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Family, TRIO SSS Vital to Student's Success

By Eric Breier

Kathleen Parra always knew that TRIO Student Support Services played a big role in her success at Cal State San Marcos. But it wasn’t until she was applying for financial assistance for students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that she realized just how much she relied on the program.

As Parra was writing her personal statement for the scholarship application, she listed all of the ways in which TRIO SSS has helped. Some, like the guidance Margaret Nuttall provided when Parra was struggling academically as a freshman, have had a long-lasting impact. Others, like the ability to print out papers for free in TRIO’s computer lab, provided relief when Parra had no other way to pay for those services. And if Parra didn’t have food at home to make her lunch, TRIO provided snacks to ensure that she wasn’t attending class or studying on an empty stomach.

“TRIO SSS provided me with the assistance that I needed to succeed,” Parra said. “I am so thankful for their support.”

TRIO SSS is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to support 206 CSUSM students who meet at least one of the following criteria: They come from a low-income background, they are a first-generation college student and/or they have a verified disability. The program offers academic, personal and professional support to increase the retention and graduation rates of participants.

Parra lives in affordable housing in Carlsbad with her parents and two younger sisters. Though neither of her parents attended college, Parra said her mom continually urged her to pursue an education.

“She’s always told us that we'll be able to have a better life through higher education,” Parra said. “She was the one who actually pushed me forward to apply for college and she was the one who motivated me to keep going. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I was nervous and scared. But my mom has been there the entire way and encouraged me.”

It was also her mother who convinced Parra to apply for the TRIO SSS program, and it didn’t take long for Parra to see the benefits. Not only did TRIO SSS give her priority registration for classes, but Parra quickly learned that she would have much-needed support in all her endeavors.

As a freshman, Parra’s grades plummeted while she was dealing with personal issues, and she found herself on academic probation. She discussed her struggles with Nuttall, program and academic specialist for TRIO SSS, during their regular meetings.

“My meetings would end up being two hours of me just crying and talking,” Parra said. “And she would listen, offer advice and support me. I just wasn't doing well. It was really hard for me to focus in school and do everything well. Margaret ended up coaching me and helping me so I could improve my grades.”

Not only did Parra turn her grades around, but she has twice made the dean’s list and is on track to graduate next spring with a bachelor’s in art, media and design.

“Each time Kathleen came to an appointment, she impressed me with her upbeat and positive attitude, even when she was facing challenges,” Nuttall said. “She always found a way to overcome her challenges and turn the situation around and make it work for her.

“I always found Kathleen to be a committed student. She is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, not only for herself but also her family.”

Succeeding for her family is part of Parra’s motivation. Though now healthy, her mother has battled health issues over the years, and her family has relied solely on her father’s income from his job as the head custodian at a local school.

Parra takes pride in ensuring that her parents don’t need to worry about her financially, and it was difficult when she couldn’t work because of the pandemic. Compounding matters, her father was temporarily furloughed from his job. The funding from TRIO SSS helped, and now Parra is focused on preparing for her final year at CSUSM. She wants to continue setting a positive example for her younger sisters.

“Everything that I do, I always do it looking back because I know that they're watching everything that I'm doing,” Parra said. “ ‘Si-Ma’ is the term that my sister gives me – Sister-Mom. I’m her sister, but I’m also the second mom. So I feel like everything that I do, I have to do well so they can see that I'm going down a good path and they can do the same. That's why I don't do drugs, I don't smoke. I'm in school, and I'm going to graduate in spring of 2021 and try to show them that they can do it, too.”

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314