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Journey to success

Her life was changed by the Excel Program; now senior Chantal Baca is the one changing lives.

February 18, 2015

Senior Chantal Baca says she felt called to help students via the Excel Program. PHOTO: Trevor Davis
Senior Chantal Baca says she felt called to help students via the Excel Program. PHOTO: Trevor Davis

Chantal Baca’s journey to college started on a Friday. She knows for sure because that was the day the counselors from MSU Denver’s Excel Pre-Collegiate Program (EPCP) came to her high school each week.

“Without the EPCP counselors, I honestly don’t think I would have gone to college,” said Baca, a speech communication major. “I wanted to go, but didn’t know I could. They gave me a taste of what college was like and showed me how I could get there.”

Baca is one of countless students to benefit from this unique program, which serves primarily first-generation students of color and their parents, and provides assistance in the college application process. For Baca that meant exploring different programs, preparing essays and applying for financial aid. In the end, she chose MSU Denver in large part because of her relationship with the counselors. And she’s not the only one: approximately 100 students from the program enroll each year.

Once here, Baca felt called to help students from similar backgrounds to her own. She scored a work-study job with the Excel Program and served as an ambassador to Adams County high schools. Fittingly, she became the person who showed up each week, guiding predominantly first-generation Latino students through the highs and lows of preparing for college.

Baca excelled in her role and was soon asked to be part of the program’s expansion to include a greater emphasis on retention. The effort, known as Excel at MSU Denver, was launched in the fall of 2013 and included a mentoring component and scholarship program for current students. Baca was one of the first mentors. She worked directly with the Excel Scholars, assisting them as they navigated the college experience. Thanks in part to her work, the fall-to-fall retention rate for scholars in that first year clocked in at a solid 94 percent.

These days Baca is one of the leaders of Excel at MSU Denver. Besides mentoring, she organizes workshops on topics like time management and professional development. She also puts on Get Connected events that help students stay in touch and enjoy all the University has to offer.

“I think of myself as a connector,” she said. “The more connection students feel to the University and each other, the more likely they are to succeed. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Through her work with the Excel Programs, Baca also discovered her own calling. She plans to work in student affairs at a university before possibly moving into an administrative role. There will likely be more education along the way en route to her ultimate goal of serving as president of a university. For now, she is focused on a more immediate goal — graduation.

This spring, Baca will be one of the first students from the Excel Program to graduate from MSU Denver. She admits to getting chills when she thinks about walking across the stage as a representative of the program that has meant so much to her. It will be the culmination of a long journey, one that started on those long-ago Fridays, and is now clearly pointed in the direction of success.

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