A college freshman’s life is not always easy. The academic rigors of college, moving away from family and friends for the first time, and adjusting to overall campus life can be startling for most freshmen. The stress is often more overpowering for first generation college students, especially those from lower income households.

For all but 19 years that the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has been in operation, TRiO Student Support Services has been here to help qualified students maneuver campus life, academics, and financial need. TRiO celebrated its 50th anniversary in October, and several alumni participated in a celebration Wednesday. The celebration featured a highlight video that showcased how SSS and staff helped them become successful college graduates.

Marcia Mitchell, director of TRiO SSS, said the organization has helped many first generation, low-income students and those with disabilities persist and graduate from college. The department offers tutoring, advising, educational workshops, mentoring, and other services.

“While the services we offer are instrumental in helping our students succeed, I think that having a competent, committed staff of caring professionals who can relate to the students they help is just as important,” Mitchell said. “Oftentimes, our office is the place students come to when they don’t know where else to go. For some, it’s a safe place where they not only can receive academic support, but personal support and encouragement.”

TRiO SSS, a set of federally funded college-based educational opportunity outreach programs, began as part of the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964 with the Upward Bound and Talent Search initiatives. Trio SSS was added to the legislation in 1968.

TRiO SSS has been operating at UVA-Wise since 1973. Mitchell has been with the program since 1992.

“I think we served 175 students then, and now we serve 198,” she said. “We had a staff of four when I started, but now we have five. Our services have expanded over the years as well to include financial literacy education and assistance with financial aid-related topics.”

Chancellor Donna P. Henry said the TRiO SSS leadership administers a program of excellence. The department, she said, works hard to secure funding for the program.

“You set only the highest standards for the program and for our students, and I am so grateful,” Henry told the staff. “This program and our College are a great launching pad for successful undergraduate experiences and meaningful careers.”

Mitchell said Trio SSS is often at the mercy of the federal government, but she has a clear view of where she would like to see the program grow in the future.

“In regard to our SSS program at the College, I would like to see our program continue to have a positive impact on the retention and graduation of eligible students,” Mitchell said. “I would like to see more of our students be the first in their families to attain a bachelors degree or overcome financial limitations so they can change their family’s future.”

Stories about how TRiO SSS changed the lives of many UVA-Wise alumni will be included in the fall UVA-Wise Magazine, which will be published in late November.