Achieving Balance: An Overview of TRIO Student Support Services


Photo credit: Huong Nguyen

Some of the TRIO family, who study together on a first-name basis.

Alana McCarthy Light

Skateboarding down the Rockville Campus parking lot on a Tuesday afternoon, Professor Albert Kapikian of TRIO’s Student Support Services at Montgomery College [MC] Rockville describes the support services program as a “spiritual reaction” known in ancient Greek philosophy as “Thumos”: “(like) a viciously attacking guard dog that also will sit on your lap, [TRIO supports] striving, not winning.” Learning Specialist and English Professor Kapikian, informs me that “in the south, TRIO [remains] the only program that cares enough to pull [students] out of bed.” He explains his hobby, joined by other skateboarding TRIO students, including myself, and Program Manager Huong Nguyen, as another “sport brought to TRIO to exercise Thumos.”

TRIO students skateboard in the Montgomery College parking lot. (Photo credit: Huong Nguyen)

TRIO, to which I gratefully belong, received its name from a trio of federally funded programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services. Notable alumni of the three programs include Academy Award-nominated actress Yale alumni Angela Bassett, first Hispanic astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz, Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis, and ABC Correspondent John Quiñones.

“I would have been so much more successful in school had I known TRIO,” Ms. Nguyen explains, along with how the program’s “accountability to report to the Federal Department of Education; [with the] most important objective as to graduate 33% of their 175 students”, a statistic which the program exceeds.  Montgomery College as a whole retains a graduation rate of only 14%, while TRIO imperatively graduated 43% of their students last year, whom call each other “family.” Huong began her career at MC “as an academic advisor [who] loved working with the student population, [leading her to TRIO,] which serves disabled, first generation and low income students; [she identifies] with all three [communities].”

In 2021, 93% of MC’s Student Support Services students had good academic standing, 43% graduated, and 39% of students transferred to a four-year university. (Photo credit: Huong Nguyen)

Huong reviews TRIO’s functions as giving, “students additional support, including academic advising, tutoring, and workshops on all three campuses.” Additionally, the third full time staff member, Academic Advisor Becky Boyer, assists with “applying and filling out financial aid, career advising, and transfer.” Finally, TRIO offers social events, including but not limited to: outings, skateboarding, and tennis.

Business major Daniel Fellman, also skateboarding, joined TRIO as an English, math, and nutrition tutor after meeting Ms. Huong. He calls the program “very friendly” and his favorite part must be “the community aspect. Everyone [treats each other] like family.” Interior Design major Parveen Hussain comments that: “TRIO is family.” MC Student Thomas Abakah, another skateboarder, “just likes to hang out at TRIO.”

Alana McCarthy Light long boarding with Professor Albert Kapikian on the skateboard. (Photo credit: Denise Yan)

Nursing major Emmanuel Louis reflects on the self-disciplined and task-achieving ethos of TRIO students, who “find a community to achieve goals through TRIO’s tools… with diverse knowledge in academic and nonacademic subjects.” He joined the program, which provides him “emotional support and tutoring” after recruitment from Prefessor Kapikian on a skateboard: “I was surprised [to see him skateboarding] and he asked if I was a first generation student; he told me he was apart of a program called TRIO.” Emmanuel says, “I felt lost… TRIO give me hope as I’m not the only person going through this stuff.”

English Professor and Learning Specialist Albert Kapikian rundowns the history of TRIO, which incarnated as, “the only bill Lyndon B. Johnson signed outside of the White House.” LBJ signed the Higher Education Act, successfully promoting college retention, at his alma matter, Texas State University in 1965 in recognition of his former role teaching first generation Mexican immigrants. Kapikian notes former President Donald J. Trump attempted to completely defund Student Support Services in the 2019 Fiscal Year’s Budget to Congress, but failed.

TRIO hosts a myriad of events, including a fall celebration to make midterm season easier. (Photo credits: Huong Nguyen)

Around 65 students hold their place on a waitlist to join TRIO. I had the good fortune of joining the program via skateboard recruitment in May of 2022, and my life in general feels more enjoyable ever since. To philosophize on the program like Professor Kapikian, TRIO promotes the virtues of intelligence, prudence, skill, and understanding. My favorite memory of TRIO would be learning to skateboard in about ten minutes, leading me to a journey of discovering balance and freedom in my student life.

For more information on TRIO Student Support Services at Montgomery College, please visit: