BATESVILLE — When Verlinda Cullum, payroll technician and fiscal support specialist at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, was named to the TRiO Hall of Fame, she said she was surprised.
The TRiO Hall of Fame is a collection of TRiO success stories that are placed in a book to be sent to Washington, D.C., so legislators can see the impact the program makes in the lives of students, said Beth Bruce, director of the TRiO program for UACCB.
“I was surprised because I graduated in May, but once you graduate and move on, [the TRiO program] keeps track of you. I just assumed I was kind of done,” Cullum said. “I got an email about a month ago saying that they had selected me and wondered if I would be willing.”
The Federal TRiO Programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. It includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs, according to the program’s website.
Cullum enrolled at UACCB as a non-traditional student in the fall of 2011.
“I heard that this program helps individuals whose parents did not have a higher education, and I was looking for any support I could get. I was very scared when I first came [to college],” she said.
When Cullum graduated from high school, she said she was very insecure and didn’t have the inner strength to go off to college by herself.
“The dream never left me to want to achieve that degree,” she said. “After most of my kids got into elementary school, my husband could tell that [not getting my degree] bothered me. We agreed to do whatever it took to get me back into school.”
Cullum said when she first started at UACCB, she wasn’t sure if she could even do a semester of coursework.
“I thought, maybe I can just do a class and try it out,” she said. “One class led to a semester, and one semester led to an associate’s degree and now that degree is leading to working toward trying to go toward a bachelor’s [degree],” Cullum said.
Thanks to the TRiO program and the faculty, staff and students at UACCB, Cullum was and still is a successful student.
“A lot of [the students] have similar issues. You have a mix of kids who just got out of high school and non-traditional students,” she said. “It’s an even mix. We become a family.”
Cullum’s involvement with the TRiO program at UACCB gave her opportunities to succeed as a student.
“I’m not sure how successful I would have been without the TRiO department,” she said. “When I was stressed or needed support, or if I had a paper to write, they would read over it [before I turned it in].”
While she was finishing up her Associate of Applied Science degree in business administration at UACCB, a position in the payroll department at the school opened up.
“I love being a part of a place that’s changing lives. [This school] has changed my life, therefore, I want to give back,” Cullum said. “I love being around the students.”
Cullum is currently working on her associate’s degree at UACCB and is planning on continuing her education after she leaves.
“I’m kind of leaning toward becoming a special-education teacher, but I also feel pulled to work at a college to help other students like myself who aren’t sure if they can do it or not,” she said.