$294,719 U.S. ED annual award assists students for next five years

The U.S. Department of Education announced that Dakota County Technical College will receive a federal TRIO/Student Support Services (SSS) grant of $294,719 per year for the next five years to help more students succeed in college and go on to graduate.

Nicole Meulemans

Nicole Meulemans serves as director of student support services and development at the college. Nicole reported that DCTC has received funding for TRIO/SSS for the past 15 years and serves 160 students per year who are first-generation college students, meet income guidelines, or who have a disability.

“The federally funded TRIO/SSS grant is essential for delivering additional support and services to retain and graduate students,” Nicole said. “We are extremely thrilled to be refunded and look forward to providing continued support to our students for another five years!

More about TRIO/SSS

TRIO/SSS assists:
  • Low-income college students
  • First-generation college students (their parents don’t have a four-year college degree)
  • College students with disabilities
The array of services provided by the grant are comprehensive and include:
  • Academic tutoring
  • Financial aid advice
  • Career and college mentoring
  • Help in choosing courses
  • Other forms of assistance
Student Support Services enhances academic success and increases the likelihood students will graduate or transfer with the lowest possible debt.
Many  SSS alumni have gone on to great success, including:

TRIO/SSS origins and history…

Susan Garcia

Susan Garcia, former TRIO/SSS student

Launched in 1968, Student Support Services is one of the eight federal TRIO programs authorized by the Higher Education Act to help college students succeed in higher education.

  • SSS recognizes that students whose parents do not have a college degree have more difficulties navigating the complexity of decisions that college requires for success
  • SSS bolsters students from low-income families who have not had the academic opportunities pursued by their college peers
  • SSS helps students with disabilities remove obstacles preventing them from thriving academically

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the systemic inequality and financial hardship which keep promising students from succeeding in college,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering the expansion of college opportunities for low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities. “Student Support Services is needed now more than ever.”

For more than 50 years, the TRIO/Student Support Services program has made important contributions to individuals and society as a whole by providing a broad range of services to help students succeed. This vital program can and does make all the difference.

TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor: Cori Robinson

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Cori Robinson is a 1985 graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School on the city’s Near West Side. Cori enrolled at the University of Illinois at Chicago right after high school and earned a B.A. in Psychology.

Cori Robinson

Cori lived in Mesa, Arizona, for a few of years before settling in Minnesota, where she worked in human resources at a charter school before landing a position as a cultural liaison for ISD 196 at the middle school, Dakota Hills. Cultural liaisons work with students of color, serving as connecting links between students and the schools they attend.

In 2007, Cori arrived at DCTC and took on her dream job as an advisor in TRIO/Student Support Services.

Outside of work, Cori pursues hobbies that include exercising, cooking and working on creative projects. Cori has two children, a daughter, Dallis, 21, and a son, Chase, 19.

“I work in concert with Xuong Tran, my fellow advisor in TRIO/SSS,” Cori said, “We have students in our offices all the time. We’re listening, we’re problem solving, we’re helping with college planning, we’re providing guidance. We see open communication with our students as crucial to their success.”

TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor: Xuong Tran

Xuong Tran worked at DCTC since 2007. Xuong started at the college as a multicultural recruiter/advisor in the Admissions department. He began his current role a TRIO/SSS advisor in 2009.

Xuong Tran

Born in Sóc Trăng, a city south of Saigon in the former South Vietnam, Xuong Tran comes from a family with three older sisters and two younger brothers. As a result of the North Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam War, Xuong’s family was placed under house arrest. He was eight years old in 1978 when his father, a businessman, made the decision to take his wife and children on a perilous escape to freedom by fishing boat.

Xuong’s family eventually settled in Minnesota. He attended Hopkins High School, where he played football and tennis, before enrolling at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a B.S. in Elementary Education.

In 2001, he earned his Mini MBA in International Business Management from the University of St. Thomas. He worked for 10 years at nonprofits, including SHAPE and CAPI, before arriving at DCTC in 2007. His first job at the college was multicultural student recruiter/advisor. He started in his current position in 2009.

“While working at nonprofits, I learned about advocacy and giving back to the community,” said Xuong, who resides in Shakopee with his wife, Kia, and the couple’s two sons, Aiden and Ryder. “In my job as an advisor, I take those same relationship-building and motivational skills to help students. I work to convince students that they need to develop the willpower and drive—the edge—to succeed. Experience and knowledge are not enough. I do that by telling students stories from my own life.”


Sandra Contreras Lopez

Sandra Contreras Lopez, current TRIO/SSS student

Three key goals
  • Help you do well in your courses
  • Help you re-enroll each semester and graduate
  • Help you transfer to a four-year college and earn your bachelor’s degree

TRIO/SSS benefits and advantages

From program acceptance until graduation, TRIO/SSS students may receive and/or utilize the following resources:


  • Academic enrichment
  • Academic success workshops
  • Access to laptops and desktop computers in SSS tutoring area
  • Effective retention and graduation strategies
  • Monitoring academic progress
  • One-on-one academic advising
  • Study skills development
  • Two-year and four-year major planning
  • Transfer assistance

Financial Literacy

  • Budget-management seminar
  • Credit education
  • Financial aid search
  • Funding postsecondary education


  • Career exploration
  • Cultural enrichment experiences
  • Goal setting assistance
  • Peer mentoring
  • Self-advocacy skill development
  • Referrals to on-campus and off-campus resources

Learn more about TRIO/SSS at DCTC by contacting:

Nicole Meulemans
Director of Student Support Services and Development

Cori Robinson
TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor

Xuong Tran
TRIO/Student Support Services Advisor

Nicole Wirth
TRIO Administrative Assistant

Iliana Diaz Medina, former TRIO/SSS student