Education: TRIO helps kids become first-generation college graduates

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Edward Hernandez does it all for "Good Morning Arizona." He runs scripts, teleprompter and is a part-time director.

As glamorous as it sounds, the path to get here hasn't been pretty.

"I grew up in a rough environment," he said. "I saw things I didn't always like, I didn't like being around. So I knew I didn't want to be around that forever, and I wanted to do better."

Although he remained driven throughout his entire high school career, he still wanted more. His goal? To be the first in his entire family to graduate college.

"Being the first to go to college was really important to not only me, but my entire family," he explained. "I have a little brother and sister, and I wanted to set a good example for them. I wanted to show them that I could do it and then help them do it."

But when you're the first, there are even more challenges. How do you pay for college? How do you find a place to live? What about a job? 

Hernandez found help from a federally funded program called TRIO.

"They helped me find a job so I could live on campus, as well as provided me with a counselor to help me," he said. "They helped guide me and answer any questions I had. They helped me out a lot."

TRIO is a program designed to help first-generation college students, people with documented disabilities, have a financial need or are veterans.

"A lot of data suggests those who are first-generation, low-income or with disabilities already enter the higher education realm with a lot of obstacles," Lorenzo Chavez, the director of the program, said. "So we exist and the advantage of working with our program is we break down those obstacles."

But TRIO doesn't stop once they help you get on campus. Although their objective is to get you to graduate, they provide whatever help they can from finding you financial aid to tutoring.

"Our graduation rate is 60 percent, which we've met consistently and exceeded every single year," Chavez said. "The last measurement we're required to achieve is academic standing. Not only are we making sure our kids are graduating but our attendance and passing rate is 80 percent."

TRIO's mission is to make sure the students have a positive experience they will take beyond college and Hernandez agrees.

"They put me on the fast track to graduate," he said. "Yes, you can find some of those answers by yourself but they made it that much easier."

And it all paid off when Hernandez, also known as EJ, walked across the stage to accept his diploma in December.

"It felt good! It was huge weight off my shoulder. I felt accomplished."