UA Little Rock Students Have Fun in Nashville
A group of UA Little Rock students involved in the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program went to Nashville, Tennessee, from June 2-4 for a cultural enrichment trip.
SSS is a U.S. Department of Education program designed to provide services for students who are first-generation, low income, and/or have disabilities. It gives students the chance to partake in unique activities they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, giving the students necessary support and tools to help them succeed.
All services are free to those who meet the eligibility criteria and are accepted into the program. Services include a textbook loan program, online training and financial literacy programs, free in-person or online tutoring services, and a $500 scholarship each semester.
“We also try to enrich students using more of a holistic approach, rather than just tutoring and providing academic services,” SSS Director Dr. Desarae Nelson said. “We also recently took them to see Hamilton and CATS at the Robinson Auditorium. We like to expose them to opportunities that most first generation, low income, or even disabled students wouldn’t readily have available to experience. The money we’re allocated includes activities like those and the trip we just took to Nashville.”
The Nashville trip was led by Dr. Nelson, Marty Mayfield, Michelle Grice, Ulonda Frazier, Sharina Miller, and graduate assistant Mahesh Thombre.
The students who went include Maria McNeill, Dareon Buffington, Terri Ruffin, Stacey Howard-Parchel, LaBarbara Newman, Miresha Coley, Faith Dollman, Marwan Madani, Kenya Daniels, Chandra Daniels, Mikiya McAdory, Lillian Revels, and Kennedy Morris.
For McNeill, a first-generation senior who has been involved in the program since her freshman year, going to Nashville wasn’t something she ever thought she’d get to do.
“Where I come from, I don’t have any friends or family who graduated college,” McNeill said. “A lot of my friends and family didn’t finish high school. It has been really scary moving away from everything and everyone that I know to choose a different path. A lot of students in the program, due to circumstances beyond their control, don’t have these kinds of opportunities or this kind of guidance from parents or guardians. SSS makes a big difference in the lives of these students who have a desire to improve their own circumstances.”
The trip was outsourced through a tour company called Gerber Tours. The company provided the group with a tour guide who coordinated their admission tickets, dinner reservations, and hotel accommodations. Their first stop inside city limits was Andrew Jackson’s mansion, formally known as the Hermitage.
“The thing that stood out the most about the Hermitage was… [learning] that Andrew Jackson owned around 300 African American slaves,” McNeill said. “Seeing the Jackson family’s living quarters versus the slave quarters was mind boggling to me.”
Among their most notable activities were taking dance lessons in Wildhorse Saloon and touring several attractions, including the Museum of African American Music, RCA Studio B, and the Grand Ole Opry. Nelson and McNeill both consider the saloon to be their favorite.
“I’m a country music fan, so I was in my element,” Nelson said. “I also love dancing, so being able to learn some line dances was very fun. After each song, the instructors would try to figure out which dance to teach next based on what the live performer had chosen to play. They started taking a little longer than usual, so I told the two students who were with me to do the electric slide with me. We started doing it and people joined us. We ended up taking the lead and making it into a line dance, and it was just a really great experience.”
TRIO SSS has a new location on campus. They are now in Student Union B, Suite 100. More information about the program and its services can be found on its website.