Students complete their journey with TRIO


By Doria Canino
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” believes Mr. Harry Lewis, college

Photo by Cynthia Eaton

Assistant Professor of Counseling Gwen Branch and TRIO Secretary Harry Lewis are pictured here. Photo by Cynthia Eaton.

aid and secretary of the Student Support Services TRIO program offered at Suffolk County Community College (SCCC). The TRIO program was started in 1999 and is aimed to help first-generation students with disabilities or low income achieve academic success, and “complete their journey”, as Mr. Lewis said during a recent interview.
How? This federal government grant-funded organization provides a number of benefits to students in their first semester at SCCC and other colleges across the nation. These include advisement, tutoring assistance, progress reports that are designed to give the student a better understanding of classes they may need to improve in, and exposing students to the different programs available at the campus. TRIO is focused on helping students that fit into three different categories: first-generation college student, student of low income, or student with a documented disabilities. Examples are physical disability, various learning disabilities, and emotional and behavioral issues.
Students are often referred to the program by professors and co-workers, but TRIO counselors also go into Freshmen Seminar classes to talk about the program, what it offers, and how to apply. Information on TRIO can be found in an intake packet available to the students as well.
Mr. Lewis personally feels that students should have time to see how their college experience progresses and then seek help if they find that they are struggling. Unfortunately the grant has a number of restrictions. For example, if students do not apply during their first semester TRIO services are not available to them. Mr. Lewis believes this can be a problem.
Reflecting on his own experience of being a student Mr. Lewis feels “In the first semester you don’t know what you don’t know it’s an overwhelming prospect, it’s a brave new experience, so I don’t think students necessarily know that they’re going to need help.” He agrees that it’s hard for counselors to not only catch students who are still in their first semester, but then convince them that it is in their best interest to join the program. The counselors of TRIO in addition bake and hand out flyers to draw attention to their program. Mr. Lewis adds, while laughing, “You know, nothings better then free food.”
Student registration for the program has a number of processes due to the restrictions of the grant. First, students must apply during their first semester by filling out an interest card. If there is a spot available they are called by Mr. Lewis to set up an appointment. Then they receive an intake packet which the student must complete. The intake packet includes various questions about the student’s basic information, statistical data, family history, financial aid, and a series of interview questions.
Now many may wonder, why bother? While the amount of paper work involved sounds like a hassle, there are a few details about this problem that may be worth it. According to
Mr. Lewis, “TRIO provides a lot of good things that are beneficial to a student, such as one-on-one tutoring, which is an hour long with the same tutor at the same time each week. So the tutor and the student have continuity and are able to help each other in a more thorough way.” He not only believes this is a helpful attribute of their tutoring services, but he has also witnessed firsthand its successful outcomes. Mr. Lewis himself has tutored students, but he jokes, “Don’t ask me for any math help because you’d be in trouble, fractions are not my friend.”
TRIO furthermore provides students with academic advisement, faculty and student assistance, and help involving transferring, and it also provides students with a progress report. Mr. Lewis explains that by using a progress report “We are able to let students know if there’s a problem before it gets too far along. Sometimes students think they are doing better than they are, and sometimes they think they’re doing worse than they are.” By doing this, they are able to help address the student’s problem areas and offer to set up tutoring for them to remedy the situation.
When asked how beneficial the program’s services are to the students, Mr. Lewis replied, “I would say they are extraordinarily beneficial, because for the students that they are able to help those students are extremely grateful. It’s sort of like all things, as much as you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. If the student is enthusiastic about learning about the class and learning things and getting help, they will definitely do better.”
Mr. Lewis joined TRIO in 2002. Prior to joining what was a three year old program during that time, Mr. Lewis worked as a tutor in the Academic Skills Center tutoring in sociology and computers. His knowledge on computers, Mr. Lewis explains, came from attending H.B. Ward Technology and Academic Center in Riverhead as a teenager. “It was fun; I enjoyed it” Mr. Lewis said with a smile and chucked after talking about his previous attendance at the school. Mr. Lewis was approached by SCCC Student Services Coordinator Mary Dernbach, founder of TRIO working in 2002, after her secretary left the program. “She said to me, “Would you be interested in this program with me as a College Aid Secretary?” and I said yes, and the rest is history” Mr. Lewis shared when describing how he got is job in TRIO.
Mr. Lewis as College Aid Secretary of TRIO has various responsibilities, which include answering the phone, helping to set up appointments, handing out the forms, assisting students with the computer, and tutors if they need help, sending out progress reports, alphabetizing the returned progress reports, and also putting them in order of priority.
“I really, really enjoy helping people, whether it be a student or a co-worker… I like the joy on their face when I’m able to help them. I look forward to my job every day, I’m not one of those people who says ‘oh man I have to go to work I hope I can get out of it’”, he said when asked what motivated him to work with TRIO. He further expressed how lucky he feels to love his job.

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