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UTA TRIO leader earns statewide honor for work with first-generation students

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 • Media Contact: Bridget Lewis

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A University of Texas at Arlington champion of equal access in higher education has been named a 2016 Texas TRiO Achiever’s Award winner by the Texas Association of Special Student Services Programs.

Jennifer Luken Sutton

The statewide honor was presented Feb. 29 to Jennifer Luken Sutton, director of UTA TRiO-Student Support Services, at the 43rd Annual TASSSP Conference in Galveston.

Maria Martinez-Cosio, UTA Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, said Luken Sutton was most deserving of the prestigious award.

“For more than a decade, she has dedicated herself to helping students from diverse backgrounds reach toward their dream of earning a college degree, despite their obstacles,” Martinez-Cosio said. “Jennifer’s commitment is also evident in her role as one of three co-principal investigators that wrote UTA’s first Title V grant.” The $2.6 million Department of Education grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions will help create the IDEAS Center and support transfer student success.

The federally funded Student Support Services, Upward Bound and Talent Search are collectively known as TRiO. The Higher Education Act of 1965 made the educational opportunity programs possible, with the goal of enabling Americans, regardless of economic circumstance, race or ethnic background to successfully enter college and graduate.

Sutton first came to UTA from south Texas for an Upward Bound summer camp and said the program has shaped her life, both a personally and professionally. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTA and is now working toward a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies through the College of Education.

She has been praised by her colleagues for her selfless efforts to help students receive math and science tutoring, information about academic and financial aid opportunities or whatever other resources they need to be successful. In 2004, she was nominated for Student Employee of the Year.  

“The program provided me the means and the opportunity and the access to higher education,” Sutton said. “It’s not the money, not the titles, promotions or accolades that I’ve received along the way that are important. It’s the personal success that I see in someone else that makes me feel fulfilled, and makes me realize at the end of the day that this is what I’m meant to do.”

TRiO Achievers are former TRIO participants who have completed their degrees and who are recognized among their colleagues as having a record of achievement and stature within their profession. In addition, TRiO Achievers have made significant civic, community or professional contributions. A former UTA Educational Opportunity Center participant and current assistant principal in Grand Prairie earned a TRIO Achiever Award in 2008.

Sutton said, “I’m part of a national group of professionals that are determined to help students from all over the country, from low-income to first generation backgrounds achieve success through a college education, and help them achieve their dreams.”

The Upward Bound program at The University of Texas at Arlington exposes local high school students to college life. The students are from economically-challenged schools and most will be the first in their families to pursue a degree.

UTA’s TRiO Student Support Services program will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, a milestone made even more significant by a U.S. Department of Education grant awarded to TRiO SSS in August. The five-year grant will help Sutton and her colleagues continue their work through 2020.  

TRiO SSS and Sutton are just two examples of the many excellent programs and committed UTA faculty and staff members helping to develop the next generation of leaders and sustainable urban communities, one of the themes of the University’s Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie “highest research activity” institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times’ 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at