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University of Toledo EXCEL program seeking funds

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


May 14, 2013: A program at the University of Toledo aimed at preparing underrepresented students, including Latinos, for college may have to be scaled back. UT Excel, a program that’s been around for a quarter-century, may have a limited future without fresh funding.


As a drop in enrollment has forced UT to cut its budget over the past few years, programs such as UT Excel have seen resulting reductions in funding. So the program’s administrators are seeking contributions and investments from businesses and the community-at-large to keep the program intact.


“That has placed us in a position to where we can still provide scholarships to the students in our program, but the budget is now just a bit tighter than we would like it to be,” said David Young, Toledo EXCEL director. “Those things that we would like to do for our students; we can’t really pay for the extra labs and things like that for students interested in engineering and nursing.”


Students go through an interview and application process during their eighth grade year to get into the Toledo EXCEL program. More than 100 apply each year, but only about 50 get chosen. Administrators hope to maintain that number in future years, despite the UT budget cuts.


“It wouldn’t eliminate anyone’s scholarship—we’re not at that point,” Young said. “But we’re trying to be proactive. We’re unsure of exactly what is on the horizon for these economic times. So we’re trying to ensure we have some support outside of that base budget. So we’re working with the (UT) Foundation to get some external funding so we have that same comfort level we had before in assisting our students.”


The program’s 25th anniversary serves as an opportunity to showcase the success of the students, as well as reach out to Excel alumni, supporters, foundations, and other community groups to ask for continued funding.


“I want to make sure we don’t end up in danger,” said Young.


Toledo EXCEL will celebrate its 25th anniversary with its annual graduation and induction ceremony on Sunday, June 9, 2013, 6 to 8 p.m. in Nitschke Auditorium. The occasion will celebrate the academic, cultural and civic achievements of Toledo EXCEL and its students, past and present. This event is free and open to the public. A dessert reception is to follow the program.


“I think it’s important for the public to know investing in this program is not what we’re looking for—we want people to believe and support and invest in the students who go through the program,” said Marida Allen, associate director. “Each individual who sets foot on this campus has the opportunity to explore their own interests, get exposed to so many global opportunities. It’s literally life-changing not only for the student, but also for our own community and our own greater society. We instill in them that they are global citizens.”

Students are in the program through their high school years, attending special academic programs throughout the school year on Saturdays and a Summer Institute, which prepare them for college and make them what Young calls “scholarship ready.” The focus also is on leadership and career development. Students also receive lessons in human rights and global diversity and are expected to perform 25 hours of community service each year.


“No student likes to come to school on Saturday—but to a student, they say it helped prepare them for college,” Young said. “It prepares them for the pace and rigor of college coursework.”


If a student completes the requirements of the program and maintains a 3.0 GPA, they are awarded a tuition scholarship to attend UT. Because students come from underrepresented communities—and some from low-income households—the scholarship money may be the difference-maker in whether they attend college or not.


“We know the UT scholarship is going to be there, but we try to prepare them to receive as many scholarships as possible,” explained Young. “A large number of students receive local scholarships—from other foundations, that kind of thing. What we create is a really nice jacket.”


EXCEL is also dedicated to making students into conscientious and active members of the local community. The program offers a variety of enrichment services and activities that take place on the UT campus in order to familiarize them with the university and collegiate expectations.


“The students are together for so long, they really become a family,” said Young. “Students from different racial backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and faith backgrounds never would normally hang out together. But all these students are put together and because they have to come to so many different events, they become a family unit. It’s just amazing to see students who in just a high school setting would never hang out, be friends and wave to each other in the hall and become the best of friends.”


“Because there’s a scholarship attached as an incentive to the program, many students have aspirations of going to school here,” said Ms. Allen. “To be able to retain them here, right in our own backyard at the university, it really connects them. They’re urged to do community service locally at places where they have a career interest. That may give them a heads-up on some job opportunities. So we really try to plant some roots here—not necessarily to keep them here, but show them there are some opportunities here within the city.”


EXCEL used to be housed at the Scott Park campus. But the university has undergone some programmatic changes—and with a move to the student services division, the program is now located at the Student Union on the main Bancroft St. campus. A student from any school located in Toledo—public, charter, or parochial—is eligible to apply for the program.


“When you’re talking about students from these populations, I really don’t think there’s a program in the country that can touch the success that we’ve had,” said Young, when considering graduation and retention rates of Excel students.


To date, approximately 1,300 Toledo-area high school-age teens have gone through the long-term program, which is aimed at student success over a number of years. The program boasts a 99 percent high school graduation rate, 96 percent college enrollment rate, and 86 percent become college graduates or students matriculating towards graduation.


In addition, administrators guesstimate that nearly 70 percent of the students have stayed in Northwest Ohio and still call it home.


“With the evolution of society, I guess that’s reflected within the program,” said Ms. Allen.

“The generations of students we’re dealing with are very much reflective of what our community looks like and I think that’s part of the beauty of this program. Our students are so diverse in their backgrounds and it’s really refreshing for us to work with such students and for them to work with each other. They really learn so much from each other, as well as us from our academic instruction.”


Ms. Allen herself is a product of the UT Excel program, part of the fifth group of students nearly two decades ago.


“I really have a perspective as a student, some of the things I’ve done and the program has prepared me for,” she said. “I try to instill those in the students. But I also have to be cognizant that the students have different needs than we did 20 years ago. It’s an ever-changing process and they keep me young.”


Ms. Allen started working with the program during the summer when she was still in high school, as a peer mentor. She “stayed connected” even during her college years. The 34-year old now has spent more than a decade working with EXCEL as a student and as a professional.


“I was a shy student, went to St. Ursula Academy. I was used to staying in my own lane—and this program gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the city that I never would have met,” she said. “Or to travel—I traveled to Africa twice before I was 16 years old. Those types of once-in-a-lifetime experiences really broadened my whole perspective on life and the opportunities that were out there.”


Spring is a busy time of year for the UT Excel program. While dozens of students are preparing to graduate, another group of students will be inducted into the program. As soon as one group of students finishes, another one begins the program.


“This is always a time of rebirth and reflection through their eyes,” said Ms. Allen.


Anyone who wants to inquire about how to contribute to the Toledo EXCEL program can call the office at 419.530.3820. All contributions would be tax-deductible.

Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/21/13 17:02:28 -0700.




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