EXCEL Program Helps Prepare Incoming Students

The EXCEL program, an intense five-week initiative at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science that challenges students committed to diversity issues and prepares them for their freshman year, finished up its 32nd year last week.

Eighteen students participated this year, learning everything from math to science to the ins and outs of college living.

“We experienced cafeteria food,” laughed Jonathan Knowles, who hails from Orlando. “I found out you have to mix it up. You can’t eat the same thing every day.”

In the program, students took calculus, engineering analysis, chemistry, and a leadership class during the day, then spent their nights in a sorority house. In the evenings they were given free time — “But we usually had to do our homework,” Knowles said — and on weekends they took excursions to Chicago, had barbeques, and went bowling.

“It has been a lot of work and a lot of fun,” said Shaina Fuller, from Stone Mountain, Georgia.

The program began in 1965 and was officially established in 1978 with an initial grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Since 1978, more than 850 students have participated. Ellen Worsdall, assistant dean for students and diversity programs, said the program gives students both an introduction to college life and a support system that they’ll need come fall.

“This year we’ve got a great group of students, and they’ve worked really hard, ” Worsdall said. “We’re happy to have an opportunity to make sure students have a chance to get the support they need to be successful undergraduates.

For Knowles, the program provided an excellent introduction to the study and time management skills he’ll need this fall.

“We’re all so used to being the ones that people come to for help,” he said. “In the second week here the counselors sat us down and told us we need to learn how to work together because in college, nobody does it on their own. So we started to work in groups, and we found we could get our homework done in half the time.”

Students visited the headquarters of the Boeing Company, a program sponsor, and participated in events like the annual alumni barbeque. Over the five weeks the group became close — they even threw a surprise birthday party for Knowles. Fuller said Excel will help her as she travels a thousand miles from home and enters a new part of her life.

“I know how to get around Tech, and I already have people I know,” she said. “I feel like it gives me a huge advantage. I feel better prepared.”

Knowles agrees.

“A lot of people said, oh, it’s my last summer before college, I want to work and make money,” he said. “But I wanted to be as prepared as I could, and I still had a lot of fun. Excel will push you to your limits, but it’s well worth it.”

Excel students