TRIO and First-Gen Forward

The Center for Academic Access and Opportunity (CAAO) serves as the administrative home of Suffolk University TRIO programs and the new First-Gen Forward designation by the national Center for First-Generation Student Success. Through the center, the institution is committed to helping prepare income eligible, first-generation, and underrepresented high school students, veterans, and undergraduates with their transition to college and grad school.

Home of the Federal TRIO Programs – Upward Bound, McNair Scholars, and Veterans Upward Bound – and first-generation college students, the Center for Academic Access and Opportunity was first founded in 2007. With an all-first-generation college student staff, the Center’s mission is to promote educational equity through advocacy, community, and scholarship to faculty, staff, students, and the greater Boston community.

Suffolk University currently hosts three federal TRIO grants:

  • Ronald E. McNair Scholars: a selective undergraduate research and graduate school preparatory program for full-time undergraduate students at Suffolk University with the intent to pursue doctoral programs post-graduation
  • Upward Bound: a program for eligible participants from our target school—Tech Boston Academy—and the Dorchester area to help encourage and prepare students to enroll in post-secondary programs immediately following their high school graduation
  • Veterans Upward Bound: a preparatory program for eligible military veterans who reside in one of our target counties—Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, and Norfolk—and are interested in enrolling in a program of higher education, including certificates, associates, and bachelor’s degrees

Additionally, the Center collaborates closely with the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Division of Student Success, the Career Development Center, the Education Department, and many other academic and administrative departments to provide robust services to individuals who are the first in their families to pursue higher education. A dedicated lounge on the 7th floor, a full-week celebration for First-Generation student success, and a mentorship program for first-gen students through the Undergraduate Academic Advising office are among the programs and services dedicated to the first-generation student population.

The Center for Academic Access & Opportunity also supports the university’s first-generation college student population. It collaborates with the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Division of Student Success, and many academic departments each year to honor first-generation college students, staff, and faculty on campus around November 8th – the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that established the first TRIO programs and, thus, support for first-generation students in higher education institutions.

Please contact us or stop by our office to learn more about our programs and services.

First-Gen Forward Designation

In March 2021, Suffolk University was selected to be among the new 2021-2022 cohort of 58 institutions to be granted a First-Gen Forward designation by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation. First-Gen Forward is the nation’s first recognition program acknowledging higher education institutions for their commitment to first-generation student success.

The designation speaks to Suffolk University’s commitment to first-generation college students and to the extensive collaborations across its three schools, the academic departments, and its administrative units. These programs and initiatives were highlighted by the Center for First-Generation Student Success during the selection process:

  • The Center for Academic Access and Opportunity’s all-first-gen staff of 11
  • The three Federal TRIO Programs at Suffolk University
  • A dedicated first-generation student lounge/conference room at the CAAO
  • An annual week-long first-gen student celebration with cross-department collaboration
  • The Connect the Dots First-Gen Mentorship Program in the Division of Student Success
  • First Generation Law School Student Association with a First-Hand First-Gen Podcast
  • A $20,000 yearly scholarship for incoming First-Generation college students to the Suffolk Law School
  • A dedication to highlighting success stories publicly and visibly on the university website
  • A commitment to first generation college students by the university administration

Dr. Abraham Pena-Talamantes, director of the Center for Academic Access and Opportunity, serves as the institutional contact for the First-Gen Forward designation at Suffolk University.

Center for Academic Access & Opportunity Staff

Abraham E. Peña-Talamantes, PhD
Director, Center for Academic Access and Opportunity
Principal Investigator, TRIO Programs
Institutional Contact, First-Gen Forward designation

Maria Cecilia Gomez
Data and Evaluation Assistant

McNair Scholars Staff

Jarvis Chen, PhD
Program Director

Antonio Amaro Diaz
Academic and Research Advisor

Upward Bound Staff

Samienta Pierre-Vil, MPA
Program Director

Candice Cole
Academic Counselor

Veterans Upward Bound Staff 

Nicholas Charrette
Assistant Director

Jennifer Waden
Assistant Director

Kate Swartz
Communications & Outreach Specialist

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