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Bay College receives TRIO grant

From left, Bay College TRIO students Erin Stevenson, Emily Thibault and April King take a break from studying. The college has been awarded a $1.7 million TRIO Student Support Services grant to help first-generation, low-income and disabled students. (Photo courtesy of Bay College)

ESCANABA — Bay College was recently awarded a $1.7 million five-year TRIO Student Support Services grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which will fund the staff and services that make up the TRIO SSS Program at the college.

Bay College’s TRIO SSS Program is a student-support program that enhances the retention, graduation and transfer rates of first-generation, low-income and disabled students. Focusing on the academic, personal and cultural development of its students, the program offers services such as academic and career coaching, financial guidance, tutoring, and peer and professional mentoring.

TRIO refers to three programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services.

The TRIO SSS Program has been a part of the Bay College campus for many years. Awarded on a five-year cycle, the college has been successful in all of its applications since receiving its first TRIO grant in 1993.

The TRIO grant competition is one of the most popular and sought-after DOE grants for institutions of higher education, the college said.

“The longevity of the TRIO Program at Bay College speaks to the significant need for it on our campus,” said Heidi Charon, current TRIO director.

Charon said two-thirds of Bay’s student population meet at least one of the three eligibility criteria to receive services: first-generation college student, low-income or disabled.

“The program’s long-standing presence on campus also speaks to the unwavering commitment to student success from TRIO staff that have served in the program over the last two decades,” she said.

Jill Weise-Martin served as director for the previous eight years before retiring this summer. She and Assistant Director Erica Mead wrote the last two grant applications for the college.

Though the TRIO Program at Bay College feels like a permanent fixture, there is no guarantee that the college will receive funding after each grant cycle. Not only does the college have to submit a competitive grant application narrative, but the TRIO program must also meet its student success goals every year.

“The college’s grant application earned a perfect score, something that only three colleges in Michigan can claim,” Charon said. “The college has been fortunate to have strong grant writers like Erica and Jill to submit strong applications over the years. The amount of effort that TRIO staff put into, first, serving their students, and second, ensuring that this funding remains at Bay year in and year, out is really remarkable.”

The TRIO grant is one of the longest-standing grant programs at the school. Most importantly, this grant is intensely focused on supporting students-students who are arriving at college with significant demographic obstacles.

According to Bay College, student support is one of the college’s highest priorities, and the TRIO SSS Program allows the college to provide more robust support services to its students than it would otherwise be able to offer.

In addition to Charon and Mead, Chris Servant, Tina Jensen and Sarah Davy round out the current TRIO team at Bay College.

“These folks do so much work for students behind the scenes,” Charon said. “Every college student struggles with something in some way, at some point in their journey and these are the people that support students through those struggles, whether it be tutoring for a tough class, revising an academic plan after changing majors, finding resources for unexpected financial burdens, or offering a friendly face and a listening ear.”

Current TRIO student and peer mentor, Erin Stevenson, described what the TRIO program means to her.

“Being a first-generation student had me very nervous for college, but after seeing what the TRIO program was, everything changed,” Stevenson said. “Being a part of the TRIO program is such an amazing opportunity. It is a positive, accepting and encouraging environment. The TRIO program has helped me improve not only academically, but improve my work ethic and social skills too.”

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