In 2013, the partnership of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Montgomery College (MC), and the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) launched the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) program to provide a college pathway for high school students who are part of populations that are underrepresented in higher education. The ACES program at USG is designed to support these students as they complete the final two years of their baccalaureate degree.
When the ACES students arrive on the USG campus they meet me. My name is Tia Dolet and I am the ACES Success Coordinator in the Center for Recruitment and Transfer Access (CRTA). I work directly with the ACES students to provide one-on-one coaching and conduct workshops that support academic and professional development. This past August, we welcomed our first class of 12 students from the first ACES cohort, representing five of our university partners and nine different majors. The students are nearing completion of their junior year, and I asked them to reflect upon what their experience has been like through the ACES program. One central theme emerged, all of the students wanted to find ways to help support high school students and give them their guidance.
This led to ACES students taking an active role in talking to high school students and sharing their stories in order to motivate and inspire a new generation of college students. In just one semester, five ACES students attended various USG informational presentations at Montgomery County high schools. During these presentations, high school students learned about the benefits of attending a program at USG while also getting the opportunity to hear ACES students describe their experience within the MCPS > MC > USG pathway. ACES students openly shared their struggles, triumphs and lessons learned with high school youth who were eager to hear from individuals with whom they could relate.
One of the most memorable moments, is when two ACES juniors, Evelyn Solis (UMCP, Biological Sciences) and Ariel Blanco (Salisbury University, Exercise Science) gave a bilingual presentation for participants in Liberty’s Promise at Wheaton High School. Liberty’s Promise is an organization that supports immigrant students in Montgomery County. Having once been in their shoes, Ariel and Evelyn shared their stories on what it was like not only being in a new high school, but also being in a new country. They talked about the influential experiences and people that inspired them to continue their education and pursue their field of study. When Ariel came to the U.S., he thought that after high school he would just find a “good paying job.” But he realized that finding a good paying job with just a high school diploma would not be that easy. While at MC he started to excel and kept a 4.0 GPA, he said education “started to feel more satisfying.” Like most students, transitioning from high school to college can be tough, but Ariel shared how connecting his passions to a major kept him engaged and motivated to confront those challenges head on. As an avid soccer player, one of his main reasons for going to college was to pursue a career in sports. Nevertheless, as he started his coursework, he realized he had a new passion for human sciences and learning how the body works. He ended his speech by encouraging students to “never give up on their dreams and to take advantage of every opportunity presented.”
Throughout the semester, Ariel continued to present to other students. I later asked him why it was so important for him volunteer his time to reach out to others and he replied:
“Day after day I realize that if I want to see a change in the world, the best thing I can do is change my own world, my day-to-day events, and the people I come across with. The main reason why I want to help others is that it is necessary. I want to give to someone who is in need, even if that person does not accept that fact, it is important that society helps without the necessity of individuals to ask for the help, like my teachers and ACES have done for me.”
ACES students at USG have truly made the most of the ACES program and are now paving the way for the next wave of young scholars. Their triumphant narratives of grit and perseverance are truly encouraging to every ear reached—mine included. We are so proud of all of the ACES students’ commitment to the Montgomery County community and we look forward to celebrating their future accomplishments!