TRiO program assists students in need

By Jo Robinson - Staff Reporter

For some people the joys of college start when you enroll in your first 15 credits, for others it starts when you've joined TRiO.

TRiO is program designed to help a variety of students who have disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ahmed Wafai said he really started to enjoy college after his first two quarters at Highline. That was when he'd started to invest more in TRiO.

"The first two quarters here, I felt like I was drowning. I didn't do so well because I didn't know how hard college level classes would be," Wafai said.

However, this was not due to his lack of preparation for college.

 In high school Wafai was involved in plenty of challenging extracurriculars, which he said helped him prepare for the amount of work a regular student would endure throughout college.

"I seriously did so much. I was on the debate team, student government senator, did Key Club. I wanted to do it all to learn more English and get involved," said Wafai.

It was due to this hard work, preparation, and his drive, that he had ended up getting accepted to different universities during his senior year of high school. 

He turned them all down though, to support his family first.

"I stayed to help my mom get better with English and be there for my family. Just to help and support them too," said Wafai.

It was for those reasons that Wafai ended up coming to Highline. 

He had heard about TRiO during orientation, but had too much going on to fully participate. He had anxiety about the difficulty of college-level courses, and was also holding down two jobs.

This was what he said led to him to his doing poorly his first two quarters. 

"I just wasn't able to focus on my school work, class participation, and all of that stuff," Wafai said.

Wafai said on top of school and work he'd also battled internally with being shy, not knowing many people, and finding out what he wanted to do for a major. 

"When I came to the U.S. in 2010, I was culture shocked. In the Middle East, like Pakistan where I'm from, parents are really strict with their children. Here, when I first arrived, kids did anything and everything," Wafai said.

He said he just did what he was supposed to, and worked. Business was what everyone expected him to do, which is where he said he had the conflict, as in his heart he had really wanted to do mechanical engineering.

"That's what TRiO really helped me. With guidance, getting involved on campus, knowing people and breaking out of being shy, giving me speaking opportunities to improve my English, and with more resources," he said.

This is the sort of guidance is advertised by TRiO on their website and in their pamphlets.

TRiO is a national college and transfer success program structured for DACA, low-income, first-generation, students living with disabilities, former foster students, and undocumented students. 

At Highline TRiO is a little different as it doesn't only get funding federally, but also from institutional funding allotted by Toni Castro, vice president of Student Services, and in part to Highline's policy of commitment to serving undocumented and DACA students.

Their core services include: advising in academic, degree planning, transfer, Financial Aid, and scholarships.

TRiO has four pillars that are designed to help students gain academic skills and mapping out an educational pathway for students, become well versed in financial literacy by helping students apply for scholarships, lead in community engagement of communities students are a part of, and preparing each student for their transfer to a four-year college or university.

"I'm one proof that it works," said Eileen Jimenez, program manager and academic advisor at TRiO.

Jimenez is a former TRiO scholar and has been an adviser for even longer.

"My mom immigrated from Mexico, and she couldn't speak English. So, I knew that I needed some sort of help to navigate through college. TRiO was the one who helped me get to UCLA, for my bachelor's degree," Jimenez said. "My mom worked three minimum wage jobs, and my whole family really got to do TRiO, and they helped me understand I could get financial aid while going through college."

Her mother only made $16,000 a year, and through TRiO she learned that she still had the opportunity to receive financial aid and even to study abroad in Paris, which she's done.

Her sister has just earned her doctoral degree, also as a TRiO scholar, and her younger brother has finished his bachelor's degree.

"They've really just helped me change my life, and I think TRiO really helped me believe in myself," Jimenez said.

Ahmed Wafai was accepted into University of Washington-Seattle last year and is currently pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.

"TRiO has made me a better person. Now I communicate my story with other people, and I've made stronger bonds with my community," Wafai said.

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