TRiO: a program, a lifestyle, a home...

By Brandon Kilijanski '13
Stephanie CalhounMedaille College's TRiO Student Support Services (SSS) Program is a federally-funded program designed to help eligible participants graduate with the grades and skills necessary for success. Participating students work closely with a professional Student Success Advocate, who assists in designing an academic success plan tailored to fit the student’s goals. Some of the free services include academic counseling, personal advisement, individual graduation plans, and career guidance. As a student, Calhoun even received culture support by attending plays, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, and taking etiquette classes. Medaille’s TRiO SSS Program has served more than 200 low-income, first-generation students per year since 1980.

“TRiO definitely helped lead me to the job I have now,” Calhoun says. “It helped me develop a hard-working, diligent attitude and allowed me to have a positive mind set instead of being so hard on myself. TRiO made me realize that if I worked hard enough, I could successfully do any job that I get.”

Following graduation from Medaille, and after attending Thomas M. Cooley Law School for one year, Calhoun transferred to SUNY Buffalo Law School and graduated in 2008. Now she is the Assistant Attorney General at the New York Office of the Attorney General in downtown Buffalo. She works as part of the State Counsel Division defending state agencies in areas of federal constitutional law, state and federal
employment cases, 
and writs of habeas corpus.

The road to success. At the age of 16, Calhoun was the first member of her family to attend college. Her father emigrated from Jamaica, therefore she did not want to move away, and she wanted a school that offered small class settings. 

She graduated from Buffalo Performing Arts High School after her junior year in 1999, and then enrolled at Medaille. One of her first classes at Medaille taught her how to become a true college student.

“I didn’t want to get lost at a big school, and then I just kind of stumbled into the TRiO program,” says Calhoun. “It was my saving grace. I was there from open until close and in between classes also.”

Since Calhoun was a first generation college student, TRiO was the place to go to ask any type of question regarding school. Besides answering questions, the program provided a school setting for her to complete homework assignments, a place for her to type essays on a computer, and a way to borrow an expensive calculator for math class. Calhoun recalls her first college paper was completed on a typewriter at home  because her mother could not afford a computer at the time. However, when she signed up with TRiO, a computer was then accessible, at any time, to complete her essays.

“The program provides educational and interpersonal support to continue along the college journey and make sure you finish school,” says Calhoun. “They put pressure on you to keep up with your studies and make sure you fulfill all the requirements. They keep you from struggling and getting behind.”

Support of a mentor. Dr. Mary Ellen Mulvey, director of TRiO at Medaille, was first a teacher for Calhoun, but then became a mentor.

Just like Calhoun, Mulvey began college at the age of 16.Therefore, the two immediately had a connection.

“I was immediately impressed with her sense of deep interest and curiosity,” notes Mulvey. “She was interested in asking questions and seeking help with such a positive attitude. I understood completely her situation and connected to her well. Once she got into TRiO, it was like she found a home.”

“I knew that I needed that program to be successful,” says Calhoun. “During the struggles to start the college process there were not many people to ask questions, especially because my parents did not have that experience. The TRiO program helped because I could always ask them my questions and it was always a place I could get answers from. Where else can you get that kind of support?”

Calhoun graduated with honors from Medaille in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in pre-law. The TRiO program even helped her prepare for the LSAT to get into law school. Calhoun learned how to be a diligent worker through the TRiO program, saying she has continued to use the same practices she learned at Medaille, such as keeping to a natural daily routine. Even though she is busy at work, Calhoun says she rarely has to bring work home and keeps a good balance with her social life. And now she is passing her knowledge on to another TRiO student through a new initiative. She is mentoring Medaille College senior Zach Kieser.

Returning the favor. In collaboration with the Medaille Alumni Association, Dr. Mulvey initiated the Alumni Mentor Program in September, which matches up a current TRiO student with a Medaille alumnus in the same field. The alumni help with career guidance and provide personal tips for the students along the journey. Calhoun speaks with her mentee, Zach, at least once a month.

“Stephanie is a great role model,” says Mulvey. “She has a very positive attitude and is not afraid to work hard. I think she can show other students how to pursue their dreams.”

Stephanie Calhoun and student in the cityCalhoun is also the current president of the Minority Bar Association of Western New York, an organization comprised of attorneys, judges and law students with the goal to increase diversity within the legal profession. She was voted into the position last December for a one-year term. Recently, the organization held its 31st annual dinner, and Calhoun presented the President’s Award to Dr. Mulvey. The award is given to an individual or a group whose mission supports the Minority Bar Association as a whole.

“TRiO has a lot of the same attributes that the Minority Bar Association has,” notes Calhoun. “It gives people an opportunity to break into a profession that they otherwise might not be able to. I wanted to give back to Dr. Mulvey, just like how she always gave back to me.”

It is safe to say that TRiO opened its doors to Calhoun and gave her a second home. She felt the most comfortable there, and used its services without fail. When she needed help, TRiO was there to point her in the right direction. When she needed a school setting, TRiO provided it along with a tutor. And when she needed a boost in confidence, TRiO stepped in and helped her self esteem.

"It was an experience that money cannot buy," concludes Calhoun. "Words cannot descrive how it helped change my life. When I think about the impact TRiO had on my life, the tears strat to come to me eyes. They provided me extra support and guidance, both academically and personally, and were always interested in meto make sure I was a good student. They also made sure to point out all of my good qualities."

Pictured: Stephanie Calhoun (top) and student mentee, Zach Keiser.
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