Academic Advancement Center receives $3.4 million in U.S. Department of Education grants

Student graduating on Oval

The Academic Advancement Center — which helps first-generation students at the intersections of race, class and ability status from the time they arrive at CSU until they graduate — is the recipient of two major grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Colorado State University is the recipient of approximately $3.4 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to help students from institutionally marginalized backgrounds earn a bachelor’s degree.

The Academic Advancement Center — which has played a critical role in CSU’s first-generation student success initiatives for more than 40 years — received funding for the next five years through the federal TRIO Student Support Services Program.

The U.S. Department of Education renewed CSU’s current five-year TRIO grant of $460,000 a year, which serves low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities. The center also received a new five-year grant of $220,000 a year dedicated to helping the same student communities who are pursuing STEM degrees.

The AAC, within the Division of Student Affairs, is part of the Academic Cluster led by Ryan Barone, assistant vice president for student success.

“We know that the Academic Advancement Center is one of several high-impact programs on our campus that not only support individual student success but also collaboratively work to help make the entire CSU community as ready as possible to serve these remarkable students,” Barone said.

Fabiola Mora, director of the Academic Advancement Center and primary investigator on the TRIO grants, said the two grants and the Student Success Initiatives-funded program within the center help fund critical academic support services to nearly 500 students at CSU. She added that the new TRIO STEM grant has allowed the center to hire two additional staff members to help support and mentor 120 STEM degree students.

“This is huge,” Mora said. “TRIO student populations are underrepresented and underserved in STEM fields. There are also significant graduation and retention gaps between first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities in STEM majors. The additional resources will help the center continue addressing systemic inequities that disparately impact minoritized students in STEM while also increasing our capacity to provide more intensive academic support.”

Helping students

Since 1978, CSU’s Academic Advancement Center has been at the heart of helping first-generation students at the intersections of race, class and ability status from the time they arrive at CSU until they graduate.

The center provides a variety of resources, including a seminar course designed to help first-generation students transition to college. The center also offers one-on-one advising as well as student success workshops, ranging from career advice to assistance in applying for graduate school.

Mora explained the Academic Advancement Center works with many campus and external partners — including CSU’s admissions office, the Community for Excellence, Student Diversity Programs and Services, Academic Support Coordinators and local community colleges — to identify students who are eligible for programs and encourages them to apply.

“Historically, students who participate in our program have higher retention and graduation rates at CSU,” she said. “This demonstrates the importance of creating spaces where institutionally marginalized students feel valued and affirmed in their wholeness.”

As part of the new TRIO STEM grant, Mary Ann Lucero started this semester as an associate director at the Academic Advancement Center, working specifically with the STEM unit.

Lucero, who has experience working with TRIO STEM students at Aims Community College, said the center plays a critical role in supporting minoritized students.

“The AAC is committed to pursuing deliberate efforts and critical partnerships that effectively contribute to equitable and inclusive opportunities for STEM engagement which centers students’ multiple identities,” said Lucero, who also is an alumna of the TRIO program. “By establishing intentional efforts, we can more effectively center diversity, equity and inclusion in all foundational aspects of TRIO Student Support Services STEM offerings.”

Student Support Services grant 

The TRIO Student Support Services Program of the U.S. Department of Education began in 1968 and is one of the eight federal TRIO programs authorized by the Higher Education Act to help students succeed in higher education.

TRIO refers to the first three programs from the Higher Education Act: Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services.

Both Mora and Lucero explained that students who participate in TRIO programs are assets to the university community, bringing a variety of perspectives and experiences that deepen the learning experience at CSU.

Mora added the Academic Advancement Center strives to challenge deficit narratives about racially minoritized students, first-generation, low-income and students with disabilities, center their needs, and create change at CSU so these students can thrive.

“Often when we think about first-generation, low-income students, and students with disabilities, they’re painted in a deficit way — they are not prepared or they’re missing something,” Mora said. “That is absolutely not the case. These programs are designed to help illuminate the assets that they bring to our university and hold the institution accountable to serving them equitably. They belong here and have what it takes to be successful.”

Overall, Barone said: “The values around educational equity at the center of the CSU Student Success Initiatives are fully embodied by the work of the AAC. That we secured these competitive grants during this challenging moment in history, allowing us to serve more students than ever, is cause for celebration.”