TRIO Disabilities Student Support Services program offers academic support to students

The Center for Multicultural and Educational Opportunities was awarded five grants totaling $7.1 million from the Department of Education last September, one of which was created to fund a TRIO Disabilities Student Support Services (DSSS) program for five years. 

Allison Gonzalez, who formerly worked at the Educational Access Center (EAC), is now the director of DSSS, and she explained the application and enrollment process for students.

“There’re many different branches in TRIO,” Gonzalez said. “For this particular branch that serves students with disabilities, 100% of the students enrolled in the program have to have a verified disability, and then a percentage of them also have to be low income. We don’t have to have any first-generation students, whereas some of the other TRIO programs [do].”

Students must apply to TRIO DSSS, which provides access to tutoring for any first or second-year courses, additional major advising, academic coaching and more. According to Gonzalez, academic coaching is often crucial for students with disabilities, as it provides accountability for time management and organization with a mentor students feel comfortable with.

[Photo of a piece of artwork in the TRIO offices]
Photo by Blake Hunter | The Arbiter

“One of the biggest focuses of this particular program is the academic coaching that we do,” Gonzalez said. “When I worked for the EAC, something that I really noticed was that a lot of students were just kind of missing some of the strategies that they needed to be successful college students. So, that’s a lot of what we do in one-on-one coaching, where we’re addressing some of the academic concerns that a student is having.”

For example, Gonzalez said that for a student with severe social anxiety who is taking a class with several presentations and a lot of group work, an academic advisor would help that student build the skills necessary for that class.

“We wouldn’t want them to avoid doing presentations,” Gonzalez said. “What we would want to do is teach them some skills and strategies so they can confidently work in groups and competently do presentations. It doesn’t happen overnight, obviously. It does take practice and it does take some skill-building.”

The EAC, located next to Veteran Services Center, provides an additional connection to resources that make a Boise State degree more attainable for students with both permanent and temporary disabilities.

Wendy Turner, the director of the EAC, explained that while the center is remote, students can still reach out in the same ways as before the coronavirus pandemic. Through the Access Portal on the EAC’s website, students can request accommodations from the EAC, which staff members then review.

“The student is the key to the whole thing,” Turner said. “They’ve got to explain what their situation is, what barriers exist for them, and then we work together to figure out some accommodations so that they have access to their classes.”

Mike Gibson, one of the EAC’s three access coordinators, said that the interview with students and later conversations with professors are both important steps. With a conversation, a challenging situation on paper can turn into a simple solution for a student, whether it be that they need some extra time on a test or a book in an alternative format.

“The interview is really key to making sure that the accommodations are tailor-made to that particular student because it varies so widely from individual to individual,” Gibson said. “It can be a very collaborative process to make things happen because we each bring our own individual experiences to help solve whatever the barrier might be.”

Turner and Gibson both hope that the difficulties and barriers to education that have been exacerbated by the pandemic encourage faculty, students and staff alike to consider learning about and implementing Universal Design, which promotes practices and spaces that automatically provide accommodations for people of all abilities, ages and situations.

“The thing I’m hoping that continues [after the pandemic] is helping to inspire faculty to think differently about things because they were forced out of their box, simply out of their comfort zone,” Gibson said. “Learning how to work in a group and maximize each other’s strengths really creates a much more inclusive environment for everyone.”

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