Maricopa Achieving a College Education (ACE) Program

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Maricopa Community Colleges run a nationally recognized program called Achieving a College Education (ACE). The program has proven successful in motivating students to finish high school and continue on to get a college degree. Linda Mazon Gutierrez, president and CEO for the Hispanic Women’s Corporation and Stella Torres, director of the Maricopa ACE Programs for the Maricopa County Community Colleges District discuss the program.

Richard Ruelas: Maricopa community colleges run a nationally recognized program called ACE, Achieving a College Education. It has proven successful in motivating underrepresented students to complete high school and continue on to complete a college degree by helping students make a smooth transition between high school, community college and university. Joining me to talk about the program is Linda Mázon Gutierrez, president and CEO for the Hispanic Women's Corporation. And Stella Torres, director of the Maricopa ACE programs for the Maricopa county community colleges district. Thanks for joining us this evening.

Stella Torres: Good evening.

Richard Ruelas: Let's talk about college. There's some criteria here. Is it easy to get students to sign up for this program? Is the first hurdle convincing them that college is something that could be done?

Stella Torres: Yes, we have 28 years of doing this with this program, and currently, we take 1,000 students a year throughout the 10 colleges but unfortunately, we're turning 1,000 away that we don't have the funds to get in.

Richard Ruelas: You're turning 1,000 away for lack of funds.

Stella Torres: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: Which we'll get to the dinner later. But you're turning 1,000 students away for lack of funds.

Stella Torres: And what they find is that they have a desire and a dream to better themselves and to go to college and we look at first generation, so they're all with like wanting they say that they can succeed in college and because we start them early or they want to change their high school life. Maybe they were not good students but then they start taking college and they learn they can do it.

Richard Ruelas: In the 28 years, has that waiting list grown?

Stella Torres: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: What was it like early on at the beginning of the program?

Stella Torres: In 1987 there was only one college, south mountain community college, where it was started and then Glendale community college came in in 1990 and not until 2001 did we go into the other eight colleges. So the need was always there. And it got bigger and bigger. And then our own alumni, the students who went to the program, and we have a strong parent component with it. We have parent orientations, parent workshops, we hardly have to recruit sometimes because families and cousins and brothers and sisters already know about the program.

Richard Ruelas: What attracted you to want to support this program?

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: I would say the Hispanic women's corporation has always been invested in the education of our youth and I really do believe that when I was approached by the chancellor of the Maricopa community colleges as well as the overseer of the foundation and together with others, you see that kind of investment, you see that passion, and what a greater gift to our community than to be involved in a partnership that leads to those goals, an early start towards a college education? You just can't argue with that.

Richard Ruelas: It seems intuitive, too. It seems like a program that just is starting some simple goals, which end up in a college education for somebody.

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. But as stella noted earlier that if you can start to deal with some of the obstacles in that pathway, which could be financial aid, which is the importance of this dinner that's coming up, but also, the fact that you want that parental support and you want the support of the community college that the students are attending. That's absolutely essentially to achieving the goal, to walking out with college credits and making a smooth transition to the university.

Richard Ruelas: And that smooth transition, it seems like one of the goals of the program is to make it seamless, that what you're doing in high school, you just keep going and do it for a few more years and you end up with a college degree.

Stella Torres: It's a concurrent program and that means that they go to high school five days a week, and then they come to the college campuses on Saturdays for a class, and in the summers. So they can earn 12 credits a year and they come into the program through the junior and senior year and so they kind of like -- the credits are there for the community college and they could earn 24 credits.

Richard Ruelas: How long is the day on Saturday?

Stella Torres: It's a night class, three hours. Remember when we went to Arizona state or to Phoenix college, you took a class and it was three hours, a night class. We do it on Saturday mornings.

Richard Ruelas: It doesn't ruin their whole weekend.

Stella Torres: No, it doesn't.

Richard Ruelas: And is that something for them to even just step foot on that campus.

Stella Torres: Yes, exactly, how it feels to use the libraries, to use the tutoring services, to find out about financial aid, and then we do a summer session also, every summer they come for the first summer session, six to five weeks.

Richard Ruelas: Is there something in the way you develop the program or something in the way when you heard about it that resonated with you personally of this is something that I went through because I understand the challenges of going through this?

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: Absolutely. I consider myself to be first generation, having attended college in my family. And when you take a look at that, it's a hit-and-miss proposition. It just absolutely is. And you're going in quite frankly, without all the guidance and the knowledge that you could have had or should have had regarding financial aid, regarding college success skills. And, you know, you get in there and you do your best and you can just imagine at least going back with me a couple of centuries that you couldn't go online to go register. There were long lines and your prerequisite courses, chances of being closed.

Richard Ruelas: And if you went to a big university like Arizona state, you feel swallowed up.

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: It was still bad enough at a community college when you didn't know your way around but you figured it out. And you go back to those experiences, and then you hope okay, so how do I help the next generation feel better about things? How do we smooth that transition over? How did they see a light at the end of the tunnel without that frustration, if you will?

Richard Ruelas: There's something again very intuitive about it, even knowing where the library is, where do I park my car? Where's that building? Just makes that first actual year of college, university or community college, much less stressful.

Stella Torres: Yes. I was first generation also and I come from a mining town, Hayden, Arizona. And I was I came to Arizona state and I tried to be a nurse at Arizona state but bad advisement, so that's why this program just when Nancy Jordan and liz warren designed the program for the south mountain community college in Maricopa it was like this is what I wish I had had.

Richard Ruelas: And then once you mentioned sort of alumni coming back, once that first generation is through, it seems just it's an expectation that others kind of follow easily?

Stella Torres: Yes, I think there's that empowerment, you know. And one of the things I've never been able to track is what we call the snowball effect of how many brothers and sisters, how many aunts and uncles, how many boyfriends and girlfriends, how many parents we helped along the way that were not in the program but we also showed them what Maricopa community college is about and some of the things you need to know about college and so that's something I've never been able to track but I wonder how many we touched.

Richard Ruelas: You mentioned working on the parents. Is that something that is a challenge, it was more of a challenge in years past than it is now? Getting the parents to sort of buy into what their students will be experiencing over the next few years?

Stella Torres: Well, yes, 28 years ago when I was the first director at the one at south. I still ran into parents that had a hard time of understanding education for their children.

Richard Ruelas: ¿Por qué?

Stella Torres: Nobody had ever really gone through it. I remember having to have parents with fathers, especially fathers would come to the campus looking for me and I would have to have coffee with them and meet with them, that this is where your daughter, your son will be here on Saturdays during the summer, and now, it's a waiting list.

Richard Ruelas: But you let them know it's the long day.

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: Exactly, exactly. The education is simply the key to a safety net for their future, for their economic future, as well.

Richard Ruelas: And there's all the other criteria. You try to reach out to first-generation kids, people with economic factors. Do most of the students meet one or more?

Stella Torres: They have to meet at least two.

Richard Ruelas: There's 2,000 who apply, 1,000 who make it. I imagine if you had more money, you could get more scholarships to the children on the waiting list.

Stella Torres: Yes.

Richard Ruelas: Which gets us to the heroes of education recognition dinner. This year honoring someone named Linda mason Gutierrez. Are there still seats available and can people just donate money if they wish?

Stella Torres: Yes, and it's April 16th.

Richard Ruelas: April 16th at?

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: It's going to be at the Sheridan hotel, Thursday April the 16th and everything begins at 5:30, the social hour and then 6:30 the dinner. So right here at the Phoenix Sheridan hotel.

Richard Ruelas: Excellent and if people want more information,, which I imagine whether they want dinner tickets or not, if they're looking for nonprofit donations, want to give money to a worthy cause, this is somewhere they could go.

Linda Mázon Gutierrez: Absolutely.

Richard Ruelas: And as a first-generation college student myself, go ASU and my niece the story goes, as a little girl drove by ASU and said that's where my dad goes, I'm going to go there. Thank you so much for joining us, and telling us about this great program. Thank you, joining us. That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at eight and "Horizonte," thank you for watching. I'm Richard Ruelas. Have a good evening.

Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Linda Mazon Gutierrez:President and CEO, Hispanic Women's Corporation; Stella Torres:Director of Maricopa ACE Programs, Maricopa County Community Colleges District;

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