Examples of Excelencia Recipients

Recipients of Excelencia's annual awards brought up several themes during panels at the annual ALASS Institute.

October 28, 2019
 
Istockphoto.com/SDI Productions

The annual Accelerating Latino Student Success, or ALASS, Institute in Washington on Friday featured panels with the four recipients of the 2019 Examples of Excelencia and the inaugural recipients of the Seal of Excelencia. Community, intentionality and data were common themes among the recipients as they discussed how they earned the distinctions.

While Latinos are making up more of the U.S. population and its elementary and secondary school populations, reports show that Latino students are underrepresented at public colleges and universities. The nonprofit Excelencia in Education recognizes programs that advocate for Latino student success and raises the profile of programs that appear to work at its annual convening for strategy discussions.

Of the 166 nominations received in 2019, Excelencia chose the Center for Community College Partnerships at the University of California, Los Angeles; the Attract, Inspire, Mentor and Support Students, or AIMS2, Program at California State University Northridge; the Cal-Bridge Program at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona; and the Latino Achievers at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee as the four recipients of the Examples of Excelencia.

One of the key aspects for how the programs build success is creating a sense of community, their representatives said on a panel.

AIMS2 uses a cohort-based model to create that feeling among students, said S. K. Ramesh, director of the program and a professor at Cal State Northridge. Students from across disciplines work together, breaking down the silos in which students in different majors typically exist, Ramesh said, which creates a collaborative environment. Faculty members and those running the program also look out for students and meet each month to discuss how each individual student is doing.

Intentionality is also a key aspect of building success. Nichole Davari, program director of Latino Achievers, said the staff asks itself about every detail, from hiring employees that share similar experiences to the students they help to choosing a local Latino business owner to cater events.

“We are for the community by the community,” Davari said.

It also helps the organization target Latinos in Nashville, because students will see themselves in its leaders.

“If you had people on your staff who look like your students with similar backgrounds, then there’s an understanding that’s deeper, that can’t be learned,” she told the audience.

Two of the nine winners of the Seal of Excelencia also spoke on a panel at the event. Virginia Fraire, associate provost at the University of Texas at El Paso, said she grew up in public housing in El Paso and had very little knowledge of how the education system worked.

“What excites me about the work with Excelencia is that this is really about a better vision for tomorrow, not just for communities but also for the country,” Fraire said. “There is a lot at stake if we don’t take action to increase the graduation rates of Latinos.”

Grand Valley State University, in Michigan, a recipient of the seal, uses data to lead students to success on an individual level, said Jesse Bernal, vice president of the division of inclusion and equity at the college. Using individuals’ race, grade point average, type of residence, major and other factors, Bernal said the college can predict retention and graduation rates using analytics.

Using this information, Grand Valley can customize programs for students, which has been the “key” to increasing graduation rates for underrepresented students, he said.

Beyond data, the college also holds focus groups to have conversations with underrepresented students and smaller populations.

“Having that dialogue has been essential,” he said.

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