St. Olaf College has launched a new program, TRIO Student Support Services for Students with Disabilities (SSSD), which aims to assist students with a documented disability navigate college. In Jan. 2021, Chang Dao Vang became the program director and with the recent growth of the program, two new SSSD advisors were added to the team.

The SSSD program is designed to serve 100 students, 34% of whom come from a low-income background. Each student is assigned a primary academic advisor who will help them with course registration, stay informed about their grades and assist with their adjustment to life on campus. The advisor will also refer the student as needed to other academic services, such as tutoring and the Center for Advising and Academic Support (CAAS).

“The SSSD program will be collaborating hand-in-hand with other campus offices such as Admissions, other SSSD programs and the Financial Aid Office,” Dao Vang said.

The SSSD academic advisor will remain with the student until their sophomore year, when they declare a major and receive a new advisor in their declared field. However, the advisor from the SSSD program will continue to meet with the student monthly. Along with the advisor, the program also hires upper-class student workers to mentor and connect with the first-year students enrolled in the program.

The program is focused on assisting first-year students with their transition to college by emphasizing the development of self-advocacy and leadership skills. The TRIO SSSD program takes a holistic approach to student assistance as they aim to help students from all perspectives and encourage growth academically and personally.

The new SSSD program comes at a time when the college has seen an increased demand for services for students with disabilities, Dao Vang said.

“It has been shown that students with disabilities have a lower graduation and College retention rate. To address this rising issue, TRIO SSSD provides support to students with documented physical, mental and emotional disabilities,” Dao Vang said.

With the program still in its first stages, the application for the TRIO SSSD program is open, and students can access it on St. Olaf’s website. Positions in leadership continue to evolve and be filled.

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