Re’Al Sutton is a University of Kansas (KU) senior from Branson Missouri studying finance in the KU School of Business. He comes from a large family where he isn’t just the first-generation to attend college, he is the first among his siblings. To help him navigate his transition into college, Re’Al relied on the Opening Paths to Individual Opportunity and Success (OPTIONS) program. Re’Al said he initially joined OPTIONS, a program for low-income, first-generation college students because he liked the idea moving to campus a week early. Re’Al describes himself as someone who has always been academically strong but wasn’t quite sure if OPTIONS was really necessary for his transition to college. “I came into college full of myself and got humbled really quickly. In OPTIONS, I realized that the resources they connected me with really helped me.” Through this program, Re’Al learned to navigate campus, developed time management skills, and made close friends.
From there, Re’Al joined KU TRIO Supportive Educational Services & STEM (TRIO SES & STEM). As a participant, TRIO SES & STEM provides Re’Al with mentoring, advising, and emotional support. He likes to refer to the TRIO staff as his “parents away from home.”
To elaborate on how important TRIO is, Re’Al says, “TRIO is a community of people that care about you as a person. They just want to make sure you are successful in becoming the person you would like to be.” Reflecting on his experiences with TRIO, Re’Al sees the impact that supportive people can have on your life. Looking forward, Re’Al feels inspired to find a career where he can also help others succeed. “Part of what I want to do when I get out of college is to help create opportunities for students who are first-generation, low-income, and students with disabilities…basically students who have been written off as students who aren’t going to make it.”
Re’Al has already shown a willingness to give back to the programs that helped him. As an OPTIONS Student Leader, Re’Al mentored incoming KU freshmen — students who were like him when he arrived at KU — as they transitioned to college. He also works as a TRIO tutor, mentoring students in finance, economics, and statistics classes. When asked why he likes tutoring, Re’Al stated that he loves feeling connected with students and is excited when his students do better in their classes, especially if they earn a higher grade than he did.
“I’ve always been strong academically, but I wanted to learn how to use this skillset to help others. To see the change in confidence in students’ faces makes you feel a lot better because you can see that you’re having a positive impact on the students.”
Re’Al’s mentoring skills are already having a notable impact: he reported that students he has tutored have themselves became student tutors or now take honor’s classes with him.
Beyond the impact TRIO has made in Re’Al’s life, there is one larger turning point. Over the summer break, Re’Al was involved in a car accident. He feels incredibly lucky that no one was hurt, and the incident served to amplify Re’Al’s commitment to helping others. “I realized I am blessed and I am here for a reason: If I do nothing else, I’m going to leave a positive impact on the people I meet. That is what I was put here to do.”
Re’Al knows that earning his degree will mean that much more for his family. “It will mean a lot to my family; especially with my little sisters. I don’t know if college is in their future but I want them to see that someone in their family has done it and that there are resources there.” One of his sisters is a high school senior and the other a high school freshman. Re’Al sees earning his degree as an opportunity to give back to his community by returning to Branson. He wants to be a community member who went to college to continue his education, changed his perspective, and returned to the community to make a positive impact.