The new director of TRIO Student Support Services is meeting needs she learned of while being a student herself.
When Dana Parker started college at Webster University, there were many things she wished she'd known sooner. Without parents who were able to guide her through the college experience, Parker persevered to prove that first-generation students have the drive to do anything they put their minds to.
Parker recently traded in dark and gloomy Seattle for a bright adventure in West Texas. The new director of Texas Tech University's TRIO Student Support Services has had a passion for first-generation students since she was one herself.
Parker earned her Master of Arts in Human Resource Management and is finishing her doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration & Leadership. After more than a decade of working in higher education, Parker is excited to bring her expertise to Texas Tech.
What drives you to do this work?
It starts with my personal story; I was a first-generation college student of color and that presented certain challenges I had to navigate. My first couple years of college were a struggle. There were so many nuanced pieces of knowledge I didn't know coming in. Sometimes,it's the lingo of higher education, and sometimes it's just as simple as knowing you can drop a class. I suffered through this awful biology course because no one told me I could add or drop classes.
It's also a huge transition for students socially and emotionally. They go from living with a guardian full-time, to being dropped off at a dorm and suddenly being responsible for themselves. You know, getting themselves places on time, figuring out meals, transportation and getting enough sleep.
There were experiences like those but also issues of microaggressions I faced as a student which I want to help other students address if they find themselves in those situations. I want to take what I've learned and pay itforward to students here at Texas Tech.
In your own higher education studies, what did you learn that is informing your work?
My dissertation looks at how students of color, especially those that are first-generation, persist to graduation and even post-graduate work when they have wrap-around services. My research compares students who havecommunity and educational resources to those who do not and examines those differences.
In many cases, the quality of relationships students form with advocates on campus reaches far beyond the basics. Many advocates can help students with questions about housing, financial aid, where to find the best food and studying tips – things others can take for granted.
For those unfamiliar with TRIO Student Support Services, can you explain what it is and how it helps meet student needs?
TRIO is a federally funded program by the U.S. Department of Education. I believe it started in 1964 with the creation of Upward Bound, which was the then-administration's response to the War on Poverty. In the following years, Talent Search and Student Support Services were added. These are now the three services which coined the name “TRIO.”
Today, TRIO offers eight unique programs. These programs assist low-income individuals, first-generation students and individuals with disabilities. The programs start engaging with students as early as sixth grade and are offered as late as graduate school through the McNair Scholars program. The idea is that students receive support throughout their academic journey. They get preparation before college and then have that support system when they move away from home.
Why did you choose to work at Texas Tech?
I worked as assistant director of TRIO Student Support Services at Edmonds College in Washington before coming to Texas Tech. So, the program is not new to me, but transitioning to implementing it on such a large campus is a new challenge.
When Texas Tech reached out about this opening I was interested because there are many resources and opportunities on a campus of this size that were attractive. For example, TRIO Student Support Services is so well supported by the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Not many universities have divisions this large offering that advocacy and enthusiasm for federal programs. My experience so far of working cross-collaboratively with Raider Red's Food Pantry, the Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement, Mentor Tech, the Black Cultural Center and so on has been phenomenal. It's a great feeling to be in a community that large, all working toward the same goal.
What is one new thing on the horizon for your unit?
Texas Tech was just selected to receive the Upward Bound Math & Science Grant, the second Upward Bound grant the university has received this year! This is an opportunity for Texas Tech to support high school students and possibly lead to them becoming future Red Raiders. This is another chance for our services to reach out to the community, which is very exciting.
For current Red Raiders, how can they learn more about TRIO Student Support Services?
To be accepted into TRIO, students must be first-generation and/or demonstrate a financial need. If they meet these criteria, they'll move through an application process with us. I do pride myself that we can help pretty much anyone who goes through this process. We don't like turning people away, so we find a way to help, period. If a student is accepted, they have access to all services we provide, which are:
- Academic advising
- Academic tutoring
- Career advising
- Financial aid assistance
- Graduate school preparation
- Leadership development
- Supportive community
This list isn't exhaustive but hits the main offerings we provide. Overall, we want students to know we're here to help them succeed and enjoy their time as Red Raiders.
For more information on TRIO Student Support Services, visit their website or call (806) 742-3629. For information on all programs housed within the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, visit the division's website here.