It was a sunny Thursday afternoon when my convoluted search for a news story at Mills College turned into a reflection of my own college-preparatory experience. It also brought into light the TRIO programs that have helped me and many of my East Oakland peers in that time-consuming, often nerve-racking process of graduating high school college ready.
Located on Seminary Avenue, Mills, a private, all-women’s college, is a town within a town. The quiet atmosphere and beautiful trees make the campus an amazing place to study and think. The two TRIO programs found on this campus – Upward Bound and Mills Educational Talent Search (METS) – invite Oakland students to take advantage of their academic and college preparatory resources. Both Upward Bound and METS reach out to low-income, first generation college bound students in Oakland and are funded by the Department of Education and TRIO funds.
It wasn’t long before I ran into Paula Fonacier, a college advisor from the METS program who I had one-on-one advising sessions with at Castlemont High School.
“I was actually on my way to Castlemont (High School),” said Fonacier, “If you turn right where the TRIO sign is, then go up the hill, and then turn right again, you’ll find the office. I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you.”
This was the second time I was actually going to be inside the TRIO office at Mills. The first time was around the beginning of my senior year, when I took an exciting field trip to Cal State East Bay. This trip – along with field trips to other colleges such as UC Berkeley and Chico State University – was offered by METS at no cost to me or any other student in the program. The bus ride and lunch were provided, and I was even able to go to the office to get a free bus pass, which eased my stress and uncertainty about somehow getting a ride home.
This was also the first time I had ever been in Fonacier’s office. All face-to-face contact I had with Fonacier was actually on my high school campus, which was very convenient. She helped me understand my grades and graduation requirements, helped me figure out my top college choices, and even just relieved my tension about applying to college. Thinking back, just having someone from the outside – like Fonacier – tell me that I was on the right track made a real difference.
Back at the TRIO office, I was greeted by Mayra Guevara, the director of METS. She offered me water, and then briefed me about the two TRIO programs and even some of the transitions happening in the near future.
“Students who take advantage of the (METS) five-week summer program are more likely to get intense services and stronger relationships with the faculty,” said Guevara. “Our goal is to eventually extend and strengthen that aspect of the program.”
The pink newsletter Guevara handed me was a summary of the METS summer program. It highlighted events like the lab experience in which students grew bacteria, one-on-one advising, and field trips to different colleges and universities.
“We (METS) are currently looking for a replacement college advisor for Barbie Penn, who just moved on from the program this June,” said Guevara. “Currently, Upward bound is in the process of getting a new director, and recently hired two new college advisors.”
“Next week METS will start recruiting student advisors from Mills College to assist the main college advisors in the program,” said Guevara.
It occurred to me that by providing outreach both on the Mills campus and at Oakland target schools, the programs are connecting scholars and professionals to young citizens throughout the city in a positive setting. In that way, that safe community is extended from the college campus environment and into the surroundings of Oakland youth. As an alumna of METS, I have truly appreciated the one-on-one advising at my high school and the college tours. I regret not taking advantage of some other services of the program such as tutoring and the five-week summer program. However, not having the obligation to attend these events gave me the flexibility that I absolutely needed to take care of other responsibilities in and out of school and still get something out of the program.
Guevara said, “I am a first generation student from Oakland who is an alumna of TRIO. Coming back and providing students from a similar background as mine the opportunities of this program is important to me.”