Staff Feature: Empowering first-generation college students | Stark State College | North Canton, Ohio
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Staff Feature: Empowering first-generation college students

Ben Tobias

Meet Ben Tobias, director of TRIO Student Support Services

Ben Tobias loves to see students succeed. As director of TRIO Student Support Services at Stark State, he helps first-generation students navigate the college experience. Here, Ben shares more about the important role his department’s plays at our College, as well as his own views on service, support and what it takes to help these students thrive.

Q: What initially drew you to TRIO?

A: In 2005, I heard about a new program at Stark State that was going to help first-generation students graduate from college. After researching what TRIO was, I leapt at the opportunity to be part of a world that would help guide willing, hard-working students through the maze that is the college experience. TRIO takes a holistic approach to college graduation, which met my personal philosophy of teaching and learning.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your role.

A: My primary responsibility is to make sure my staff gets their needs met so that they can offer the very best services to our students. Secondly, I need to maintain the viability of the program since we’re federally funded through the U.S. Department of Education. That means closely monitoring the budget, following the myriad rules and regulations of TRIO, and preparing for the next round of grant writing that is the lifeblood of the program. And of course, I work with students. They’re my pride and joy.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?

A: I’ve been asked this question many times over the years, and my answer is always the students. The actual work of TRIO can be wonderfully mundane. The “process” is set up to be repetitive with intakes, assessments, questions and answers, and so on. What makes the work so rewarding is the uniqueness that each student brings to the table. There’s never a dull moment. Every student has a story to tell. While the process is the same for each one, the solution is as varied as the stars. The students bring their energy to the program, and we feed off that energy.

Q: Have you always worked in higher ed?

A: I’ve been in higher ed for 20 years now. I started my professional life in the military, serving in the United States Coast Guard.

Q: Explain the strengths of TRIO at Stark State. Why is it so important to our students, our college and our community?

A: Quite simply, it’s imperative for first-generation students to have someone to go to for help navigating the waters of college. Obviously academic success is paramount. However, the many challenges faced by first-generation college students create barriers that can make anyone give up. As TRIO professionals, we try to anticipate those barriers, as well as come up with solutions when new roadblocks crop up. It’s a delicate balance of applying proven pedagogy with soft skill strategies.

Q: Describe your approach when it comes to helping our students succeed.

A: I believe in the power of metacognition. I want TRIO students – and all Stark State students in fact – to understand how they can monitor, evaluate and adjust their cognitive thought processes to become better learners. The more a student understands themselves as a learner, the better prepared they are to undertake the complexities of higher education. It’s a lifelong skill.

Q: What’s one thing that students are always surprised to learn about TRIO and the services that your team provides?

A: I believe the biggest surprise is that there are no surprises. We set very high expectations for our students and expect results. It feels like, after 20 years, we’ve seen it all. Then along comes a student with a unique set of skills and we face that challenge head-on. Maybe that’s the surprise, that we will go to any length to help our first-generation students reach the finish line of graduation.

Q: Name your top three favorite songs – and their artists.

  1. “Back it In” – Henry Tobias
  2. “Scherzo No. 1” – Henry Tobias
  3. “Into Your Heart” – Henry Tobias

My 16-year-old son is a brilliant composer and musician. Feel free to check out his work on YouTube @HenryAnimate.

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