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ASU's Sharon Smith honored for commitment to students


October 27, 2008

“There might be an easier way to make a living, but it wouldn’t be as gratifying.”

So says Sharon Smith, director of the TRiO Academic Achievement Center at Arizona State University’s West campus. For her tireless work on behalf of students, Smith recently received a 2008 ASU Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Outstanding Achievement and Contribution Award.

Smith directs the West campus’s federally funded TRiO student support services program that serves first-generation university students, those who are income-eligible, and students with documented disabilities. Many of the students served by TRiO meet more than one of the eligibility criteria.

“Sharon is a support system and cheerleader for the many brave students who take on the challenge of higher education,” says Laura Franklin, an academic skills disability specialist in the West campus TRiO office. “While there are days that I know she has left the office exhausted, she has never failed to return the next day ready for more.”

It was Smith’s willingness to go beyond the call of duty for two students in particular that spurred Franklin and others to nominate her for the CSW Award. In one case Smith was alerted by Anne Suzuki, assistant dean for enrollment management for the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, about the plight of a student in an abusive home situation.

“Sharon found the student a job, helped her develop an escape plan with assistance from the Counseling Center, and advocated for emergency funds,” Suzuki says. “This situation took place over the holidays, and Sharon checked in regularly with the student and had other staff members assist as well. The student had never bought her own groceries or kept a budget, so Sharon helped teach her those skills.”

Smith says her willingness to get involved is all about the ultimate goal of helping students to succeed in their academic pursuits at ASU. “Without someone to help her with basic life skills, the outcome for this student would be different,” she says. “It’s an ongoing process, as we continue to work with the student. It’s great to see that she’s still in school and making progress toward her degree.”

According to Franklin, “Sharon assists students one by one, slowly but surely, and with much success. She does this for no personal gain of her own, but rather for these students, their families, and the legacies they leave when they break through the ceiling of poverty and pessimism to become proud college graduates.”

Franklin tells the story of another student Smith stepped in to help. “We discovered that she no longer had the means to meet her basic living needs. Not only was she not eating, she did not have access to hygiene products or laundry facilities,” Franklin says. “Besides bringing in many of these necessary supplies herself, Sharon rallied others to help as well. She then got the student involved in cooking classes so that she could make the best use of her new supplies and learn a valuable lifelong skill.”

Teaching students skills that will last them a lifetime is a big part of the TRiO Academic Achievement Center’s mission. Smith directs staff members who provide tutoring and hold workshops covering critical skills such as test-taking, effective studying, and time management.

“One of the biggest roadblocks TRiO students face is how to navigate the university system,” Smith says. “Since so many are the first in their family to attend a university, they can’t rely on family members to help them find campus resources, and it can be frustrating for them. We’re not the only office on campus that can help them, so part of our role is to help students make connections to others who are ready to offer assistance.”

The TRiO office also arranges for students to attend activities such as cultural events, to help them make connections to the community. It’s all part of TRiO’s goal of helping students become successful in school and in life, Smith says.

There’s no lack of demand for TRiO services on the West campus. “We have about 90 students who are eligible to receive services but who are on a waiting list because we are at capacity,” she says.

Smith, who has worked at ASU’s West campus for more than six years, has led the TRiO Academic Achievement Center since 2006. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the office has served students on the West campus since 1993.

More information about the TRiO Academic Achievement Center at ASU’s West campus is available at http://www.west.asu.edu/sa/trio/.