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Vermont Tech Graduate Credits The Federal TRIO Program For Her Success

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Kara Polito graduated from Vermont Technical College this month, and is taking a job in the agriculture department at Purdue Univsersity in Indiana.

Without a federal education program that offers academic and emotional support to disadvantaged students pursuing a bachelor's degree, Kara Polito says she would have dropped out of college.

Polito is one of the approximately 7,200 students in Vermont who use U.S Department of Education's TRIO program.

President Trump wanted to cut some of the program's budget before Congress was able to include the funding in its spending bill earlier this year.

Polito moved up to Vermont when she was around 12. She left Long Island with her mom, and it was the start of a tough time in her life.

"We moved a lot. We went from New York to Chester, Vermont, and then down to Florida." she says. "We moved to two places in Florida and then back to New York, and then to Woodstock, Vermont. And then we just kind of made our way down Route 4. We moved to Taftsville, we lived there for a couple of years."

It wasn't easy being the new girl in middle school and high school. Especially when things at home weren't great. Polito ended up in the foster care system for about a year.

"It was tough," Polito says. "Sometimes you wonder, 'Why is this happening to me?' And you think, 'I can't handle this. What do I do with myself?'"

After high school, Polito got into the veterinary program at Vermont Technical College. She says living on campus made her realize that she didn't have the support at home that some of the other students had.

Polito wore red cowboy boots to graduation.

"I did not enjoy being at school," she says. "The other students talked about going back home to sleep in their own bed and use their own shower. Honestly, that stuff, it made me cry at the end of the day. I was like, this sucks. I want my own shower. I just want to take a bath."

At Vermont Tech, Polito found out that she qualified for the TRIO education support program, a federal program that serves low-income, disabled and first-generation college students.

TRIO has a mentor service that helped Polito find a dairy farmer to work with, and she ended up winning an essay contest through the program that came with a cash prize.

And she says the support helped her through some challenging times.

"I'm trying to imagine going to school without TRIO. I think I would have dropped out," she says. "I'm not quite sure at what point, but there were definitely two periods that I would have stopped. It really helped to have someone there to tell you, 'It's going to be OK. You can get through this is.'"

"I'm trying to imagine going to school without TRIO. I think I would have dropped out." — Kara Polito, Vermont Tech graduate

There are 13 TRIO programs across Vermont. Susan Polen, who works in the office at Vermont Tech, says the federal program helps students like Polito navigate the bureaucracy, track down a tutor or just find a place to talk.

"When they get here sometimes it's more social, that they just don't know that they're going to fit in," says Polen. "So there are those soft skills that help students. And we're able to give the emotional support that some students need, as well as the academic support so that they are successful."

Polito was successful, and she graduated last week from Vermont Tech.

In a few weeks, she'll load her stuff, and her two dogs, into car she just bought and head toward Purdue University in Indiana, where she has a job in the agriculture department assisting vets who are caring for cows on the farm.

Purdue is one of the premier ag colleges in the country, and Polito's setting out, on her own, into the unknown.

There's not much holding her back here on the East Coast.

"I'm just really ready for whatever life throws at me because I know all the hard things make me stronger," Polito says. "If everything was easy, then I would just keep going with that flow, but if I have to go through hard times then I have no choice but to keep pushing myself. I know what I've been through. I survived, and now I want to see what I can accomplish next."

One of her jobs at Purdue will be helping young vet students find their way around. She'll be a leader, and she says she's pretty sure she's ready for that.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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