Student Stories

Matthew Dressa

Portland State University | Upward Bound | Talent Search
Graduation: 2021

I was born in San Diego, California as the son of two African immigrants. At a young age my family, which consisted of two sisters and my parents, moved to Portland, Oregon to be closer to family. I lived in a house with nearly 10 people. Our family was the one struggling financially. To commence my education, my father enrolled me in a school that was in a neighborhood with individuals from a higher socioeconomic status than I was. I was going to a school where most kids had everything, but I had to work harder than them because I knew that my family did not have everything.

As I transitioned from elementary to middle school, the experiences were all too similar, but it was not until I reached high school when I encountered something different. My first interaction with TRIO was when a man named Darryl Kelly invited me to join a program named ETS. After being encouraged to join, my life drastically changed. Joining Educational Talent Search was the stepping-stone to being more involved in TRIO. In the summer of 2015, I joined Upward Bound, and with my engagement in the summer program, I learned so much! Upward Bound really opened up the gates for me to have easier access to college. Through Upward Bound, I was encouraged to reach higher than what I could have ever imagined. I gained leadership and networking skills that ultimately developed my success. In Upward Bound, I was given the privilege to serve as Student Input Board president. I also had the honor to travel to Washington DC for the National Student Leadership Congress for Upward Bound Students, and to the state of New York to visit the colleges where I was accepted. Without this program, my future would not be as clear as I see it now.

TRIO is truly a life-changing program. Coming from a low-socioeconomic status, college was not always an option for me. Just the mere price tag of a college education was enough to scare my family and I. Upward Bound played an essential role in helping me apply for scholarships, and college. In the fall of 2017, I plan to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. I could not have done it without Upward Bound. Staff from this program wrote me letters of recommendation, and assisted me with constructing my essays, which allowed admissions committee to know me on a personal level. I am truly grateful for a TRIO, for it has helped shape me into the person I am today.

Celeste Hernandez-Cobian

Oregon Institute of Technology | Student Support Services
Graduation: 2017

  1. What is your greatest memory as a TRIO participant?

One of the greatest memories from my time in TRIO was going into my advisor’s office and having a conversation like if she was a very close friend. She made feel welcomed and comfortable talking about anything, not just my education.

Also, my TRIO admission conversation was very emotional for me, because one question had me explain why I am going to college. My parents are Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in 1990 to give my siblings and I a “better” life. My parents are the reason I am here now.

  1. How has TRIO impacted your life?

It has made me realize that someone somewhere is always willing to reach out to you and help your dreams come true. I was more than happy to be part of TRIO. Everyone in TRIO has inspired me to help others and reach out to those who would love to make their dreams come true. It is a great feeling to know someone is there to assist; I know because I have been there.

  1. Had it not been for TRIO I would be…

I probably would have not passed some of my classes. I was struggling with some of my classes, and at one point, I just wanted to give up trying. My advisor helped me find resources and helped me come up with ideas for me to learn studying materials in a fun way.

  1. As a TRIO Alumni, you have a unique experience that you could share with current TRIO students. Can you give some advice to a student still working on their education?

At the moment, you might not think you might be able to “do” it. Keep your thoughts focused on that one goal and you will be able to do anything happen. When I struggled with something, my thought was always, “I can do this; I will make my parents proud.” Graduating from college and getting a degree has always been my dream, and it has always been my parents dream too. I am the first-generation college student and the first graduate in my family.

  1. Describe a relationship that you were able to develop through your involvement with TRIO that has impacted your life in a positive way.

I have already mentioned that my advisor Brenda Odesha has been more that helpful for the past 2 years. She has always given me a lot of advice to help me be successful. If she does not hear from me in a couple of weeks, she will email me and make sure I am doing ok. Michal Kawka has been very helpful when I needed assistance with my resume. He has taken some time from his day to review and give me ideas on my resume. I am very thankful for both individuals that have assisted me in many ways.


Hi, my name is Crystal Ambrocio and my major is biochemistry. I have been in TRIO since middle school and I did it all through high school as well. Then, coming into college, I also joined TRIO-SSS. They’ve been able to help me in so many ways. Just being able to have that extra support so that I could make a smooth transition has helped me. They helped me understand what classes I need to take and how to fill out the FAFSA. My parents didn’t have that opportunity to actually even finish high school. And, they didn’t even have any kind of background information on where to start or how to start. So, TRIO helped me with the understanding of all of that stuff. It’s been life changing because I don’t think that if I didn’t have their support, I don’t think I’d be in the same position I’d be in today if I never joined TRIO-SSS because they have been able to guide me and help me in all sorts of ways. Crystal Ambrocio – Mt. Hood Community College SSS TRIO Program – 2018


TRIO has deeply impacted my life, and it has become a part of my extended family.  If I have questions or just need to talk, my advisor or any advisor has always been around to help.  There have been many times I felt like giving up and quitting but then I would go talk to a TRIO advisor, and they would help me work through the issues.  Another huge impact TRIO had on my life was helping me to navigate through my degree program. I would get help choosing classes that would work best for my degree, and they would assist me in clarifying whom I needed to talk to and what I needed to get done prior to graduation.  They really understand the process and complications that come from being a nontraditional student.

 If it had not been for TRIO I would probably still be wondering around campus trying to figure out how to navigate my program.  My TRIO advisors helped me figure out an academic plan for my program that was manageable for my life.  I felt all alone at first trying to figure out what classes I needed to take and how long it would take for me to graduate.  They guided me in selecting classes, financial aid as well as getting tutoring.

If I could give advice to students still working on their education, it would be saying “Don’t give up”.   Things get really complicated and messy but talk with your advisor and tell them what is going on. You will be surprised at what these wonderful people can do to get you back on track.  I am a single mother of four with no support system, but I found that support system in the TRIO program.  They believed in me 100% and always had my back with whatever I was going through.                 Angela Thierolf – Oregon Institute of Technology SSS TRIO Program – 2017