because I know what questions to ask them and how to help them start thinking about what they want to do as a career.”

But SSS TRiO doesn’t just focus on academics. During the first year of the program at SFCC, it held motivational presentations as well as workshops in public speaking and financial management. Because of her background in finance, Klepinger led the financial management workshop last term that provided a high-level overview on managing money – obtaining scholarships, grants, and loans; avoiding credit card debt and the importance of credit ratings; and the importance of saving money. “They were surprised to learn how much earlier they could retire if they began saving money at age 25 instead of waiting until they were 35 to start,” Klepinger said. “If it weren’t for the program, some of our students might not have had an opportunity to learn about the importance of finances.”

SSS TRiO will introduce new workshops and activities during the 2011 fall term. The program will address math anxiety with its students and plans to work with Davida Austin and the Advising and Counseling Center to offer a workshop as well as game days, where students can play interactive games to help make math less intimidating. Another addition will be Transfer Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, either a college will be invited to the SFCC Highlands Campus to provide transfer information to students or the SSS TRiO program will host a transfer- related activity.

The program will also introduce cultural experiences to students by incorporating field trips to museums and theatres. It will also hold a special Christmas around the world activity which will focus on how different cultures celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa. “To operate in the world, we have to understand that not everybody is exactly like us,” Scott said. “We hope to expand their experiences beyond just what they know in their everyday lives.”

“The SSS TRiO program often becomes a second family to our students,” Scott said. “They come to us for anything, and our main goal is to guide them and help them succeed in earning their degrees and achieving their dreams the way any family would.”

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