Sue Austin was one of the first advisers of the TRIO program at Central Lakes College.

Now retired after working her way up to assistant director, Austin can look back two decades later and see the fruits of her labor.

TRIO Student Support Services is a federally funded program that helps first generation, low-income or any other types of college students who need assistance on the way to earning their degree. CLC’s program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Austin was among several program alumni and former workers who came back to the college Monday, Nov. 8, for an anniversary celebration and to see how far the program has come.

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“It just does my heart good,” she said. “It just really is amazing.”


Every year, 180 students benefit from TRIO services in various ways, like getting help with course selection, financial aid, scholarship applications and tutoring, while also forming relationships that will ensure their success in college.

“The one thing that’s carried through all the 20 years is that relationship, and I like a lot of students that have been here can attest to that,” said Charles Black Lance, director of TRIO programming at CLC. “It’s not just the academics. TRIO makes sure that students come into school, not just for the books, but more importantly at times, that relationship. And sometimes it’s a relationship with students, just sitting there and catching up, but also with the adviser, just taking that time to help students walk through whatever barriers might be before them.”

"I figure if I can get somewhere and change my life, then anybody can."

— Brittany Miller

Two people who know that well are Brittany Miller and Julie Jo Larson.

Miller, who started at CLC in 2015 at the age of 28 and is now a student at St. Cloud State University, said she would not have come this far without TRIO.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I was learning how to be a person, let alone a student,” Miller said, sharing that she returned to school after getting sober.

She grew as not only a TRIO participant but as a student worker there as well.

“I hadn’t worked for a long time, so working here helped me in that respect — not even in school, but to be a decent employee, too, to have responsibilities and to feel trusted to work with other students,” Miller said.

Now she is studying community psychology and chemical dependency, hoping to give back to the community in the same way she was helped.

“I figure if I can get somewhere and change my life, then anybody can,” she said.


Julie Jo Larson remains at CLC after TRIO helped her on her way to a degree.

In 2010, she received an invitation to join the new Associate of Arts Honors program at CLC.

“Although I was in my 40s, I had a lot of questions,” Larson said.

Neither of her parents received a four-year college degree, and growing up, Larson would have been considered a low-income student, fitting the bill for someone eligible for TRIO services.

Austin helped her through.

“I saw Sue (Austin) probably just before Christmas break that first year, and I bounced into her office, and I said, ‘I know what I want to be when I grow up,’” Larson said. “... ‘When I grow up, I want to be you. I said, ‘I want to help other first-gen, low-income students.’”

And that’s exactly what she did.

Armed with a degree in social work from the College of St. Scholastica, Larson took over the post of assistant director of TRIO programming when Austin retired a few years ago.


The road to that point wasn’t easy though. When Larson’s husband took a job that had him working in the Twin Cities a lot, leaving Larson home with her kids.

“I was just about ready to quit,” she said. “And my adviser said, ‘No, no, no. You can’t do that. You can’t give up school again,’ because I’d already taken a 25-year break. So she helped me balance my classes and helped me figure out, literally on a study guide chart, when I could study and when it was kids time and when it was going to be volunteer time, which was really important to me.”

But now Larson is exactly where she wants to be, helping others like herself.

“The coolest thing is when you have a student that was ready to drop out or did withdraw — stopped out and came back — and watch them walk across the graduation stage,” she said. “And then later on to get an email from them saying, ‘Hey, Julie Jo. I just finished my master’s degree. Thanks for your help.’”

For more information on TRIO and its various services, visit

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at