When Alma Chavez walks across the stage during the fall commencement ceremony at New Mexico State University Saturday, Dec. 9, it will be a celebration for the Juarez, Mexico, native, who was selected as the outstanding graduate for the College of Arts and Sciences.
A TRIO Student Support Services program participant while at NMSU, Chavez will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, psychology and Spanish.
“We are very proud of Alma’s accomplishments,” said Carol Hicks, TRIO SSS program director. “TRIO staff felt honored knowing Alma, her journey and the grit, resilience, passion for learning and the hard work she exerted on her road to graduation.”
Chavez said she was surprised to receive the honor, which includes her leading the College of Arts and Sciences into the Pan American Center as the standard bearer.
“I felt so blessed that all my efforts were recognized with this award, even though a professor nominated me, I did not think that I would receive it.”
Chavez, who graduated from the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas, after coming to the U.S. at 14, said learning English was a challenge but that was just one of the ways the TRIO SSS staff supported her at NMSU.
“I really enjoyed being part of TRIO throughout my college career because it has helped me a lot,” she said. “The mentors have helped me with my grammar, communication skills and always supported me academically. Also, they became my friends because they are very nice. Since the beginning, they have always been committed to helping all students, including me.”
U.S. Department of Education grants fund the TRIO SSS program, which is housed in the Student Success Center in Hardman and Jacobs Undergraduate Learning Center, and serves 350 students at NMSU, who are first-generation college students, low-income and/or have a documented disability.
“TRIO plays a significant role in the lives of the participants,” Hicks said. “TRIO provides opportunities using an individualized approach applicable to each student’s need. TRIO provides guidance in accessing resources, navigating processes and providing information to participants to assist them in making informed decisions about their education.”
The TRIO SSS program offers peer mentoring, peer tutoring, advocacy and personal support, assistance with financial aid, graduate school preparation, college success workshops, equipment loans such as calculators, iClickers, digital recorders and translators, scantrons, tickets to cultural events, GRE partial fee waivers and accessibility to the Student Success Center computer lab and study area.
Hicks said the most challenging thing for all students is paying for college.
“Without a role model in the home, TRIO participants have to learn to navigate the college process from application, to attendance, finances and graduation by themselves. That is why it is so important to provide them with resources,” she said.
A first-generation college student, Chavez agreed college can be difficult.
“At the beginning, it was hard to organize my time for school, work, events and more. Being a first-generation student is hard because you have no one that can give you advice about college.”
Chavez said she plans to take a year to conduct research before pursuing a master’s degree in forensic science in hopes of becoming a forensic anthropologist for the FBI, CIA or Interpol. She encourages other students to follow their dreams.
“Even though one door closes, it does not mean that others will not open,” Chavez said. “Every challenge makes you stronger and if you have any question about college, do not be afraid to ask.”
Information from NMSU