She knows firsthand how TRIO can help change lives
La’Krystal Neal-Williams knows the impact that the TRIO programs can have on a student and their future.
She was looking for the TRIO offices at the University of West Florida as a student when UWF TRIO representative David Williams walked her to another building to help her get some paperwork.
Neal-Williams ended up marrying David Williams.
Now, she is a Pensacola State College TRIO-Student Support Services’ Academic Advisor and Life Skills Coach. Student Support Services is one of five federally-funded TRIO programs available at PSC.
TRIO-SSS is a program that helps students with academic needs and who are either a first-generation college student, have an economic need or have a disability.
“TRIO evens the playing field,’’ Neal-Williams said. “I wouldn’t have the opportunities I did have if not for TRIO.”
Besides academic counseling and advising, TRIO-SSS also facilitates visits to four-year university campuses, computer access, cultural field trips and more.
“This job was made for me,’’ she said. “I do not just advise students on academics. What I do is holistic advising – personal counseling and mental counseling and making sure they’re OK. I can find out what challenges they’re facing and help them find the resources they need.”
Neal-Williams has a Master of Public Administration degree and a bachelor’s degree in Global Hospitality and Tourism Hospitality Administration/Management.
She and her husband have three children – La’Asia, 24, Jahnal, 14, and Jahnariah, 12.
Her youngest children are in the TRIO-Talent Search Program which strives to increase the number of underrepresented youths who attend and graduate college. It is open to students in grade 6 through 12 who meet eligibility requirements.
Her husband, now a technology coordinator for the Escambia County School District, was a TRIO student while at then-Pensacola Junior College in the late 1990s and later at Florida A&M University.
“We’re a TRIO family,’’ Neal-Williams added.
Rachelle Burns, TRIO-SSS director, said Neal-Williams is a valuable addition to the team.
“We are thrilled to have Krystal in TRIO-SSS, because she not only brings great energy to our program and her work with students, but also a practical understanding of what it means to be a TRIO-SSS student, having lived it herself,’’ Burns said.
“It’s so important for our students to connect with someone who understands what their lives are like, what challenges they face and how they can work to overcome those challenges. When students have support from someone with whom they can identify, it inspires them to fight hard to stay in school and to be successful.”
Though Neal-Williams is happy to be making a difference at PSC, it was not long ago that she was anxious about even leaving her house.
She was seriously injured by a drunk driver in April 2019 and wouldn’t walk for two years. Neal-Williams spine was injured, and she couldn’t even hold her head up. Now she has a titanium plate near the junction of the spine and neck and a titanium rod in her right hand.
Neal-Williams said the injury, coupled with the COVID-19 shutdown a year later, led her to develop major anxiety issues.
“I spent two years at home and didn’t leave the house,’’ she shared. “I was afraid to leave the house. Even thinking about it made me anxious.”
She underwent major therapy and now walks without assistance.
“Rainy days are a different story,’’ she said of the pain and aches that come with changes in weather. “I’ve had to go through a lot, but it’s given me an opportunity to work hard to overcome my own challenges and obstacles. A lot of the students I deal with have challenges and obstacles as well and I will be better able to relate to them. I’m really excited to be here.”