Laced thoughout the University of Nevada, Reno mission, values and core themes is a message of inclusivity. Far from passive lip service, the University prides itself on providing a wealth of services to students from all walks of life and every corner of the globe. These services, two of which are highlighted below, exist to guide students along the path to success and give them a hand when they need it. Every graduate of the University, every member of the faculty and staff, every student – each has a commitment "to serve as a catalyst for the betterment of our society," as the University vision states. It's all part of what makes this Wolf Pack great.

Mika Alvarez

2019 TRiO Scholars Program graduate

Helping students be ‘Upward Bound’

When it came time for Victor Arriaga to graduate from high school, his parents encouraged him to enter the workforce. Without any college experience of their own, a career in the private sector seemed like the safest path to financial security.

“I feel that this is a common experience with first-gen students,” Arriaga says. Parents without a college background mean well but may overlook the career and financial opportunities offered by higher education. Even when parents are supportive of the idea, they may lack the knowledge and resources needed to help their children transition successfully to university life.

Victor Arriaga Medina speaks about Upward Bound in 2017

Fortunately, the TRiO Scholars Program is available at the University of Nevada, Reno to help low-income and first-generation students acclimate and thrive in the college environment.

We try to meet the student wherever they are and give them tools to help them reach their academic goals,” explains Chris Westin, a counselor with University of Nevada, Reno TRiO Scholars. The program is designed so that the TRiO office and staff can serve as a home away from home to provide support and guidance on any topic.

Along with the Office of International Students & Scholars, the TRiO Scholars Program is one more example of how the University of Nevada, Reno is working to make higher education accessible to everyone.

TRiO Scholars is a federally funded program and serves approximately 175 students each year. It offers comprehensive student support services that include personal and academic counseling, study skills development, tutoring and computer lab assistance. For many students, support from TRiO Scholars builds seamlessly off academic services they received before ever setting foot on campus.

Through the Upward Bound initiative, offered under the umbrella of the University of Nevada, Reno TRiO program, high school students meet with mentors, prepare for the ACT and SAT and receive assistance applying for college and financial aid. It was through Upward Bound that Arriaga first became familiar with the TRiO Scholars Program.

“Coming from a first-gen family, the world of college that includes financial aid, alternating class schedules and the general college-level workload is a world unknown,” Arriaga says. Not only did he have a steep learning curve, but his family did as well. The Upward Bound program helped them navigate this new territory with trusted guides by their side.

Then, when he started at the University, the TRiO Scholars Program stepped in to ensure that his time at the University was productive and positive.

Smoothing the path to a degree

Once on campus, it can be easy for first-generation students to feel overwhelmed. With no family experience to lean on, they may feel lost when it comes to creating study schedules, juggling class assignments or mediating conflicts with roommates. TRiO Scholars connects these learners to mentors and upperclassmen for one-on-one coaching and academic support.

“The TRiO coaches are such a big help,” Arriaga says. Beyond the coaching, freshmen students in the program take a required class that walks them through all the resources available at University of Nevada, Reno as well as how to overcome obstacles as they arise. Workshops on financial aid, money management, goal setting and career development are among the many topics covered through TRiO Scholars. Arriaga notes, “My experience in the program has been amazing.”

Westin is quick to add that the TRiO Scholars Program is about more than academic success. “Much of our work focuses on developing the non-cognitive skills in order to help our students develop more of a growth mindset,” he explains. “We try to create a family atmosphere in our office to allow our students to feel they can come to us for anything.”

The TRiO Scholars counselor says his most cherished memories are when everything clicks in place. He describes it as, “when a student has that ah-ha moment and realizes their passion for a particular subject and grasps their true potential.” It’s those moments that fill Westin with joy.

Assistance for international students

First-generation college students aren’t the only ones who may encounter difficulty transitioning to campus life. International students face their own set of challenges. To meet their needs, the University of Nevada, Reno Office of International Students & Scholars – known as OISS – stands ready to help.

“OISS is an office that helps students coming from abroad to study toward a degree or participate in a short-term exchange program,” explains Adilia Ross, an international student advisor. The office assists with everything from immigration advising to settling in on campus to reviewing employment options after graduation.

Students from more than 70 countries are enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno, and OISS is committed to helping them all in whatever way needed. “We realize that navigating immigration and University policies can be difficult for international students,” Ross says, “therefore, we are here to make it easier for them.” That often means collaborating with other departments to facilitate research opportunities, improve grades or increase intercultural understanding.

As with the TRiO Scholars Program, OISS staff strive to create an atmosphere that ensures students feel comfortable and at ease when asking for help. “We are a friendly, welcoming office,” Ross says. “Our faculty and staff are knowledgeable and always willing to help wherever we can.”

Wander Valderrama

2019 OISS graduate

Program offers proven success

The TRiO Scholars Program and OISS are about more than helping students feel comfortable on campus. Their ultimate goal is to ensure students complete their degree programs in a timely manner. While that can be difficult to gauge for international students who may only spend part of their educational years at the University, it’s easy to see the success of the TRiO Scholars Program.

Westin says 72% of the TRiO students who enrolled in the University in 2012 graduated within six years, 12% higher than the national average for 4-year institutions. “The TRiO Scholars Program has been on campus for more than 40 years and has changed the lives of countless first-generation students,” Westin notes.

Arriaga is one of those students. Although he considered going into the workforce after graduating high school as suggested by his parents, his heart was set on a higher education. He is currently studying international business with an emphasis in economics and plans to have a commission as a United States Marine Officer upon graduation. Thanks to the Upward Bound and TRiO Scholars program, it’s a plan that’s becoming a reality.

Eligibility for OISS and TRiO Scholars

All international students can access services through OISS. In fact, students are welcome to contact the office prior to enrollment for assistance with the application process.

Since the TRiO Scholars Program uses federal funding, it has a more limited eligibility policy. Students must demonstrate academic need and be either a U.S. citizen or a legal non-citizen/resident alien. While the program serves primarily first-generation students, it is also available to those meeting income qualifications or having a documented disability.

Services through TRiO Scholars is offered at no cost and limited financial assistance may even be available for some students. Only undergraduate students may enroll in the program.

Given its budget of federal funding, the TRiO Scholars Program has a limited number of spots available. However, the University of Nevada, Reno offers additional programs, such as First in the Pack, to meet the needs of other first-generation and low-income freshmen. Offered through the school’s Student Services Division, these options are intended to foster both academic success and personal development.

TRiO Scholars      OISS

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