If you call the CCV-Rutland academic center or walk through the front door, it’s likely that the first person you will interact with is Ayla Thompson. As a CCV alumna herself, Ayla enjoys using her experience to support students in her role as senior administrative assistant. “I just have a true passion to help others,” she said.
Growing up, Ayla had plans of going to college to be a lawyer. But, when she was in high school she fell down the path of addiction, which changed her life. She began to barely attend school and, at that point, gave up on her goal of further education. For thirteen years she struggled with drug addiction before hitting a turning point and becoming sober. For Ayla, the year she started taking classes at CCV was the pivotal moment. “That was me wanting to change my life,” she said of starting classes. “I just knew I needed a better life and I needed to provide for my son…I was able to see very quickly how wonderful CCV was and all that it had to offer for me.”
Ayla started taking classes at CCV-Rutland in 2019 and pursued a degree in behavioral science. “I was very lucky because at the time I came to college was a time I really needed support,” Ayla said. As a first-generation college student, among other factors, she was eligible to be a part of CCV’s TRIO Student Support Services program. “I was very shocked at the amount of support I received. For myself, I was not only able to get academic and financial help, I was also able to get life coaching. Helping me with my organization skills, studying for a test…there were just a lot of things that people went above and beyond for and I had a wonderful experience.”
Elizabeth King is the director of student support services at CCV and oversees the TRIO program. “The primary goal of our TRIO Student Support Services program is to partner with first-generation, low-income students to achieve graduation within a four-year window, at a higher rate than their non-TRIO peers. The program supports persistence towards graduation, maintaining academic good standing, and transfer planning to four-year colleges,” she said. TRIO students have access to one-on-one course-specific tutoring, as well as support in navigating life stressors that might impact success. Those in the program are also typically eligible to apply for special TRIO grants of $750 to $1,500 as well as transfer visits to four year colleges in Vermont.
As a first-generation college student entering CCV, Ayla said, “I was terrified. I had support from my family, but I didn’t have the experience or comfort of someone telling me that it was all ok and then giving me experience and examples of what college was like.” King reiterated this sentiment, saying that this is often the experience for most first-gen students and is why the TRIO program is so important. “This lack of conversation about college often makes the idea of going to college feel intimidating and like ‘something that other people do.’ [TRIO advisors] have intentionally smaller caseloads than their peers, which allows them the opportunity to provide specialized support.”
In addition to the unknowns of college, Ayla said she “always had an underlying pressure of needing to succeed because I was the first person in my family to go to college.” The TRIO program helped Ayla alleviate this pressure. “Being a part of TRIO you will receive an extra cheerleader in your corner. If there’s a struggle going on in your life, ask your TRIO coach for guidance and I can assure you if they do not have the answers they will find someone who does.”
CCV’s federally funded TRIO program began in 1983, and has a mission of increasing retention and graduation rates of first-generation, low-income students. CCV’s TRIO program supports this mission primarily through advising. “Students develop personal, academic, career goals and financial goals and work with their TRIO advisor to identify the skills, strategies and support needed to make achieving those goals a reality,” King said.
Ayla graduated from CCV in 2022 and is planning to continue her studies at Vermont State University this fall to become a drug and alcohol counselor, though she has also considered pursuing the career path of an academic advisor after working at CCV. Ayla will tell you that the path her life took wasn’t what was originally planned, but “as horrible as those 13 years of my life were, I wouldn’t take them back because it made me who I am today. It made me appreciate life more, made me value the little things more, and I have a story to tell. With that story it gave me the passion I have today to help others. I didn’t think I was going to go to college, but I’m very proud that I did.”
The TRIO program at CCV is proud to celebrate 40 years of supporting students like Ayla. If you are a first-generation college student, CCV welcomes you to visit ccv.edu/trio and reach out to a TRIO advisor to learn more.