TRIO program celebrates 1st generation students

Chloe Chapel, [email protected]

For Willexus Jones, the TRIO programs are more than just programs to learn about college—they’re programs that guide her through life. 

“TRIO was there to help me, give me financial opportunities with scholarships, make new friends and learn about adulthood,” said Jones, a junior toxicology major. 

According to the ULM website, TRIO programs are federally-funded programs that help first-generation and income-eligible students reach their academic potential. 

The TRIO programs help students by offering various services such as personal counseling, child care assistance, scholarships and financial aid advising and FAFSA assistance. 

Annually, the TRIO programs host a first-generation college celebration ceremony for the success of first-generation students, faculty and staff. 

Catherine Essex, the executive director of TRIO programs, defines first-generation students as “those in which neither parent nor the person they live with graduated from college.” 

At the ceremony, students and faculty told their stories of how they got into colleges and the difficulties they faced. 

President Ronald Berry connected with first-generation students by explaining how he attended college as a first-generation student. 

“My mom had a high school education and worked several jobs most of her life so that my brother and I could have a different pathway forward,” Berry said. 

He also explained some of the difficulties he faced while in school. 

“About three o’clock in the morning and I was studying and I was ready to give up. One of my friends came by […] and he said ‘Why are you still here?’ ” Berry said. “I said ‘Because I don’t understand this, I think I’m going home.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Ron, if it were easy, everybody would do it.’ ” 

Deans from various colleges and students shared similar stories. 

Brailyn Russo, a senior psychology student, said being a first-generation student was hard because her mom could only give her one piece of advice. However, she took it to heart. 

“I graduated high school in 2019 […] and the only advice [my mom] could give me was start in high school, start getting good grades,” Russo said. “As a result, I received a $28,000 scholarship from ULM, and I will be graduating next semester after only three years.” 

At the ceremony, some students were rewarded for their hard work during college with scholarships. 

Jones was one of the students awarded the first-generation endowed undergraduate scholarship. 

To continue to provide first-generation students with support, knowledge and scholarships, the TRIO office has formed a new RSO called First-Generation Ambassadors.

The organization will allow first-generation students to grow as a team with mentors and fellow students. 

Berry said one of the most important parts of succeeding as a first-generation is having a team because they make sure you don’t quit. 

That is what FGA is striving to provide for students— a team. 

“Nobody can quit, you got a team of people here that care about you,” Berry said. “[We] want to see you more successful than you ever dreamed possible yourself.”