Today is Trio Day, a day that represents hope, service, compassion and understanding. Over the course of the last two and a half years I've been so amazingly blessed because of the welcoming spirit that the staff at Student Support Services embodies each and everyday. My name is James Gilchrest, I am a first generation college student and a student veterans and I am a Homeland Security and Emergency Management Major. I am from Juneau, Alaska and I graduated from Thunder Mountain High School in 2012. Upon graduating high school I accepted a firefighting scholarship with Capital City Fire and Rescue at UAS, after a few months into the program there was word that the funding was going to be cut. The fire program really fired my heart for service so I enlisted in the Alaska National Guard on October 11th 2012, left for basic training November 11th, and graduated from Military Police school on April 14th 2013. After I got back home I immediately asked to go annual training because I was eager and excited to meet the other soldiers in the unit. The training ran into May and on the last day of I was chosen to be on a platoon of 30 soldiers to deploy to Guantanamo Bay Cuba on September 9th 2013. That summer consisted of extreme deployment preparation. I can't really go into specific details about the mission but I can tell you it is certainly an experience that I'll never forget. The surprising thing about this is, this is where my journey to UAF begins. The internet in GTMO was horrible and it took many days for me to complete all of the necessary paperwork to get admitted to UAF. Luckily the lovely people in the admissions department were understanding of my situation and helped me every step of the way. Now that I think of It im pretty sure I applied for SSS while I was deployed to! So I got accepted to UAF, which seemed like a miracle to meet at the time. I thought that my college days had ended when I joined the military but in many ways it increased my chances. We left GTMO on July 21st 2014 I got back home on August 5th or 6th in time so be home for the birth of my now 2 year old sister Amy. My journey to Fairbanks officially started on August 15th. Then boom! My UAF experience kicked off with orientation! I enjoyed orientation so much that went up to the coordinator, shook his hand and said thank you. Little did I know that that man Ronnie Houchin would become my supervisor, mentor and friend. I ended up applying for the orientation assistant position which bloomed into a world pool of opportunities for me. During Orientation week I was able to meet up with my SSS advisor for the first time and I was kinda nervous because I didn't know what to expect but Dana Kinzy took care of me, welcome me and ensure me that I was on the right track. Dana really helped me understand the importance of balance, having a social life and getting involved. She wasn't just there to inform me on class decisions, she was there because she wanted to be, she was always present and made me feel like a champion.
A quote that will always stick me with that really emphasizes the importance of trio in my life. So many people come to college trying to find their purpose in life, I plan on living with purpose and seeking and pursuing opportunities. Trio opens the door to opportunity, it's programs provide hope to those who may not have it otherwise. It's a program that say yes to life, yes to opportunity and yes to people who need help. As a first generation college student being able to attend and graduate college sparks a fire in my heart, it helps to believe that commitment and hard work will surpass. I didn't come to college to prove anything to anybody, I came because I believe that I can utilize what I've learned to help other first generation college students thrive, grow and ultimately succeed. Earl Nightingale Gale once said that success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. In this case I said that I wanted to graduate and I have believed and work towards graduation day with blood sweat and tears. This mentality made my passion for higher learning high, I told myself that I have no excuse not to succeed. Unfortunately there have been times where I haven't gotten the grades that I wanted, I haven't failed a class but withdrawing from two of them was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, I felt like an idiot, but I realized that I couldn't be productive by setting myself on fire and overloading on credits isn't always the wisest decision--So I swallowed my pride (Thanks Dana) Who ensured me I would still be on track.
My experience and success at UAF has been greatly fostered by SSS, Because of the advising that this program has provided me I will be graduating with my degree in May, and it has only taken me 2.5years instead of 4. One semester I was stuck on campus with very little money , SSS was there with open arms and a box of food to keep me through the winter. There's so many joyful experiences that I've had being a part of SSS that it's hard to count. I think that the most rewarding and exhilarating feeling that I get from SSS is the warmth I feel knowing that everyone in that office wants me to excel and grow. Because of SSS I have been able to achieve dreams I never thought possible. SSS has taught me how compassion and service change lives and most importantly how to be of service and utilize my experiences in college to help others who are in similar situations as me. Lastly, Student Support Services created a support network that I desparately needed in my life and it is doing the same for many others all over the nation and here at UAF. I would personally like to thank everyone in Student Support services who has invested their time in me and I will never forget the care and genuine connections I've made as a result.
SSS has prepared me to thrive and excel which led to my acceptance to The Masters in Security and Disaster Management here at UAF. I have also been chosen as a 2017-2018 Fellow for the Newmans Own Foundation Fellowship, through that experience I hope that will be able to build up my resume enough to become either an admissions counselor, student advisor or any position that is dedicated to foster student success in higher learning and life.