I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, a place synonymous with high crime, drug activity and low-quality schools. Many believe that no one who lives there wants to do anything to make it out.
Well, that is not true whatsoever.
I have a master’s degree and am in my second year at the University of Maine School of Law. I did not accomplish this all by myself. My family, friends and teachers were instrumental in helping me to get to where I am today. I am also indebted to federal TRIO programs for helping disadvantaged students like myself. Participating in TRIO provided me with the foundation to excel and achieve my goals.
Going to college was never in doubt for me. Although my parents did not attend college, let alone finish elementary school, I always believed college was possible for me. The day I received my college acceptance letter, my parents were ecstatic. My hard work paid off.
I attended Marian University, a small private liberal arts university in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Fond du Lac was nothing compared to Chicago. It was more rural, and fewer people had the same skin color as I did. Not only was this a challenge to face and overcome, the second battle was succeeding academically.
The first semester of college was a struggle. At the end of my first semester I had a 1.6 GPA. The GPA reflected deficiencies and not being academically prepared coming out of high school. I also take responsibility for not being completely focused.
This would all turn around when I was introduced to the Student Support Services Program. The program was created for first-generation college students. Participants receive financial, academic and financial counseling services. It was designed for people like me.
SSS was a huge part of my being able to recover from a bad semester and also to pay for classes during the summer months with grants. I also felt comfortable with knowing, even during the summer months, that supportive staff would be on hand, if I needed assistance.
Thinking ahead to my junior year, I knew that I did not just want to stop once I obtained my bachelor’s degree. Graduate education was a way to achieve my goal of going into public service and also engaging in lifelong learning. The McNair Scholars Program would serve this purpose. The McNair Scholars program is a post-baccalaureate program that prepares students for graduate work.
I was accepted into The McNair Scholars Program in April 2012 and engaged in research during the following summer. My research was focused on youth and gun violence. The title of my research project was “Examining Essential Components of Programs for Reducing Gun Violence among Youth: An Exploratory Study using Q-methodology.” This research was an eye-opener. I was able to highlight how gun violence among youth is a major issue in America, and with the right policies and intervention, we can curtail the violence among youngsters between the ages of 14-18.
My faculty mentor was a true mentor to me. He pushed me hard and showed me how to become a researcher. His steady guidance made me appreciate professors, especially those with a Ph.D., and helped me to understand that research is not as simple as writing papers. The program also allowed me to visit graduate schools of my choice. I was proud to visit graduate schools with the honor of being a McNair Scholar.
By the end of my college career at Marian University, I graduated in 2013 just shy of a 3.0 GPA with a Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security. I was selected as the student commencement speaker and attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where I would earn my Master of Public Administration degree with a graduate assistantship in the public administration department. I am certain that being a McNair Scholar factored into the university’s decision to award me a graduate assistantship.
Many naysayers, including some in Congress, argue that TRIO programs do not work and are a waste of taxpayer dollars. This is far from the truth. In today’s political climate, where there is an assault on education and, in particular, TRIO programs, I was inspired to travel to Washington, D.C earlier this month to attend the 2018 Annual TRIO Policy Seminar. The policy seminar allowed me to share my story with members of Congress and their staffs and to fellowship with other TRIO alumni from across the country who believe that these programs are essential to the future of our nation.
There are many students in America who benefit from TRIO, and there are many more who need TRIO services. I am living proof that TRIO works.