During my work study job at St. Olaf College last year, I spent seven hours a week entering paperwork into a database at the TRiO office on campus. There was one stack of papers that was my favorite -- the questionnaires.
On these forms, TRiO asked junior high school students about their college and career dreams. When they were finishing high school, TRiO followed up and asked the same questions again.
Their answers let me peek into the lives of the students, and made me wonder who they were and where they came from. Most of them were low income and many were minorities in the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools.
So many students started out with no college goals, and ended up striving to get there. It made me wonder, why? Many students from the program became my classmates at St. Olaf.
I thought a story on TRiO could make an interesting piece for Minnesota Public Radio because the program introduces so many first-generation college students to a world that many of them had never even considered. It seemed to completely alter their life path.
I interviewed a number of TRiO students, and chose to focus on Tenzin Choerap because his story went full circle. Not only did the TRiO program help him, but it has inspired him to help others.
Mara Kumagai Fink is a sophomore at St. Olaf College in Northfield, majoring in sociology/anthropology and political science. She was the recipient of the Asian American Journalists' Association internship at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2008.
Fink has participated in and mentored for KFAI's Girls of Color Voicing Their Choice Youth News Initiative. She's a native of St. Louis Park.