TRIO Graduates Shine at Fall 2023 Commencement
More than 350 Tulsa Community College students gathered with family and friends on Dec. 15 to celebrate Fall 2023 Commencement, including several TRIO students, lauded for overcoming challenges on their own academic paths. The most recent cohort to graduate consists of first-generation college students, mothers, fathers, students from other countries, and students with disabilities. Their stories highlight the transformative impact of education, and the role TRIO plays in helping students succeed.
More than 350 Tulsa Community College students gathered with family and friends at the Reynolds Center on Dec. 15 to celebrate Fall 2023 Commencement. Among those TCC graduates were several TRIO students, lauded for overcoming their own individual challenges on their respective academic paths.
The federal TRIO Programs are outreach and student services programs designed to help individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. A grant-funded TRIO Student Support Services office is located on TCC’s Metro Campus and helps low-income students, first-generation college students, or students with disabilities, at no cost to them.
TRIO SSS accepts 165 students per year into the program and provides academic advising, tutoring, college transfer assistance, financial aid information, FAFSA and scholarship application assistance, and career exploration guidance. In addition to TRIO SSS, TCC has a TRIO Educational Opportunity Centers program located at the Southeast Campus to help students apply and enroll at TCC.
“TRIO Programs were designed to help students who statistically are the least likely to succeed or have the most barriers and challenges. So, we take those students and provide extra guidance,” says TRIO SSS Program Director Joseph Schnetzer. “We have the experience as navigators for students to point them in the right direction. I think that's important for students, that we can lay out all their options for them and explain the advantages and disadvantages.”
Figures from the 2021-22 academic year show 97% of TCC TRIO students remained in good academic standing throughout the school year. The most recent cohort to graduate consists of first-generation college students, mothers, fathers, students from other countries, and students with disabilities. Their stories highlight the transformative impact of education, and the role TRIO plays in helping students succeed.
Anahi Alcantar Colin graduated from TCC with an A.A. in Liberal Arts and an A.S. in Nutritional Sciences and is the first person in her family to attend college.
Raised by a single mother, Anahi was in elementary school when she was diagnosed with a hearing impairment and began wearing hearing aids. Before her diagnosis, she struggled to stay on track in the classroom and was distracted by background noises. Since learning about her disability, Anahi adapts by proactively sitting in the front row in class to make sure she hears her professors, a strategy she still uses in college courses.
Anahi says she applied for TRIO after she saw a flyer for the organization at the Metro Campus. With TRIO, she started touring college campuses and speaking with professionals in her industry to explore her transfer options after TCC. She says the services TRIO has provided her with are too many to count.
“They taught us how to budget, how to manage stress, and there's people to tutor you if you’re struggling with a class. I made a lot of friends there too,” says Anahi.
Anahi’s tuition at TCC was paid for with the Tulsa Achieves Scholarship, and the Oklahoma Promise Scholarship will pay for her tuition as she continues her education for nursing at Oklahoma State University.
“I want to help people and I want to work in a hospital or a clinical setting. That's my goal after I graduate from OSU,” says Anahi. “I'm really excited to be in nursing because I want to learn how to help patients and get to know them.”
Shelly Eversole juggles raising three children with her husband, while managing a family business, and taking college courses. She graduated with an A.A. in Liberal Arts on her path to becoming a clinical social worker.
Shelly's life took an unexpected turn at the age of 19 when her father passed away. The grief that followed led to the realization she needed support, but she didn't know where to find it. It was a turning point that would later shape her mission to provide help to others.
After the birth of her third child, Shelly sought counseling and says she started on a journey of self-discovery and self-love. But 20 years after the death of her father, her twin brother suddenly passed away. Shelly continued to receive counseling, and says she felt a calling to pursue higher education to help people overcome their own traumas. TRIO helped Shelly adjust to college life as an adult.
“Since I had been in high school, there’s so much new technology out there. I was used to writing things down with pencil on paper. I didn't know how to use Blackboard and could barely get into my email,” says Shelly. “Navigating all of it was a challenge. TRIO has been a lifeline for me because I had a tutor who showed me how to write a paper and how to research and study.”
Fueled by her personal experience, Shelly will continue her education and plans to transfer to University of Oklahoma-Tulsa’s social work program to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Gin Khup is originally from Sin Lan in Burma (now Myanmar), where there were no computers, phones, or even a school for him to go to. When Gin was 11 years old, he and his mother, father, and three siblings fled Burma to Malaysia because of religious persecution. His family then waited seven years as refugees for their visas so they could come to the U.S. in 2018.
Gin was enrolled in high school at 17 years old, not knowing any English, though he can speak Malay, Chinese, Burmese, and Zomi. He took it upon himself to learn as much English as he could before graduating but said navigating that language barrier was difficult.
“It's really hard because when we speak sometimes people don't understand and the culture is different,” says Gin. “When I got to TCC, I had no friends and no support. But TRIO has helped me a lot with advising, tutoring, and financial aid.”
Last year, Gin was also awarded the TRIO Newcomer Award and $500 TRIO Achiever scholarship from the TCC Foundation. This year he won the Dr. Arnold Mitchem $500 scholarship for the Oklahoma State TRIO Association.
Gin graduated with an A.S. in Computer Information Systems and will transfer to NSU to finish his bachelor’s degree. Gin says he wants to be a cybersecurity engineer and use technology to help improve his community in Jenks.
Ryan Schuster is a first-generation college student and graduated with an A.A. in Liberal Arts and an A.S. in Enterprise Development with honors. At 40 years old, Schuster decided to apply to TCC so he can become a construction superintendent.
After he was accepted and enrolled in 2020, Ryan found out he was going to be a father. He now juggles raising an infant son, working full-time, and going to school full-time online. One of Ryan’s TRIO advisors said Ryan can be seen holding his infant son during Zoom meetings.
“It’s amazingly hard and it's been a struggle. Kids getting out of high school, they're taking trigonometry. I've been out of school for 25 years, so when I took the entrance exam, I didn't do the greatest,” says Ryan.
Ryan credits his TRIO success coordinator with helping him figure out a major that was best suited for him and helping him navigate challenges on the way to graduation. Ryan is an A student, was the TRIO financial officer for a year, and was invited into Phi Theta Kappa and the National Society of Leadership and Success. Ryan will continue his education at Northeastern State University in its Entrepreneurship Program.
Margalit Skinner is a single mother celebrating her graduation with an A.A. in Liberal Arts and an A.S. in Biology. Along with going to school full-time, she is a part-time employee in the TCC TRIO office. She will enroll at NSU to get a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science and then graduate school to become a pathologist assistant.
Margalit originally went to college to be a surgical tech, but realized her passion was in laboratory sciences and pathology, a career that requires much more education. After working in an operating room for two years, Margalit returned to college at TCC at 27 years old.
“Returning to school was difficult for me as a single parent. I’m completely on my own trying to manage being a parent 100% of the time and being in school. I think I had to learn how to be really effective at managing my time,” says Margalit.
Margalit was hired in TCC’s TRIO office before she joined the program. After seeing how helpful it was to other students, she decided to join because she qualified for it through autism and ADHD diagnoses and being a Pell Grant recipient.
“I have really relied on the people at TRIO the past year, academically and emotionally. They’re like a family,” says Margalit. “Everybody there comes from a different background and a nontraditional background, and we all get to lift each other up and be there for each other. It’s been vital for me to make it through the past year.”
Students from any TCC campus can apply for selection into TRIO. Applicants must be a TCC student; be a U.S. citizen or meet Federal Student Aid residency requirements; and be a first-generation college student, a low-income student, or a student with a disability. Selection into the program includes an application and interview process.