Headshot of Robert in uniform

February 26 is National TRIO Day, which raises awareness about the importance of educational opportunity for students who have limited-income, are first-generation or have a disability.

After serving in the United States Marine Corps for four years and working for a private contractor in Iraq for a year and a half, Robert Hajnos was ready to go to college. Born and raised in Passaic, New Jersey, Robert hadn’t had that kind of clear direction when he graduated from high school—largely due to a lack of familiarity with higher education.

“My parents immigrated to the US from Poland and didn’t go to college, so I really didn’t know much about it when I was a teenager,” he says. He joined the Marine Corps for its leadership opportunities—and the chance to give back to the country that gave his family a future.

During his time in the service, he found that he was smarter and more capable than he had ever given himself credit for. “When I got back home, I knew I wanted to go to school, but I had no idea how to even get started.”

Seeking Resources for Veterans

Robert was turned on to the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), a nonprofit that helps veterans and service members be successful in their higher education pursuits. He got familiar with his veteran education benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and became excited about his future.  

“The Warrior-Scholar Project flooded me with resources and tips to succeed in college,” says Robert. He even attended two of WSP’s academic boot camps at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Those were great experiences that motivated me to start thinking about a career in economics.” In fall 2022, he enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City.

A Challenging Transition to College

Despite his excitement, Robert found college even harder than he expected. After finishing the semester, he decided to follow his parents and younger brother to Colorado, where they’d moved while he was working in Baghdad.

He settled in Westminster and started researching nearby community colleges where he could continue what he’d started in New York. That led him to Front Range Community College.

Robert started taking classes at FRCC in January 2023 and was determined to do better this time. “I watched motivational videos by this well-known Navy Seal about how to do well in college, and I started being the guy who arrived to class 15 minutes early and sat in the front row,” he says.

trio logo

When Robert received an email from TRIO Student Support Services inviting him to apply to be a participant, he was eager to accept the help. It turned out to be a very smart move.

A Strong Support System

TRIO was the missing link that helped Robert figure out how to be the kind of student he was already driven to become. “Being part of TRIO is the most amazing thing that has happened to me,” he says.

“The people I’ve met at the TRIO office are great and have pointed me toward resources and answered any questions I have. I’ve realized that I could use some help navigating the college process. TRIO has helped me so much with that.”

Sound Advice

Robert has taken advantage of TRIO’s academic and transfer advising, financial aid guidance and career advising. He attends as many of the TRIO student success workshops as he can—on everything from note-taking to financial literacy.

“Everyone who is part of TRIO is in the same boat in that we’re all trying to better ourselves,” Robert says. “You walk into the study room at TRIO and there are three students studying at the white board. Everyone I’ve met is friendly and helpful, whether they work there or are a student like me.”

Becoming a TRIO Peer Mentor

After his first semester at FRCC, Robert was encouraged to apply to become a TRIO peer mentor for 20-30 other students a semester. “I joined the Marines to give back to this country, and I became a TRIO peer mentor for the same reason: to give back to a program that has given me and taught me a lot,” he says.

As a peer mentor, Robert meets with each of his mentees at least once a semester. “Sometimes students might need guidance or advice on studying or scheduling classes, and sometimes, people just need a friend throughout the college experience,” he says.

“I really appreciated having that, and I’m happy to be that person for others now.”

A Beacon of Guidance

In the fall of 2024, Robert plans to transfer to a four-year college or university to pursue a bachelor’s degree in an economics-related discipline. Eventually, he’d love to be a part of improving the American economy.

At FRCC, Robert has found a supportive community of peers, professors and staff who have helped him establish a solid foundation to pursue that goal. “I feel like everyone who teaches and works at FRCC genuinely cares,” he says.

TRIO has been a big part of his support system, and Robert says he’d recommend it to any eligible student without hesitation. “TRIO is a centralized office where students can go for wraparound support—and if the staff there can’t help you, they can point you in the right direction.

“I think of TRIO as a lighthouse. It provides guidance to anyone who needs it, even when they don’t know they need it.”

Learn more about the TRIO programs at FRCC.

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