At an annual event created to honor graduating students who participated in the university’s TRiO Student Support Services - Tech Opportunities Program (TOP), graduates along with their families, friends, faculty, staff and mentors gathered to recognize their academic success. Their perseverance, dedication and often nontraditional paths that led them to graduation were celebrated during the event held on Friday, June 15th.

TRiO Student Support Services provides support for nontraditional students such as first generation in their family to go to college, students from low-income families and students with disabilities. The program receives funding through a competitive federal grant process, with awards for colleges and universities to provide opportunities for academic development, to assist students with financial literacy and study skills, and to motivate students toward the successful completion of their post secondary degree. TOP currently serves 160 students within the university.

After the celebratory dinner, TOP program director Michal Kawka invited the 2018 TOP graduates to share reflections on their personal journeys through college. A mother of eight and grandmother of two, TOP graduate Sarah Levesque just completed her Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology. She explained that in life people will be labeled as many things. Some may be labeled as nontraditional and first generation students, or as students having an academic and financial need. But there are also the labels of summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude, rewarding the academic honors received. Ms. Levesque explained that each individual has the choice to allow labels to limit them, or to lift them up and encouraged graduates to focus on those which lifted them.

Levesque also shared, “Here in this room we are surrounded by our friends and families, and Oregon Tech’s staff and faculty who chose to see our potential and because we were willing to listen and work hard we will be known as Oregon Tech’s TOP 2018 Graduates. We thank you for your support. Now it is our time to go into our selective fields, keep our eyes on the ball, don’t let anyone limit us, and use our words to lift one another up, then we will hit it out of the park.”

Throughout the course of the evening, each TOP graduate was presented with a TOP graduate stole in gold and royal blue and a TOP challenge coin unique to each graduation cohort. A graduation or academic stole is a decorative vestment worn by students who are members of various organizations for the purpose of denoting outstanding achievements in academics. These are often symbolic of personal and academic development. The challenge coin is a symbol of the strength and commitment it took to become a TOP graduate. Brianna Schwenk, one of the TOP academic specialists, explained the significance of the TOP coin, “For us it is a symbol of all the challenges that were faced and overcome by our graduates. It serves as a reminder to our students of all the sacrifices and obstacles that they overcame to be where they are now. It also represents the relationships that were built during their participation in the TRiO program at Oregon Tech.”

During the closing remarks, Brenda Odesha—TOP academic specialist and a 2015 graduate of the program before continuing on to her Master of Science program at Oregon Tech—encouraged the graduates by saying, “Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment. I know firsthand that it was not easy, yet you persevered through every obstacle that stood in your way. It is that strength of commitment and determination that brought you here, ready to begin the next chapter of your life.”

The goal of TOP is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants. TOP services include tutoring, mentoring, networking with other students, college success classes, academic advising, limited scholarship funding, workshops and cultural trips. For more information about TOP visit