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Senator Reed visits CCRI to tout benefits of federally-funded TRIO programs

October 8, 2021

U.S. Senator Jack Reed recently visited the Community College of Rhode Island’s Liston Campus in Providence to meet with students and alumni who have benefitted from the college's TRIO programs, which are federally-funded programs to help Rhode Islanders overcome barriers to starting and completing a post-secondary education.

The college recently received two five-year TRIO grants from the U.S. Department of Education totaling $7.4 million to continue providing Rhode Island Educational Talent Search (RIETS) and Opportunity Center (RIEOC) services to more than 4,000 low-income and first-generation Rhode Islanders.

“We know students need more than financial aid to reach their goals,” Reed said. “Students whose families are new to the college experience need help navigating the financial aid, college application, and enrollment procedures, sometimes they need extra academic support, career advising, mental health counseling, food and basic needs assistance, child care, and so much more. 

“That’s where the TRIO programs come in. Congress recognized the need for both financial aid and student supports, and that is why the TRIO programs were included in the Higher Education Act from the beginning. We need to increase our investment in programs like TRIO.”

RIETS provides enhanced academic and support services to approximately 1,000 low-income and first-generation students at 11 target middle schools and high schools in Central Falls, Providence, and Woonsocket by offering study skills, test-taking information, PSAT/SAT preparation, and college admission application assistance, among other services. RIEOC provides 3,000 Rhode Island adults, most of whom are first-generation college students from low-income households, the opportunity to seek educational opportunities, from completing their GED to enrolling in college or a training program, in addition to assisting adults with college information, career services, and financial literacy, and helping them complete admissions and financial aid applications.

Sen. Reed, a strong advocate for TRIO and a member of the Appropriations Committee, spoke alongside President Meghan Hughes and Vice President of Student Affairs with 17 former and current CCRI students, each of whom shared their experiences working with advisors and counselors before, during, and even after college.

From first-generation students who needed help filling out Financial Aid paperwork to those who required an additional push now and then to stay on track, each shared examples of how TRIO programs kept them engaged and focused on completing their educational journey.

“Programs like this are necessary everywhere,” said Marcin Pawlukiewicz, 24, of Cumberland, a Polish immigrant who enrolled in ESL courses upon moving to the United States and is now pursuing his bachelor's degree at the University of Rhode Island. 

“During my ESL courses, I met a lot of great people. Everyone had a unique background, many from different countries and cultures. As an immigrant, I felt a bond with all of those people. Many of them, including me, struggled financially, but most have great potential, and, if given the opportunity, they can achieve great things. That is why the program is so important.”

Twenty-year-old Gianni Smith of Pawtucket admits he struggled in high school, but always had a passion for building and creating. Through TRIO’s Access to Opportunity program at CCRI, which provides one-on-one tutoring, advising, and transfer assistance, Smith made the Dean’s List in the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters and will graduate this fall before transferring to URI to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

“Ever since I've joined Access, I have gained a new perspective on college,” Smith said. “Access provided me with guidance as I started in my core classes. I began to really enjoy taking Math, Physics, and Engineering courses. CCRI helped build the foundation of my career, and I feel prepared to move on.”

“TRIO has helped me figure out a game plan to finish school and obtain a degree in an area that I am passionate about,” added Zaire Lambright, 25, of Providence, who is on track to graduate CCRI in Fall 2022 and plans to transfer to Brown University to double major in Psychology and Sociology. “My advisor [April Donahue] has been a phenomenal asset and guide throughout this process. She has not only helped me figure out a game plan to finish and graduate, but has also given me a renewed sense of confidence in myself, and the potential I have to achieve greater things in the pursuit of my degree.”

Others, like 31-year-old Ana Gomez of Woonsocket, utilized RIEOC to balance school and family responsibilities. A single mother of two and a first-generation college student, Gomez enrolled at CCRI in 2019, urged by her children to continue her education. She is on track to graduate in 2023 and transfer to Rhode Island College to pursue a career in Human Resources or Business Management.

“Being an ESL student, having two children, and being older than 30 makes things a little bit more difficult when it comes to attending college,” Gomez said. “TRIO has provided me with many resources to make my pathway smoother. I have received a lot support from applying to FAFSA and have received helpful advice from the staff. I highly recommend this program. It is an excellent source of support and it gives students hope and help to achieve their college goals.”

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