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May 14, 2020
Fabiola Corona came to the United States from Mexico when she was 14 years old. Spanish was the only language she knew. During four years of high school, she picked up English and is conversationally fluent but sometimes struggles when it comes to written English. Now a student majoring in business administration at Piedmont Technical College (PTC), Corona has been receiving extra tutoring help in English and math through the college’s Student Support Services (SSS) department.
“I applied for SSS in my second semester after a difficult first semester,” she said. “I was taking night classes and working full-time during the day. Everything was new, and I was often confused.”
As her first semester came to a close, Corona and her husband decided it would be best for her to quit her day job and focus on college full-time, attending classes during the day and scaling back to a part-time job on the side.
“My English instructor told me about Student Support Services because they offer free tutoring,” Corona said. “I thought, wow. I could have a personal tutor if I needed one! I didn’t know that. They have so many things to help you with your classes. The staff showed me how to apply. It wasn’t hard. I was accepted, and then was assigned my own personal counselor. She calls to check in on me. She has been there for me, and I really like her.”
Supported by a federal TRIO grant, SSS provides services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds such as low-income students, those who are first-generation students, or those who have a documented disability. At PTC, the program serves at least 165 eligible students each year.
“Student success is our number one priority,” said Jessie Long, director of SSS at PTC. “Each staff member works to understand each individual student’s academic need – their educational and career goals. We work with a variety of departments and community resources to attempt to resolve any barriers a student may be facing that might prevent them from earning an education.”
A primary focus of the program is financial literacy. It offers grant aid/scholarship awards for students who are in jeopardy of not completing their degree due to financial need or instability. So far during the 2019-20 academic year, SSS has awarded more than $20,000 in assistance.
Students in the SSS program are assigned an academic coach/counselor as well as at least three hours of specialized, one-on-one tutoring a week. They also can check out laptops or calculators if needed for their coursework. The program also offers cultural and educational trips as well as a series of career-readiness workshops on topics like resume writing, professionalism and work ethic, networking and interviewing. For students intending to transfer to a four-year institution, SSS organizes group college tours throughout the state.
An associate in science transfer student who plans on attending Lander University after graduating from PTC in 2022, Chloe Lamborne describes herself as a “late-in-life college student.”
“I have been working as a cook at a local company for about 10 years,” she explained. “I started SSS to get a leg up in life. I was furloughed from my job on May 1. … I really don’t want to lose this job. They have worked with my PTC school schedule.”
Despite the unknowns, Lamborne remains optimistic and appreciates the extra support from SSS.
“My counselor helps with academic things and planning or is there to just talk about life,” she said. “That has been amazing.”
An SSS scholarship awarded last year enabled Lamborne to purchase a laptop computer. She also appreciates the career-readiness classes available through SSS. As a full-time working student, Lamborne says that she doesn’t worry if she misses a class.
“With the classes, they send out a lot of materials and work sheets for things like budgeting and resume-making,” Lamborne said, “so if I miss a class, I still get the information anyway.”
Lamborne says she often recommends that students like her consider applying for SSS.
“I don’t meet a lot of people my age at school, but when I meet others who are working full-time and may be struggling, I totally recommend it,” she said. “SSS can help with lending computers or extra tutoring, which is a godsend.”
Each year, SSS hosts a leadership development training or retreat for students. It’s a one-and-a-half-day event at Fellowship Camp and Conference Center. It focuses on understanding and improving leadership and team-building skills.
Business major Takeria Jones has only one regret about accessing SSS — that she didn’t apply sooner.
“When I first heard about Student Support Services, I didn’t think I would be eligible. I don’t know why,” she said. For that reason, she went her first semester without important benefits before she decided to learn more. She not only qualified but was able to secure a scholarship she otherwise would not have obtained. “Student Support Services has really motivated me to do better for myself. It has been the best thing that has happened to me while at Piedmont Tech.”
Though she worked a retail job while enrolled, she tried to attend the workshops offered whenever she could. “I love their workshops,” she said. “They are very informative. They really provided the stepping stone I needed. … This one program has made such a difference in my college career. It has really changed my life.”
With extra help from SSS, Corona continues to do well at PTC and hopes to graduate this fall. Her English skills are getting better every day, which begs the question: Is one language dominating over the other for her?
“No,” she said with a laugh. “I think my dreams now are bilingual.”
PHOTOS: Fabiola Corona, Takeria Jones