Support Services receives $1.5 million grant

Infographic by Michael Uribes / The Collegian

Like many new college students, Fresno State sophomore Liliana Madrigal was nervous and overwhelmed during her first day of classes as a freshman.

But the Student Support Services (SSS) program at Fresno State provided her with the guidance to make a quick, smooth transition into college life, she said.

“This program helped me get familiar with the university,” Madrigal said.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded SSS a $1.5 million five-year grant in early September, allowing the program to continue providing support for low-income, first-generation and disabled students on campus, SSS Director Sandra Fuentes said. The grant will be used to fund the several federal-mandated support services the program offers to help its 200 students succeed in college.

These services include counseling and advising, reading and writing instruction, peer mentors, peer tutors and a free computer lab. Fuentes said the grant has also allowed SSS to create a new program aimed at helping students learn how to budget their money and limit their dependency on loans.

“We give them a series of workshops that provides them with information on different aspects of financial literacy,” Fuentes said.

The financial aid literacy information workshops discuss how to create a budget, manage credit card purchases and money-saving tips. Madrigal said the workshops made her realize how important creating a budget is and helped her understand the financial aid application process.

“It gave you an overview of all of the things that you have to consider,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, SSS is one of eight nationwide programs in the federally funded TRIO programs, which are “designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.” All SSS programs are required to provide academic tutoring, postsecondary course selection advising and financial literacy information, according to the website.

The SSS program at Fresno State was established 18 years ago under the Division of Student Affairs, Fuentes said. The program provides support and the necessary tools to help its students graduate college, she said.

“That is our goal—support and retention for graduation between four and six years,” Fuentes said.

Federal grants are the sole source of funding for the services the program offers to its students, Fuentes said. She said receiving the $1.5 million grant was a relief, because it allows SSS to continue providing services for its students for at least five more years.

“Without our funding, this particular population would not be able to be served,” Fuentes said.

Students in the program have to meet several requirements throughout the year in order to remain in SSS, Fuentes said. All of the requirements are designed to provide students with tools to graduate, including meeting with a counselor, she said.

Joe Guerra, the counselor for students in the program, said he helps students learn how to navigate college and get into the classes they need.

“A lot of the students are first-generation and don’t know the ins-and-outs of college,” Guerra said.

He said he meets with students at least twice a semester to ensure that they are on track for graduation. Guerra said he schedules more than 300 appointments each semester to meet with every student.

“We’re always trying to plan ahead so they know what they need to be doing for the next semester,” Guerra said.

The program also requires all freshmen to take supplemental reading and writing classes to learn strategies for studying and crafting high-quality papers. Toni Rudd, the reading and writing coordinator for the program, said she works with each student individually to help them find writing and studying methods that work best for them.

Rudd said the program coordinators all work together to help the students stay in school and perform well.

“I think a lot of times students will walk out the door, because they didn’t have the support we offer,” she said.

The program also has eight peer mentors and eight peer tutors so students can turn to each other for help, Fuentes said. Peer mentors help SSS students become acclimated to college life and develop relationships with people on campus. Peer tutors help the students with homework and understanding the material they learn in class.

Fuentes said the all-encompassing goal of the program is to help students graduate and partake in college life. She said it is important for the students to give back to the university and participate in the university-sponsored events that are part of student life at Fresno State.

She said the students plan to participate in the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning’s Make a Difference Day on Oct. 23.

“That’s part of the college culture,” Fuentes said, “to get involved in student activities.”

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