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Westfield State University awarded $1.5 million federal grant for student support services

Westfield State University will receive a $1.57 million Student Support Services (SSS) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help low-income and first-generation college students and students with disabilities succeed in and graduate from college.

At Westfield State, the money will go toward supporting the University’s TRIO SSS Program (SSSP), which offers eligible students free academic and personal support designed to encourage students to graduate and to prepare them for graduate school and/or a career. Services include academic tutoring, financial aid advice, career and college mentoring, and course selection assistance. Such services enhance academic success and make it more likely that students will graduate or transfer with the lowest possible debt.

“This grant allows Westfield State to provide exceptional, comprehensive academic support to 160 students who demonstrate academic need, are first-generation college students, have low income, and/or have a disability,” said Celeste Donovan, Ph.D., director of Westfield State’s TRIO SSSP, who co-authored the grant with TRIO Assistant Director Charlotte Capogna-Amias.

Westfield State’s 2020–21 grant award is $314,604. Over its five-year cycle, the total grant award is expected to be approximately $1.57 million, depending on budget allotments and congressional appropriations.

“We are so appreciative of and humbled by this federal support to serve members of our student population facing significant challenges,” said Robert Kersting, Ph.D., Westfield State interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This funding will enable the University to continue to provide critical assistance to these aspiring scholars.”

Over the course of more than 40 years of service, the TRIO SSSP at Westfield State has helped thousands of college students to earn a degree. It has played a critical role in the success of many Westfield State alumni.

“I always hear about surrounding yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher,” said Melissa Otero ’20, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. “However, I never thought that TRIO staff and students would become those people away from home who would believe in me and my ability to succeed, regardless of how hard life hits you. TRIO lifted me up when I needed it the most.”

TRIO refers to the three programs (Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services), which existed within the reauthorization of The Higher Education Act of 1968, and was designed to assist eligible students to begin and complete a post-secondary education. It recognizes that students whose parents do not have a college degree have more difficulties navigating the complexity of decisions that college requires for success; it bolsters students from low-income families who have not had the academic opportunities that their college peers have had, and helps students with disabilities remove obstacles preventing them from thriving academically. Many SSSP alumni have gone on to great success, among them Emmy, Tony, and Academy award-winning actress Viola Davis, U.S. Rep. Gwendolyn Moore of Wisconsin’s 4th District, and Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic astronaut.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the systemic inequality and financial hardship which keep promising students from succeeding in college. Student Support Services is needed now more than ever,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the non-profit Council for Opportunity in Education in Washington, D.C.