Supporting Students to EXCEL

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Helios Education Foundation exists to transform opportunities for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in Arizona and Florida. We know education can break down barriers, move communities forward, and give everyone the opportunity to realize their fullest potential. 

A prime example of how investing in the education transforms the lives of students is the EXCEL program, a partnership with the Maricopa Community College District. The program is an intensive success program for first generation and/or low-income students at Estrella Mountain Community College and Glendale Community College. The EXCEL program assists with academic planning and transfer processes. It also provides holistic support services to minimize or completely remove cultural, academic, and/or financial barriers that can impede a student’s academic and personal success. The program’s wrap-around services provide students a source of stability, encouragement, and sometimes, a lifeline.

The success stories shared with us range from support with technology needs like laptops, wi-fi hotspots, or calculators; placement test fees, and other financial assistance; as well as more traditional services like academic advisement and mentorship.

Adriana Galindo, EXCEL Coordinator, Estrella Mountain Community College, shared with us a story of a student who kept up her engagement in EXCEL activities even as she faced multiple barriers. Besides being neurodiverse, this student’s family situation made academic life more difficult. She lived with her grandmother, mother, and sister in a low-income apartment. After losing her grandmother to COVID-19, the student’s mother left, leaving the student to take care of her sister; and although she works, she fell behind on rent and was facing eviction. EXCEL stepped in and provided financial assistance to pay the past due rent, paid one extra month of rent so she has a financial cushion, and helped the student with some groceries for her and her sister.

“She’s a huge success story. She persevered. She is really close to graduation. Had it not been for the EXCEL program, she would literally be on the street,” Galindo said. 

Donna Lopez – Martinez, Student Services Director, Maricopa Community Colleges, who oversees the EXCEL program echoed that sentiment. “So many of our students have told us, ‘I would not have been able to continue going to college if it wasn’t for EXCEL,’” she said. 

Magida, another EXCEL student Estrella Mountain Community College, had some advice for future students. Students should always keep in touch with their peer mentor and coordinator, who are always there to guide students to take advantage of the many layers of support.

Stories like these remind us that beyond the numbers, our investments are changing lives.