CEOP'S TRIO SES + STEM Celebrates 50 Years at KU

On May 2, TRIO Supportive Educational Services (TRIO SES) will celebrate 50 years of continuous federal funding at the University of Kansas. Taking place from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Kansas Union Ballroom, the reception is a chance to celebrate both the end of the semester and decades of student success and achievement. TRIO SES is a student support service program that provides first-generation, low-income and disabled KU students with comprehensive and personalized support during their time at KU. Over the last half-century, TRIO SES has built a robust community and team dedicated to student success.

“This celebration is about the students. We want to recognize their achievements, tenacity and success,” said TRIO SES director Gretchen Heasty. “That is central to what we do here.”

TRIO SES is part of a national network of TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The USDE currently funds 1,162 SSS projects, serving more than 209,200 college students. Although federal TRIO SSS programs have existed in the United States since the authorization of the Higher Education Amendments in 1968, TRIO SES didn’t become KU’s first TRIO program until 1973.

At KU, the effort to recruit and support low-income and minority students was initiated by the Black Student Union in the late 1960s through protests calling for better support and inclusivity. In response, councils and departments across campus founded the SES program and the Office of Minority Affairs as well as created new faculty and staff positions to address inequality at the university.

Fifty years later, TRIO SES continues to provide supports from tutoring and advising to scholarships and study abroad opportunities. Based on a long record of success, KU received a second SSS grant through a competitive national competition in 2015 to expand SES’s reach from 250 students served annually to 370 students. The new funding allowed staff to enhance services for TRIO students majoring in science, technology, engineering, math and health care, and the program is now known at KU as TRIO SES & STEM.

TRIO SES goes beyond advising and financial support. SES staff function like phone operators, connecting students to resources and departments on the campus switchboard to find a solution to the problem. Student success coordinators work as a team to help students with whatever they need, whether it be enrolling in classes, paying a late fee, finding an apartment or job, or obtaining disability accommodations.

“I think everybody in the office believes that whatever the students need, that's what we're going to do,” said Julie Hamel, the TRIO SES assistant director for student programming. “When a student comes in the office, they're not always going to fit under one of the categories of services. We all try to respond in the moment and get students to where they need to go.”

Exceeding student outcomes is required for continued funding through the competitive grant awarding process. During the last 20 years, TRIO SES & STEM students have persisted at KU at a rate of 90% or higher and have a six-year graduation rate between 65% and 70%. For TRIO-eligible students who have disproportionately lower retention rates due to economic, social and other systemic barriers, this commitment to student success is paramount. Emily Costner, a TRIO SES ambassador and scholarship recipient, said that TRIO SES has been instrumental in ensuring her success at KU.

“I think that people like me that meet all three of the TRIO criteria are further behind than many other students. Having that extra support, even if it's just emotionally there for you, has a huge impact,” Costner said. “To have someone in a place where we all can connect and where we all understand what it's like is incredible.”

Costner said that because of TRIO SES she was able to find on-campus child care for her son, change her major, pass her classes and save money. For other students like her, TRIO SES isn’t just a resource, it’s a community of people with similar backgrounds that help them feel like they belong at KU.

“Coming to college I was worried that I wouldn't fit in or meet people who had the same experiences that I had growing up and who are dealing with the same issues as me,” said TRIO student, tutor and ambassador Morgan Weir. “I didn't realize that this program that helps you find your place in this community existed until I came to KU, and it’s been really great.”

The TRIO ambassador program began this year after being paused during the pandemic as a way for SES students to help reach other students who would benefit from the services. Ten students volunteered this year to join the outreach program.

“I decided to become an ambassador because I got so much help from TRIO my freshman year, and without it, I don't know where I would have ended up,” SES student Carolina Frausto said.

TRIO SES plans to continue providing innovative programming and services to support TRIO student success at KU and beyond. Recent TRIO initiatives involve reaching out to KU TRIO alumni to build a more intentional network of TRIO Jayhawks, prioritizing strategies to make study abroad and global learning available for KU TRIO students and continuing to be part of KU’s First Forward committee to better serve first-generation college students.

“Over the next 50 years we want to continue to advocate for students on campus and listen to our students about where they want to see us go and where their strengths and gaps are. I think these are the foundational pieces,” Heasty said. “Fifty years from now, SES will continue to hold those foundations of advocacy and individual and personalized support.”