For student May Hayes, the path to college was uncertain. 

That was at least until Hayes — who is now a Winona State University student — was introduced to a key program at WSU that worked to guide and support her through the journey.

Prior to finding the support of WSU’s TRIO program, the financial pieces of how she would afford college weren’t fitting together.

Hayes’ family didn’t have the means to completely support her in that way and her only other option was to take out loans.  

 

Thankfully for Hayes, TRIO became a support system that became crucial to her success. 

TRIO, a federally funded program by the U.S. Department of Education which serves low-income, first-generation, and students with disabilities in reaching graduation, guided Hayes through deciphering confusing FAFSA information and applying for scholarships. With help from TRIO staff, she was able to apply for grants and scholarships which made college a reality.

Thankfully, with the recent refunding of $3 million toward the program, TRIO is able to continue its fundamental support for the 350 participating students.

“It made a significance difference in my education,” Hayes said. “I received a WSU Foundation Scholarship as well as a Fine Arts Scholarship-Art in addition to the Pell Grant and the Minnesota State Grant.” 

Without the grants and scholarships she was awarded, her loans would have been triple what they are now, she said.  

Not only did TRIO help her navigate the financial pieces, but the program staff has continued to help her with much more.  

That’s because TRIO also helps with academic advising, tutoring, financial literacy, and career readiness. The program – and its director Nhia Yang – work to create a welcoming environment for students to grow and thrive along with a sense of community as a support system.  

“TRIO is important,” Yang said bluntly. “It is a program that focuses on student access, retention, and graduation.”  

With the recent renewal of funding, the program has also taken the opportunity to move into a bigger location on campus. With more space, Yang said the program now has the capacity for more drop-in tutoring and a student-centered lounge for them to network and build a TRIO community. 

Among the hundreds of students impacted by the program is Stephanie Young, a social work major in her junior year. She has had similar obstacles as Hayes while pursuing college and TRIO helped her along the way. 

During high school, Young worked two or sometimes three jobs and wasn’t thriving academically. At the time college didn’t feel like an option.  

“I was always a troublemaker in high school, but my teacher actually pulled me away from that and said you’re better than this,” Young recalled. “She showed me FAFSA and helped me fill out scholarships.”  

After falling in love with WSU’s campus and being accepted, TRIO took over and helped her schedule classes, break down FAFSA even further over the years and helped connect her with other scholarships.  

The program was an important resource for her in many ways as it helped her through schoolwork, connected her with counseling, and gave her a sense of community with others like herself.  

“It was a place I could go when I couldn’t go anywhere else,” Young said. “They’re like a second family.”  

Between TRIO, her high school teacher, and the support of campus, Young said she’s happy to be achieving her goals.  

“College is for me,” Young said. “I’m really proud to be a warrior.” 

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Tesla Mitchell

Named after the 80's rock band, Tesla Mitchell has a decade of experience covering local news and features as a journalist in Winona. A Saint Mary's University alumna, Tesla graduated with a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an emphasis in political science and entrepreneurship. During her free time, Tesla enjoys organizing block parties, being a super mom and an avid heavy weightlifter.