MCLA's TRIO Program Starts Strong

MCLA TRIO staffMCLA TRIO Director Dr. Alicia Reddin, left, and Assistant Director Dr. Kristopher Merceron, right.

The first email request for applicants and recommendations for MCLA’s new TRIO program resulted in a flood.

Within 24 hours, “I woke up with 20 new student applications and five recommendations from faculty,” said Dr. Alicia Reddin, MCLA’s TRIO program director. “There are more sitting in the inbox today.” 

The federally funded TRIO program is designed to empower students who are the first in their families to attend college, come from families with income eligible backgrounds, or have a documented disability. It’s been implemented in many colleges across the U.S., and MCLA secured $1.3 million in federal funding for the program—enough to help 160 students over five years—in 2020. 

Now, Reddin and Dr. Kristopher Merceron, the program’s assistant director, are working to connect with MCLA’s very first cohort of TRIO students, developing resources, workshops, and support systems for students that could use assistance navigating the world of academia. 

Reddin and Merceron can relate: They were both the first generation in their families to go to college. “The connection we’re able to establish with the students is meaningful,” said Reddin. “The work we’re doing and the partnerships we’re building is very important to us, because we have that personal stake as well.” 

Hundreds of registered MCLA students fit into this demographic, from first-year students figuring out how to choose a course schedule that’s not going to overwhelm them with reading and homework to continuing education students balancing work and family commitments as they earn their degrees. “We’re here to be advocates for these students,” Reddin said.

If you aren’t familiar with higher education, the process can be overwhelming, from filling out college applications, to making the best choices around loans and financial aid, to accessing resources like tutoring or even professors’ office hours. “A lot of first-gen students didn’t grow up with college-going as part of their life experience. Many people grew up with the mentality of ‘I need a job, I need to provide for my family,’” said Merceron. “Many of us are raised in survival mode. We help students step back and reframe all that, and lay out a doable plan to graduate and develop those college-going skills.”

TRIO programming isn’t meant to echo MCLA’s existing programming; it’s meant to further enhance what’s offered. While MCLA’s Office of Student Financial Services helps students with the nuts and bolts of aid and the College’s Center for Student Success and Engagement offers academic support, the TRIO program will help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and customize resources for each applicant. This might mean helping find resources for childcare, finding additional scholarships and grants that cover tuition, locating internships, or developing skills around time management. “Our goal is to see you walk that stage in May,” said Reddin. “Whatever you need, it’s our goal to get you there or connect you with who can.”

TRIO funding will also go toward waivers for tests required for grad school applications, hosting on-campus activities for the TRIO cohort, bringing panelists and workshops to MCLA, including successful TRIO alumni from other schools, and trips or activities that expose students to local culture—or introduce the local community to the students’ culture. 

“Another part of TRIO is creating a sense of community here,” said Reddin. “It’s work we have a genuine personal connection to, and MCLA has that supportive feel already. We are people who want you to succeed. This program is needed, and genuinely wanted.”

To learn more or apply for the TRIO program, visit https://www.mcla.edu/student-services/trio/index.php or email triosss@mcla.edu.