She never expected to work on a bioreactor.
Yet, Zakora Moore, a Washington State University senior from Tacoma, is assisting WSU professor Bernie Van Wie’s lab this summer with a prototype to produce T-cell cultures for immunotherapy, through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates.
It’s a great fit for Moore, a bioengineering student in the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, which helps prepare first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students for future doctoral studies.
“McNair is an introduction to bigger and better things that are possible for higher education,” she says.
Moore joins thousands of students and alumni who have successfully navigated college with the assistance of not only McNair, but other TRIO programs serving low-income and first-generation college students.
McNair was the first TRIO program at WSU in 1999. Raymond Herrera (’96 Soc. Stu., ’99 MEd Couns., ’05 PhD Couns. Psych.) joined the McNair staff a year later and became director in 2002.
“Directing the McNair program is an honor. I get to work with incredibly determined students who go on to research and academic careers,” Herrera says.
Launched in 1965 by the federal government, TRIO programs were the first US college access and retention programs beyond student financial aid to address the serious social and cultural barriers to education in America.
There are 15 TRIO programs across WSU Pullman, Tri-Cities, and Spokane serving about 2,000 individuals, with nearly $4 million in grant funding annually from the US Department of Education. For example, eight Upward Bound programs across WSU prepare students for college, and TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) provides academic development support at WSU.
The goal is simple across the programs: bring in, retain, and graduate the scholars they serve.
Lucila Loera (’98 MEd Couns.), executive director of the Office for Access and Opportunity and SSS director, says Washington State launched its TRIO efforts relatively late around 1999–2001.
“WSU was not seen as a place that high schools and community colleges typically sent their students who were first-gen, low-income,” says Loera, who helped launch and write grants for TRIO.
Once they got off the ground, TRIO programs had a major impact on many students and the number of first-generation students has climbed. Angie Klimko (’01 Psych., ’03 MA Comm.), director of First@WSU (first-generation initiatives), was a single mom who finished her community college degree with TRIO support before coming to WSU.
“These are robust and meaningful programs,” Klimko says. “We set high expectations for our students, and we provide individualized support and guidance in order for them to succeed.” But, she notes, “it’s not just about the adversity they have had to overcome. It’s about utilizing their strengths and honing the skills they already have and celebrating the small successes along the way.”
Staff members need to know financial aid, academic advising, and a lot about WSU. Just as importantly, they listen and adapt to student needs, such as food insecurity.
“We found some of that secret sauce to make students successful, but it’s also recognizing that students have different needs,” Herrera says, noting that TRIO students “have grit and a lot of lived experiences that make them resourceful, resilient, and relentless.”
Their success echoes across families and communities. “That ripple effect is so important because it changes lives. It changes the trajectory of an entire family,” Loera says.
Moore says she’s first in her family to attend a four-year university, so earning her doctorate will be especially meaningful. She is considering dermatology. “There are dermatological practices especially for minorities and people of darker skin tone, but I feel like there’s not enough research out there,” she says.
Herrera and other TRIO staff will be applauding her journey. “You can call it a pipeline, bridge, or pathway,” he says, “but it definitely changes lives.”
Coming soon: stories of TRIO alumni, including Ivan Valdovinos (’15 English, Spanish)