The Texas Association of Special Student Services Programs is pleased to present its TRiO Achievers. These individuals successfully completed the requirements of a TRiO program resulting in the completion of a baccalaureate or terminal degree from an accredited institution of higher education. S/he is a person of high stature within his/her profession or has received recognition for outstanding academic achievement. Each receipt has made significant civic, community, or professional contributions. Last, as acknowledged by the recipient, his/her participation in the TRiO project had a significant impact upon him/her in obtaining his/her educational objectives.

2012 | 2013 | 2014| 2015

2014 TRIO Achievers


Amanda Morales
(University of North Texas)
A graduate of Paradise High School, I was involved in the University of North Texas TRIO Talent Search Program from ninth through twelfth grades. My experience with not only the Talent Search Program, but also Rhonda Grundy, who was my advisor at the time, has been a life changing relationship. Neither one of my parents went to college and with the advice and help from Rhonda, my college dream then became a reality.

After graduating from Paradise High School, I went on to attend Midwestern State University, where I received my Bachelor's in Social Work degree. While the completion of my Bachelor's had me on cloud 9, reality hit sooner rather than later. I needed a job substantial to my degree. I called Rhonda and began visiting with her about possible job ventures that would be sufficient for me. She told me that the University of North Texas Talent Search Program was hiring and suggested that I apply.

Soon after applying, I received a phone call for an interview. I was ecstatic! How cool would it be to work for the program that helped me attain my collegiate goal and for me to be able to give back! Sure enough, I got the job as a Talent Search advisor in the Hurst-Euless- Bedford area which is sponsored by none-other than, UNT.

I have been a "Rhonda Grundy" for 7 years now and am rewarded daily by my students' eagerness to excel in not only junior high and high school, but also on a college level. Seeing my students create their own success stories is more than any six figure salary could provide. Don't get me wrong, a six figure salary would be greatly received, however, we are in the business of changing lives and that in and of itself is rewarding enough. TRIO works and I am a prime candidate of that. I am literally TRIO!

Tyson McMilan
(West Texas A&M University)
I was born in Lubbock, Texas on February 2, 1983. My parents, Danny and Marcy McMillan, had me when they were just 17 years old. To say the least, we had humble beginnings, but I was raised by a village of wise people. Perseverance, persistence, patience, and spirituality were central to my upbringing. The members of this wise village taught me the importance of family and good food. Education, teaching, and learning have always been essential components of my life.

Each day I am reminded that I stand on the shoulders of giants who came before me. As a first generation college student, I am proud to acknowledge the many giants that paved the way for me. Among them are my grandfather Vance Harris (Papa) and grandmother Marcnellus Harris (Big Mama)—both of whom recently passed away. When I recall the strength of Papa and the solid rock influence of Big Mama, I maintain the persistence to fight for my dreams and carpe diem in life. I was there at the moment when Big Mama had her last breath on earth. That day was the most traumatic experience of my young life. The experience cut deeply, but I made it through. That experience taught me that if I can make it through something such as this, then no other obstacles in life will have the privilege of my discouragement.

At the time of her passing, I was months away from completing my dream to become the first person in the history of my family to obtain a Ph.D. It is on the wings of the memory of this great woman that I completed my doctoral journey in 2013.

I am on a mission in life to educate other people as I myself become educated, and to mentor other people as I myself received mentorship. I began my college journey at the beautiful West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in 2001. It is on that campus that I discovered the power and greatness of TRIO programs. The Dr. Ronald McNair Scholars program molded me from a first generation college student into a present-day scholar. In the program, Mr. Mike Cook, Mrs. Victoria Salas, Ms. Velma Davis, Dr. Rajan Alex, and Dr. Mark Riney took me under their wings of kindness. This devoted team of mentors educated me on what it takes to succeed in the academic world beyond the bachelor's degree. Each day, I strive to reciprocate such kindness to other people. If I do so with even half the class and passion of these great mentors, it will bring a smile to my heart. At WTAMU, I completed a B.B.A. in Computer Information Systems in 2005. A highlight of my life was giving the commencement speech at my own graduation.

In 2005, my educational journey took me to the University of North Texas (UNT). At UNT, I was again the proud recipient of TRIO's kindness through a $14,000 McNair fellowship. In 2006, I completed an M.S. in Information Technologies at UNT. Keeping the momentum, I started doctoral studies at UNT in August 2007, and completed a Ph.D. in Information Science in July 2013.

Indeed I teach to learn. What a great honor and privilege it is to experience the wonderful diversity on the beautiful Trinity River Campus of Tarrant County College in downtown Fort Worth! I proudly serve as an Associate Professor of Computer Science, and am a founding faculty member of the campus. My teaching philosophy continues to revolve around educating other people as I myself become educated. To me, education is a two-way street; that is, I learn just as much from the students that I have the privilege of teaching.

Shari Bihms
(University of Houston-Downtown)
Exceeding the expectations of others is a challenge within itself for humans, due to our unconscious efforts to please those whose opinions either matter or do not. However, to exceed self –expectations is most gratifying and morally fulfilling when YOU have to live happily with YOU.

I remember the day vividly and I can still hear my mother's cry of happiness when I graduated at the top of my class and excelled at everything socially or academically in high school. She told me that all she ever desired was that her only daughter would graduate with a high school diploma without a "big belly". Then I received the forever anticipated acceptance letter from one of the nation's top historically Black universities. That summer I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend my number–one-pick university. I have always been a risk taker and more of a realist versus a dreamer. Therefore, what I considered a big move in my life was more of a necessity than a want.

I majored in Criminal Justice with a minor in Human Development. I mastered many research topics covering crime and the law, but in regards to African Americans only. It took four years and a bachelor's degree before I realized that I was too closed minded and needed to think outside the box. The world is more than just about Blacks and their struggles. My D.C. experience encompassed countless volunteer hours at low socioeconomic status schools and long walks of protests with colleagues from the capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. I came home and decided to teach. Every day I look into the eyes of young souls whom society also expects to fail and their own self expectations do not even measure up. They remind me of the little train that could, saying, "I think I can... I think I can!" I knew they could. As a first year teacher, 94% of my eighth graders passed the mandated state test, when the principal only expected 85%. I helped improve test scores despite the odds. This motivates me to continue to press forward to exceed my own expectations so that I might be that little beam of light a child sees in a room of gloom and darkness.

I am a firm believer that you might not save every child, but you can never stop trying. It has never been in my character to settle nor quit. If I would have stopped at a high school level, I would be settling. If I had not done what I expected, which was to pursue law school, I would be a quitter. My desire was that law school would permit me the fortune to change things systematically, to induce decisions that have the chance to impress many lives at once, to provide inspired and devoted teachers like my colleagues the ability to save all their children. I expect to take my experiences as a teacher and use the legal system to effect enduring, positive revolutions. I was confident that attending law school would help me to begin a career in addressing injustices that exist in society, particularly those that impact schools and youth.

I envision that one day I am able to use my educational background and the supportive spirit from the Upward Bound Program that accompanied me throughout my educational and personal life journey to affect this world positively. I will have witnessed and discovered more than my mind has imagined. It will have been arduous but well worth the time and now I can mentor, share knowledge and wisdom and love on those coming behind me.

Hitomi Kamahara
(University of Texas at El Paso)
The Student Support Services Program (SSSP) helped me through the most difficult times of my life. While I was earning my degree at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), I faced many personal and academic challenges. I was a single mother of three young children while I was going to school and working. I am the first to attend college in my family and had both academic and financial need. I knew I had to go to college because I wanted to provide a better life for my children and help make a difference one life at a time because life is but a breath.

I was a young child when we came to the United States. My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. He was stationed in Japan when my mother, sister, and I came to El Paso, TX. My parents sacrificed their time and showed me importance of learning the English language and getting an education. They also taught me the value of family. My father passed away of cancer and I was still helping my mother while attending UTEP. My mother passed away two years ago from cancer.

I had to learn how to effectively and efficiently balance my time between working and being a student in the field of electrical engineering. I was taking care of my children John, Jacob, and Steven, and also helping my mother. I was helping my sons do well in school, and had to stay up late many nights, completing assignments, studying, and meeting deadlines. The SSSP encouraged and help me to become a better student and a mother. As a Program participant and staff member, I received support and counseling, and had the use of computers and tutoring.

I appreciate the experience with SSSP, it helped learn to instruct others, and teach for Upward Bound (UB). Ms. Tita Yanar, the Director of the UB Program, employed me and her expertise helped me in developing the curriculum and as instructors. We researched and created a book for UB classes. I have taught literature, Research & Writing using APA Format, and Japanese Language and its Culture during the summer semester.

I want to acknowledge the faculty and staff at UTEP and the following at SSSP: Gladys Shaw, SSSP Director (in loving memory), Michelle Palmer, Assistant Director, Martha Chairez, Administrative Assistant, Nancy Wilson, Counselor, and Cynthia Velasco, Instructor /Recruiter.

Being part of TRIO Program at UTEP will always be dear to my heart. The SSSP and UB Programs helped people come together and encourage each other to graduate. I deeply appreciate the impact that the SSSP Program has made in my life, and I was able to graduate and teach my children the importance of education. I thank God for the SSSP because this helped me earn my degree and at the same time to endure the storms of life.