Natasha Woods has gone from being a TRiO student at Thomas Nelson to the program's office manager.
Natasha Woods, the new office manager for Thomas Nelson’s TRiO Student Support Services program, remembers the first time she saw SaraLynn Goergen, a TRiO counselor. It was an extremely hot day, and Goergen, pregnant at the time, showed up at Woods’ SVD 100 class to tell the students about TRiO.
“She had pamphlets and everything,” said Woods, who added it appeared Goergen was about to give birth any minute. “I said I need to get this pamphlet from this lady to see what she’s talking about because it took her everything to come here, and it’s hot, and she’s pregnant.”
Goergen, who noted she’s been pregnant twice since meeting Woods five years ago, had never heard that story before.
“So she felt bad for me? That’s funny,” said Goergen, who was happy Woods took the information, no matter the reason.
It worked out well for Woods, too, who knew nothing about TRiO, which helps first-generation, disabled and low-income students, when she arrived on campus in fall 2016 after graduating from Bethel High School. After reading the pamphlets, she realized the program was perfect for her.
“It was literally everything I wanted, because I wanted to transfer to a four-year, and I did qualify because I was considered first generation,” Woods said.
But Woods was more than just a TRiO student. For work-study, she was assigned to the office, where she worked with Goergen, and was named TRiO Student of the Year for the 2017-18 academic year. She enjoyed learning ”all the behind-the-scenes stuff and how everything is played out.”
That knowledge and familiarity, according to Monette Dutch, who has been at the College for six years but its TRiO director for four months, will benefit her greatly in her new role.
“It’s like reading something in a textbook in college, but then getting out in the real world and actually experiencing it,” Dutch said. “I used to be in the TRiO program, in fact, too. … It’s a different level of understanding what students are going through. It’s a different level of wanting to help them get what they need. And Natasha understands, it’s written all over her.”
“It’s a huge help because I know when she interfaces with students, she understands where they’re coming from. She’s navigated the same waters,” Goergen said. “Because she was a TRiO student, she’s hit some of the same barriers our current students face at Thomas Nelson, and she can help them work through it.”
Goergen added the office manager is the front line for TRiO, and Woods will do a lot of the initial outreach to students. She can walk them through the application process, and discuss their concerns.
“It’s a huge benefit when our staff has been through the program because of how she can interact with students. And not just being a TRiO student anywhere, she’s navigated Thomas Nelson,” Goergen said.
Woods graduated from Christopher Newport University in 2020 after transferring from Thomas Nelson, and is a part-time graduate student at Liberty University majoring in global health. She knows from firsthand experience the impact TRiO can have on a student.
“TRiO has shaped me a lot,” she said, adding she always knew she wanted to work in higher education, just wasn’t sure how to get there. “They helped me formulate relationships between schools. They helped me more on the professional side.”
She even used things she learned in the Thomas Nelson TRiO program when she was at CNU, and when she worked at McDonald’s as a manager and mentored younger employees.
“All the other skills that they had taught have shaped me to who I am to this day,” she said.
Goergen said having a former TRiO student return to the College as an employee says a lot about the program itself, as well as the people who work there.
“It makes me so proud, and it makes me feel really good about the relationships that we build with students and that they continue and persist. They don’t just end when they graduate from Thomas Nelson,” she said. “And it makes me know we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing as a program. We’re building the relationships with the students, students are being successful, they’re having a positive experience, and they’re moving forward and then they want to give back. And that completes the circle.”
Woods is proud now to be on another part of that circle, and she’s looking forward to a new role.
“I think mentoring to the youth and giving back is very important because somebody helped me,” she said. “You don’t have to give everything, but as long as you can continue to teach somebody what I taught you, it’s a beautiful thing to see because you can impact so many that way.”
One of those who impacted Woods so much was Goergen.
“Sometimes I just want to tell her, ‘You don’t understand how much you helped me become this person who I am,’” she said. “Just going from studying in her office in (Room) 201 to being in an office in 221 is just tremendous to me.”
Goergen is just as excited now to work with Woods.
“It’s such a breath of fresh air to have her with us. We’re just really happy it worked out. … She’s definitely a mover and a positive addition to our staff.”
“She’s the ultimate team player, and I know people overuse that term, team player, but she really is,” Dutch said. “She does not mind doing whatever it takes to help move things forward.”
For more information on the TRiO program, go to https://tncc.edu/services/trio.