News

Six Non-Traditional Students Receive Trio Awards for Reading, Writing ... and Heart

April 26, 2004
Author: Renee Ballenger
Category: Academics


The Student Support Center at Southern Utah University held its annual TRIO Celebration this spring awarding six non-traditional students special achievement awards and $200 scholarships.

A non-traditional student is one who begins a higher education career after being out of school for an extended period.

In support of a national commitment to provide educational opportunity to all Americans, Congress established a series of programs to help individuals, upon entrance to college, to overcome financial, class, social and cultural barriers, and then to go on to graduate and participate more fully in economic and social life. These programs are collectively referred to as TRIO, because originally there were three programs. After 30+ successful years, there are currently seven TRIO programs serving students from middle school through graduate school. In 1986, Congress proclaimed a National TRIO Day.

“And so, Student Support Services was born,” Lynne Brown, director of SSS, says. She reports that, currently, there are nearly 2,000 TRIO programs nationwide serving 700,000 students. In Utah, 25 programs serve about 8,000 students.

But, upon hearing the testimonies of the students, and comments about them by the SSS staff, at the awards ceremony, one realizes there is more to the TRIO program than just academic counseling. Dean O’Driscoll, director of SUU’s Marketing Office, concurs. “Reading and writing are very important, but so is focusing on the individual as a person.”

Honorees are chosen by the SSS staff based on their positive attitude, academic progress and exemplary citizenship. This year’s six winners are:

Cajsa Holm, a senior from Cedar City majoring in Biology

Peter Jensen, a freshman from Parachute, Colo. majoring in Engineering Technology

Vicki Kissell, a sophomore from Cedar City majoring in Nursing

Jeffrey McKinney, a sophomore from North Carolina majoring in Criminal Justice.

Adam Urquidez, a junior from Cedar City majoring in biology/zoology

Lynne Williams, a senior from Kanarraville, UT, majoring in Elementary Education


Cajsa Holm - Cajsa began her education while pregnant with her first child. She dropped out after two quarters. She was a stay-at-home mom for five years, but after her divorce, she felt she and her two children deserved a better life, so she returned to college. When she returned in Fall 2001, she had to take a math placement test. She knew she did poorly, and she left in the room in tears and with a reignited fear of math. But then she became acquainted with the staff of SUU’s Student Support Center and received the encouragement and assistance that she needed. She no longer fears math. In fact, she is a math minor, and a math tutor in the Student Support Center! She is on the Dean’s List and will likely graduate with honors.

Peter Jensen only completed seven years of school. He is the youngest of six children, who tragically lost their mother. He is a husband and father of four. He has severe Tourette Syndrome, that leaves him virtually unable to financially support his family. And he calls the SUU Student Service Center programs a miracle and its staff, miracle workers. Without the Center, Peter declares, he would not be here pursuing a degree, or sitting as a state scholar achieving a 3.8 GPA.

In addition to the TRIO award, Peter was also presented the Frank R. Behunin Award. This award is given in honor of the late Frank Behunin, a former student of SUU’s Student Support program who was bound to a wheelchair as the result of an accident. Frank’s untimely discontinuation at Student Support was due to his unexpected death during a medical procedure gone awry. “Frank had overcome many barriers,” Brown says. “He was making and reaching goals and showing real academic promise. We wanted to honor the example he set and his memory with this annual award. Peter is a very worthy honoree.”

Vicki Kissell’s father died prematurely so her mother was left to raise and financially support six children. Money, of course, was tight, so college was almost an unreachable thought. Only two of the children graduated from high school, and Vicki was not one of them. When she was an adult, Vicki found herself in a similar situation as her mother, and knew she had to do something to turn her life around. So, she got her GED and enrolled at SUU. Then, a car accident which left her without transportation threatened to deter her goal of receiving a degree. Nevertheless, and very much due to the relationships she formed with the staff of the Student Support Center, Vicki has remained a nursing major and is faring very well. “Student Support,” she says, “makes it possible to continue when the mountain is too high for me to climb on my own.”

Jeffrey McKinney graduated from high school in 1990 and then served eight years in the Army. He is a husband and father of four, and recently experienced some anxiety when he was called up to go to Iraq. Turns out, though, he didn’t have to go. He is using his veteran’s benefits to attend SUU, and is performing well in his Criminal Justice major. It has been it’s own kind of anxiety coming back to school after years out in the “real” world, with a family to support, and some hurdles in mathematics to overcome. But Jeffrey says he is making it through because of the assistance he has received from SUU’s Student Support Center.

Adam Urquidez - In hopes of a more stable future for their family, Adam and his wife decided that he should attend SUU and get his degree. Soon after, they became very aware of the rigorous hours and financial burden that attending college demanded. However, Adam states, “Thanks to the help of Student Support, we have been relieved of some of these burdens. . .financial or academic. The staff has made my experience at SUU remarkable.” Adam is now planning on attending graduate school and truly believes that he owes much of his success to the teacher and counselors in SUU’s Student Support Center.

Lynne Williams married Bud in 1966 and had four daughters and two sons. Today she has 11 grandchildren. Lynne cherishes her experiences as a young woman working at the Grand Canyon, and then Jacob Lake, but then later in life, it was her concern for the younger generation that inspired her to go to college. “I felt that I could be much more effective if I had a degree. “It’s difficult when you get older. I knew it would be, but not this tough.” Still, Lynne is a successful elementary education major and closing in on three years of being successful in her math classes. “I am grateful for all the patient and kind people who have supported me emotionally and academically. Some of the greatest people in the world are right here at SUU.”

“Although all of our students in the program are committed and achieving everyday, we chose these four to honor, as they especially emulate what TRIO is all about,” Brown says. “We want to say ‘Thank you’ to them for making this program so successful.”

University President Steven Bennion, added on TRIO Day, “I always come out of this meeting a little bit off the ground.” Emphasizing that education is an interpersonal process, he adds, “To be a positive learning environment, one does need the emotional support as well as the cognitive. So many things today are high-technology. The TRIO program just further proves that we need the ‘high-touch’ to go with the high-tech.” As someone who nearly quit grad school over his fear of math, if not for the help of a tutor who was also a friend, the President commended the Student Support staff, commenting, “If we could clone your caring dimension, the University would be the better for it.”

An estimated 2 million TRIO students have graduated from college, including well-known people like Bertice Berry, author; Congressman Henry Bonilla; and ABC News correspondent, John Quinones. SUU’s TRIO program has been an invaluable program to more than 3,000 students since its incorporation at the institution 23 years ago.

Contact Information:
Renee Ballenger
435-586-1997
ballenger@suu.edu