College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

TRIO programs in CEHD mark milestone anniversaries and look to the future

Tricia Wilkinson, Minerva Muñoz, and Anthony Albecker

Educational Equity is a core area of research in CEHD, and the three TRIO programs housed in the college are model examples of how that research is put into practice every day. TRIO grew out of the Higher Education Act of 1965, dedicated to improving underrepresented students’ access to higher education.

TRIO programs at the U of M began in 1966 with TRIO Upward Bound, a program for underrepresented high school students that offers academic and other support for college-bound students. TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) followed in 1976 and provides academic, financial, personal, and leadership support to low-income students, first-generation students (neither parent has a four-year degree), and students with disabilities from across the Twin Cities campus. In 1991, longtime TRIO directors Bruce and Sharyn Schelske secured funding for the TRIO McNair Scholars Program, which prepares underrepresented students for graduate study through research and mentorship opportunities.

TRIO programs formally became housed in CEHD in 2005, and the TRIO SSS program largely contributes to making CEHD one of the most diverse undergraduate colleges at the U of M, with more than 30 percent of Fall 2021 CEHD first-year students identifying as first-generation.  

And now more than 50 years later, all three TRIO programs’ directors and staff are continuing their core missions, while also adapting to the changing needs of their students and the world around them.

TRIO Upward Bound—Helping high school students reach their full potential

As the only TRIO program at the U of M that serves high school students, Upward Bound stands out for its impact on the greater Minneapolis community, as it serves students from four Minneapolis high schools. It’s also unique in that it brings students to campus.

“Students are able to come each week and begin to feel as if they belong by learning to navigate a large campus, taking public transportation, and engaging with other students not from their high school,” says Tricia Wilkinson, director of TRIO Upward Bound.

Upward Bound is the longest running TRIO program at the U of M and also one of the longest running nationally. Wilkinson says by having students participate all four years, it builds a real sense of community.

“We not only get to know them during academic classes, activities, and field trips, but also we get to know their families by communicating consistently. Relationships with each other as well as with staff are important factors to retention and student success,” Wilkinson says.

TRIO Upward Bound students at a community BBQ
TRIO Upward Bound students at a community BBQ, including class of 2022-24, bridge class, and summer staff
TRIO Upward Bound students at a community BBQ
Sophomore and junior students taking the annual Mock ACT testing
Tricia Wilkinson
Tricia Wilkinson, director, TRIO Upward Bound
The Bridge class of 2021
The Bridge class of 2021 triumphs after a kayaking community building event, July 2021

Alumni of TRIO Upward Bound are a testament to how the program works, and every year a group of seniors end up attending the U of M Twin Cities, with some enrolling in CEHD. One of those alums is Sarah Yang, who majored in youth studies in CEHD and now works as an Upward Bound advisor and project coordinator. She’s also currently pursuing her graduate degree in CEHD in youth development leadership.

“During my time in TRIO Upward Bound, I met lifelong friends, gained social skills—now I feel like I talk too much!—and found my passion in working with youth,” says Yang.

TRIO Student Support Services—aiding U of M students through holistic, individualized advising 

TRIO SSS has been at the U of M for 45 years and as an advising office for first-generation, low-income, or students with disabilities, it has pivoted multiple times to meet the needs of its students. TRIO SSS students are admitted to the program at the same time they are admitted to the U of M and advisors have a low student-to-advisor ratio and are trained to offer financial literacy, career counseling, and mental health advocacy. Beginning in fall of 2021, the program expanded from a two-year model to a four-year model, meaning students have their TRIO advisor throughout their college career.

“We know the needs of first-generation college students don’t end after they declare a major,” says Director Minerva Muñoz. “Now we will get to work collaboratively with CEHD departments on how to better address the needs of our students in their programs to graduate in a timely fashion and maximize opportunities that prepare our students to transition out of college and onto their post-graduation journeys.”

The advisors teach a one-credit course, Identity, Culture, and College Success, and meet with instructors of first-year courses to ensure wraparound support and proactive interventions. They have also worked with departments across the U of M to develop and instruct integrated learning courses, which are paired with difficult introductory courses that can serve as gateways to in-demand majors.

Minerva Muñoz
Minerva Muñoz, director, TRIO Student Support Services
Students at 2021 College Day event
2021 College Day event, TRIO SSS breakout session, for students navigating the start of their college journey
TRIO students at bowling alley
TRIO SSS bowling event for 2nd year students in August 2021
TRIO SSS professional team
TRIO SSS professional team at the TRIO SSS Community Day event for new 1st year students in August 2021

TRIO SSS alumna Cheniqua Johnson credits the program with connecting her to the many opportunities she was able to take advantage of while a student at the U of M. Johnson, a 2017 family social science alum, is a relationship manager for the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, and has been active in state politics. She was recently elected to the leadership team of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party, and in 2018 was the youngest DFL-endorsed woman and one of the first women of color to run in her Southwest Minnesota district.

“TRIO Student Support Services saw the potential in me that I now see in myself. Every year, TRIO helped me open doors, build relationships, and reach goals that I didn’t even know were possible. It was the highlight of my college experience,” Johnson says.

In addition to the new four-year model, TRIO SSS will begin to work with CEHD transfer students and partner with CEHD Global Initiatives to launch a study abroad experience specifically for TRIO SSS students. Muñoz is excited for these new opportunities, while also recognizing the continual impact of the pandemic and struggles for students who hold multiple marginalized identities.

“Our population is diverse, and most students share similar lived experiences. Within our program, students are provided a safer space to transition into college, and we foster a culture of belonging,” she says.

This is why we give

Bruce and Sharyn Schelske
Bruce and Sharyn Schelske

Bruce and Sharyn Schelske’s involvement with the TRIO programs goes all the way back to their time as undergraduates. “People always ask us if we met in TRIO, but no, we knew each other already,” Sharyn says.

The couple started working with the Upward Bound program in 1968. Both were in the College of Liberal Arts; Sharyn was working on her degree in English and Spanish and Bruce was in the sociology program. After they graduated in 1969 and 1970, respectively, they applied for full-time positions in Upward Bound and were hired.

For the next four decades, the Schelskes worked tirelessly to bring TRIO to where it is today. They became co-directors of Upward Bound in 1978 and served in that capacity until 1991 when Bruce became director of TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) and Sharyn took the helm of the McNair Scholars. They had earlier assisted in writing the first successful University TRIO SSS grant and co-authored the McNair Scholars grant.

Although they retired in 2012, they continue to find ways to give back to the programs they find so dear. Initially, they set up the Bruce and Sharyn Schelske Fund that offers discretionary support to TRIO. “It’s a modest endowment that provides money to support TRIO enrichment activities that the programs may not otherwise be able to fund,” Bruce says. As an example, money from this fund could help pay for students’ passports so they could engage in study abroad or pay costs of leadership experiences.

More recently, the couple has committed to establish a TRIO Director Fund to augment the money the U.S. Department of Education and the college provide for the salaries of the program directors.

The Schelskes have received state, regional, and national accolades in their decades-long support of TRIO, including a UMN President’s Outstanding Service Award for Bruce in 2005 and another for Sharyn in 2006. However, their biggest reward is the impact the TRIO programs make.

“Witnessing what students can accomplish when given the opportunity continues to inspire and motivate us to find more support for the programs and never stop working for equal opportunity,” Sharyn says.

TRIO McNair Scholars—Diversifying the next generation of scholars and industry leaders

As director of TRIO McNair, Anthony Albecker has a deep commitment to the program’s mission. A former TRIO student who began volunteering with the program in 2004, Albecker knows firsthand how much TRIO can shape a student’s future. An example is all of the McNair staff are former McNair scholars, a testament to the program’s influence on students’ professional paths.

“How do we think more creatively of how we use our models to be able to enhance where CEHD is going? We know that there’s an increased need for people with advanced degrees in teaching and social work, for example,” Albecker says. “And we’re in a position in CEHD to fill these roles where representation also matters. The McNair program has been showing for 30 years that we can make it happen.”

On average, more than 65 percent of U of M McNair scholars enroll in graduate programs, and a significant portion of them end up staying at the U of M Twin Cities. In recent years, CEHD has had the largest number of McNair scholars admitted to graduate programs, with strong representation in social work; organizational leadership, policy, and development; and educational psychology. Albecker notes that scholars are enrolling and completing doctorates at a rate 12-fold over the national average.

Albecker also credits the important contributions of CEHD faculty, who serve as mentors for McNair scholars’ research projects. Many have participated for multiple years and formed lasting relationships with their students. Beth Lewis, director of the School of Kinesiology, and Tabitha Grier-Reed, associate dean for faculty, are both McNair Scholar alums.

“They exemplify what McNair is about—preparing future faculty who become leaders who seek to teach and lead transformation in their academic fields,” says Albecker. 

Anthony Albecker
Anthony Albecker, director, McNair Scholars program
2018 McNair Scholars Cohort
2018 McNair Scholars Cohort at the 2019 McNair Scholars Research Symposium
2021 McNair Scholars Cohort
2021 McNair Scholars Cohort
Anna Heinz, 2019 McNair Scholar presenting at the 2019 McNair Scholars Research Symposium
Anna Heinz, 2019 McNair Scholar presenting at the 2019 McNair Scholars Research Symposium

Family social science undergraduate student Sher Moua worked with faculty mentor Associate Professor Zha Blong Xiong in Summer 2021.

“Working with my faculty mentor was an exciting and scary experience because I had no research experience prior to McNair; therefore, I felt the need to meet every deadline I had, even if it was an unfinished draft of a major section. Participating in the McNair program gave me the opportunity to build my leadership skills and community within the cohort,” Moua says.  

As undergraduate students’ needs have evolved, the McNair team is trying to be responsive to what students want as they prepare for graduate school, especially as students navigate the uncertainties and impact of the pandemic on their post-graduation plans.

“TRIO programs are central and core to the mission of what we need to do in CEHD to solve the problems of social injustice and being responsive to the critical needs of today,” Albecker says.

Photos courtesy of TJ Turner, Tricia Wilkinson, Minerva Munoz, TRIO Student Support Services, TRIO McNair Scholars

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-Christina Clarkson