Part 16: Student Support Services (TRIO)

By Tim Nichols,

Director of Student Support Services at

Potomac State College of WVU


It was the first day of my two months of training in the alpine mountaineering/ski school.  I was a young soldier eager to show my ability on skis after having been on them only a few times.  The colonel told us to assign ourselves to one of three groups: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  I went to the intermediate group.  Then, the colonel instructed us to get into our skis, sidestep up a slope, and ski.

In turn, each of the troops in front of me glided down the hill.  The colonel nodded at each one, and the groups remained together.  Then it was my turn.  I struggled down the hill by luck more than by technique.  The colonel tapped me with his ski pole, pointed at the beginner's group, and said, "You go over there."

I learned a tough--and valuable--lesson that day and in the two months that followed.  In the beginners group I learned the basics, then built on those.  Before the training ended, my skills improved to such a level that I competed with those who had rightly started in the advanced group.  Once I got over the embarrassment of demotion from my self-appointed position, I think the training was more pleasant than it would have been if I'd struggled to keep up with soldiers who arrived at the school with greater skill. 

When you're first starting a new thing--whether it's a sport, a hobby, a job, or course of academic study--it is valuable to recognize that you have deficits to overcome.  In fact, enrolling in college is another way of saying that you are aware that you do not know and have not experienced all that you need for the kind of success you eventually hope to achieve.  A child learns to crawl before she can walk and to walk with help before she can walk unaided.  The principle is true for all stages of life.  Students beginning their academic careers would be wise to:

·              be comfortable admitting that they don't know now all that they will be expected to know at graduation,

·              realize that it is not a shame to be a beginner at a new thing and that thinking otherwise will cripple efforts to learn,

·              grab every opportunity for individual guidance and extra assistance,

·              actively ask for help from instructors, tutors, and fellow students rather than prematurely claim competence.

Nearly a thousand colleges and universities, like Potomac State College of West Virginia University, provide a federally-funded TRIO program called Student Support Services that's specifically designed for students who've grown beyond the “I-can-do-it-myself” view of the world.  These programs are bursting with resources and eager to provide qualified students with tutoring and other forms of academic assistance for free.  Eligible students include those whose parents did not obtain at least a bachelor's degree, those whose family income falls within specific guidelines, and those who have disabilities.  The ingredient that students must add to make the whole process work is really the most important one:  the willingness to acknowledge that they would benefit from help.

I've mastered skiing.  Now I want to learn to fly.  Do you think they'll let me at the controls of a jumbo jet in flight very soon?  No.  So I'll have to start at the next step from where I am now:  ground school.

There are steps to climb and doors to open that lead to that wonderful world of opportunity. You say you'd like to be president of a corporation?  A physician?  A teacher?  You can't go straight from where you are to the top, so what's the next step for you?  Probably an application to the college of your choice and an investigation of available support services once you're enrolled.  To check out Student Support Services at Potomac State College, call 304-788-6855.  Best wishes as you map out a wonderful tomorrow! 

Additional Resources:


All "College Tips" columns are available at


TRIO Student Support Services at



Potomac State College of West Virginia University at or (304-788-6820 or toll free: 1-800-262-7332)


Mineral County Technical Center at (304-788-4240)

Eastern Community and
Technical College at (304-434-8000; or toll free: 1-877-982-2322)

Community and Technical College System of West Virginia at (304-558-2411)