On Wednesday Feb. 8, the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence hosted a panel discussion about the TRiO program. The purpose of the event was to hear about the experiences of first generation students in order to better equip the faculty and staff in serving them.

APU TriO students Ulises Sanchez, Sandra Sandoval, Jaelyn Griffith, Kevin Wences and Vanessa Gallegos served on the panel.

Director for TRiO Target Success LaTesha Hagler, Ed.D. opened up the conversation by introducing TRiO as a federal outreach program that provides services, programs, financial aid and scholarships to assist first generation students, students with disabilities and students from lower income backgrounds in need of financial assistance from middle school to postgraduate education.

Hagler posed a series of questions to the panel members, current TriO students who shared their stories of being the first person in their families to attend college. Hagler argued that students are the experts in this conversation because they are the ones living through these disadvantaged circumstances.

The students shared in their commonality of feeling inadequate at many points in their academic career.

Sophomore Youth Ministry major Vanessa Gallegos describes how she felt culture shock when she first came to APU. Other members of the panel expressed that they felt judged because of their lack of knowledge about how to navigate the college life.

TRiO, however, was the commonality that served as a place of comfort for these students.

For Sophomore History major Ullises Sanchez, this program has been a symbol of family. Sanchez described himself as a loner kid who would sit at the back of the class not wanting to be recognized as someone who needed help. He relied solely on himself until his academic performance began to suffer and he needed to seek help.

“It’s a learning process, but without the support of TRiO and all the friends I have made, I wouldn’t be here today,” Sanchez said.

TRiO was the outlet that Sanchez leaned on to redirect his focus back to school so he could reach his full potential.

Freshman Graphic Design major Kevin Wences described that one of the major challenges for first generations students is asking for help.

“You’re not used to having people help you out so you don’t search for it and you don’t accept it,” Wences said.

Aware that many students come to APU with these same challenges, the TRiO program strives to change the relationship students have with themselves by dispelling the negative connotations students have in being identified as low income, disabled or first generation.

Through building relationships and providing supportive outlets such as mentorship and tutoring, the TRiO program advocates for students to reach their full potential throughout their college experience both academically and socially.

“We teach students how to advocate for themselves, how to find power in their voices,” Hagler said. “We teach them that [their] voice matters just as much as anybody else’s on this campus.”

The panelists agreed that many first generation students are not only striving for success for themselves. They recognize that it is because of the hard work and struggle of their parents and grandparents that they could have the opportunity to attain higher education.

“My parents deserve to see me succeed,” Wences said.

Senior Psychology major Jaelyn Griffith expressed nervousness about sharing her story before the panel discussion began.

After the event, attendees lined up to thank Griffith for sharing the very same story she was reluctant to tell just moments before.

“Your voices matter, your stories matter and you have made a difference for us,” Executive Director of the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence Richard Martinez said.