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Unsung Hero: TRIO success coach keeps TJC students on track to reach goals

This is the third feature in a series highlighting the “unsung heroes” of TJC. Amber was selected for her work in TRIO Student Support Services. Photo by Chris Swann.

College can be a difficult time for most, and even more so without the help of a mentor. Behind almost every success story is a mentor guiding students through their journey.

Amber James, a success coach for the TRIO Student Support Services, is that mentor for many. 

“As the success coach, I work with students one-on-one to ensure they are successful in their classes, and ultimately guide them toward graduation,” James said. James works to instill a mindset where students are confident so they can be successful in their educational goals. 

James, who is in her fourth year at TRIO, earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication with an emphasis in broadcast journalism from the University of New Mexico and a master’s degree in school counseling from Lamar University. 

Prior to working in the education field, James worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company and said didn’t have an opportunity to be creative. She 

went into education because she loves the diversity of the people she works with as well as the vibrancy and uniqueness students offer. Before coming to TJC, she worked in Jacksonville High School, Chapel Hill High School and formerly Robert E. Lee High School, now Tyler Legacy High School.  

For much of the TJC faculty and staff, the pandemic has created roadblocks in terms of semester plans. James, however, said the pandemic has caused her to think outside the box and find creative ways to meet students needs while staying safe. 

“I am extremely thankful that I’ve been able to still remain employed during the pandemic,” James said. “We still have a great group of students who desire to obtain their degree. I love that I still get to help people in achieving their goals”

Before the pandemic hit, James only saw students face-to-face, and now she also sees students through Zoom.

“We do a lot of cleaning around the office to ensure the staff and students have a sanitary environment,” James said.

TRIO also offered a library to rent books to students who could not afford them, but has since suspended the library due to possible cross contamination.

“In order to keep a safe number of people in our office, students can have their documents emailed to SSS,” James said. “Our campus visits are now done virtually. This has given us the opportunity to expose students to schools in and outside of Texas.”

TRIO Adviser Peggy Martinez, who works with James, said James is a great example of servant leadership. 

“Amber truly has a passion for the students she works with and it shines through the service she provides to them,” Martinez said. 

The TRIO program’s main purpose is to help the students achieve their goals and become successful in their academic journey. 

TRIO support services is a program tailored for TJC first-generation college students seeking a four-year degree, those from a low-income household or students with a disability. The program is free for students.

Program resources available include tutoring in math and English; a computer lab with free printing in color and black and white; academic advising; collaborative workshops; and campus visits to other schools. TRIO is led by a team of counselors offering support in financial aid, academic success, and assistance in transferring to a four-year college/university to the 200 students currently in the program.

James said she loves TRIO, what it stands for and the population they serve. “I love the resources that it provides to students to make sure that they are successful,” James said. “I absolutely love when students start to believe in themselves.”

TRIO Coordinator Rosa Hopkins said James is dedicated to the TRIO students’ success and is always inventing fun ways to engage with them. She addresses many of the academic challenges students face with skill building concepts that those in TRIO would not consider using. 

“One of the art projects that hangs in the TRIO offices is a picture of a rose growing up through the concrete,” Hopkins said. “This is the mindset that she instills in our students. I wish each of our participants would take the time to spend a few minutes a week in her presence.” 

James believes her job is important because college is not always the easiest thing to navigate, and it’s important for students to have a person who can support and guide them through the process. 

“Having a mentor can help students find answers to their questions as well as know what resources are available to them,” James said. “More importantly students need to have someone in their corner rooting for them and encouraging them.”  

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