Story Student Success

Setting an Excellent Example

Alex Beall

These CSU programs were distinguished by the organization Excelencia in Education for their work serving Latinx students.

​​Chico State student in the Graduate Equity Fellowship Program conducts research in the lab with Biology Professor Gerald Cobián, Ph.D.


Three CSU programs received recognition from Excelencia in Education's 2023 Examples of Excelencia award for empowering Latinx students and improving their outcomes through culturally relevant and data-driven efforts.

"​America's future is brighter with the talents of Latino students across the country," Excelencia in Education's co-founder and president Sarita Brown said in a press release. "Excelencia created Examples of Excelencia to recognize effective efforts led by practitioners in higher education who believe in their students' future and support their highest aspirations."

See which CSU programs received this year's distinction.

Chico State | Graduate Equity Fellowship Program

​​Chico State Gradaute Equity Fellowship students

​​Chico State's Graduate Equity Fellowship Program—which launched in the mid-80s to diversify the students pursuing post-graduate degrees—took the top honor in the graduate category.

“Half of our graduate students come from the North State region, and they remain here—and they are doing some of the most important work in the region, which is an area with high poverty rates, health issues, unemployment and social welfare problems," says Sharon Barrios, Ph.D., program director and dean of Graduate Studies. “These graduate students are in the community contributing to its health and welfare. … A recognition like this brings more attention to these amazing students."

To accomplish its goal, the program supports students from underrepresented backgrounds as they complete their master's degrees and consider pursuing a Ph.D. through financial support, mentorship, a peer collaborative group led by a faculty coordinator, and an opportunity to conduct research with a faculty member. The program is open to students across disciplines and welcomes a cohort of 10 new students each year. Currently, 70% of the students are Latinx.

“Programs such as the Graduate Equity Fellowship, because of their intentional commitment and effective program design, are creating relevant and impactful opportunities for populations that have been marginalized," says Teresita Curiel, director of Latinx Equity and Success. As a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), “a program such as this is exactly what we encourage to support student success in a culturally relevant way, that's responsive to their needs and introduces students to the possibilities for their futures."

Letty Mejia, a fellow working toward her master's in social work (MSW), immigrated to the United States when she was only six and was barred from pursuing higher education for years due to her undocumented status. She finally enrolled in an associate degree program in 2012 thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but still struggled to feel like she belonged in higher education.

The Graduate Equity Fellowship Program has helped validate her place in higher education as Mejia's mentor has drawn out her passion for research, and the financial support has alleviated her need to consistently work multiple part-time jobs to fund her schooling. Now, she hopes she can be the representation she never encountered.

“This program is changing the trajectory not only for me, but for my children," she says. “They are seeing me pursue higher education, and at the same time, I am paving the way so that when it's their turn, they don't have to deal with the adversities that I've dealt with."

Ashley Macias, another fellow earning an MSW, shares how the program goes beyond the academic to ensure students have the help they need to navigate higher education—a skill necessary for success.

“I am a brown Latina woman, I have a learning disability and there are many challenges that I have had to overcome," Macias says. “The statistics for women who look like me and who were raised like me are not encouraging. … There is so much ingenuity and there are so many skillsets that a lot of people who look like me have. The program gives us that support that otherwise we may not have to succeed."

C​SUN | Bridge to the Future Scholars Program

​​CSUN Bridge to the Future Scholars

The Bridge to the Future (B2F) Scholars Program at CSUN came in as ​a finalist in the baccalaureate category. Launched in 2017, B2F provides up to 25 graduating seniors at Canoga Park High School with a free education at CSUN.

“The vision was to find ways to provide affordable, but also deep and meaningful educational experiences, for students from underserved and under-resourced communities, to encourage students who might not think that a four-year university experience was in their future to start on that journey, and to find ways to help them be successful," says B2F Director David Boyns, Ph.D. “When they come to college, they're not just coming for themselves. They're coming to represent, support and give back to their families."

B2F focuses on Canoga Park High School, which already had an existing relationship with CSUN, as it is one of the ​most under-resourced schools in the Los Angeles School District, with significant numbers of immigrants, families with low-income status, and students on free or reduced lunch. Upwards of 80% of B2F participants are Latinx.

“Coming from a low-income family, I know what it is to struggle financially, and I know the fear of affording college that quickly becomes the main struggle for many students," says Kevin Reyes, a B2F scholar and mechanical engineering student. “The Bridge to the Future program makes an outstanding effort in supporting individuals like me, as it provides a lifeline to our dreams of attending a four-year university. Through its financial support, B2F offers a pathway to higher education that is often unattainable without such assistance, ensuring that the financial burden doesn't derail our academic aspirations."

To qualify for the program, students must demonstrate a strong academic background and a commitment to engaging with their community—as the latter is a required aspect of B2F.

In addition to financial support, accepted students benefit from mentorship, tutoring, a physical space on campus to gather and work, outdoor activities like hiking and rafting, and opportunities to give back to their communities. B2F scholars participate in a variety of community events, including produce distributions, beach clean-ups, cultural events, and tutoring and mentoring for their high school or afterschool programs.

Monserrath Contreras, '23, a B2F graduate with a degree in Communication Disorders and Sciences, says she most benefitted from the mentoring, tutoring and mental health services.

“As a first-generation college student, it was very challenging for me to manage and balance both my academic and social life," says Contreras, who is now working toward a M.S. in Communication Disorders and Sciences at CSUN. “But through the support of B2F and the social worker interns and group workshops I was able to find the confidence, solidarity and support to be able to successfully complete my bachelor's degree … and graduate with honors and summa cum laude."

Cal State Fullerton | Ánimo Latinx Counseling Emphasis

​​Ánimo Latinx Counseling Emphasis ​​graduates

​Introduced in 2018, the Ánimo Latinx Counseling Emphasis in Cal State Fullerton's M.S. Department of Counseling prepares students to be bilingual, bicultural counselors equipped to provide culturally competent care to Spanish-speaking and Latinx clients. The program was named a finalist in the Examples of Excelencia graduate category.

Olga Mejía, Ph.D., emphasis director and associate professor of counseling, started the program based on her own and her students' experiences of being asked to conduct counseling sessions in Spanish without training or support. “Just because you speak Spanish doesn't mean you can do therapy, a professional service, in Spanish," she says. “I equally emphasize linguistic ability and knowledge of cultures because you can speak Spanish, but if you don't know how to use it in the context of our field, you're not going to engage the client."

To prepare students for their future work, the program features five required courses. They cover topics relevant to the Latinx community—such as immigration, acculturation, biculturalism, colorism and sexism—as well as what Mejía calls “therapeutic Spanish;" that is, the language and vocabulary needed to do therapy in Spanish. Students must have an intermediate level of spoken Spanish to complete the program.

Ánimo student Melanie Barajas applied to the program after feeling limited in her ability to help Spanish-speaking clients as a behavioral therapist, even though she was fluent. Now, the program has not only given her the linguistic ability and cultural awareness to better serve clients but has provided strong connections on campus.

“This program opens doors to spaces where many Latinx and Indigenous individuals often feel excluded or like they don't quite belong," Barajas says. “Having professors and therapists who share not only our language but also our values, customs and history … felt like a powerful affirmation that our stories and our ways of life have a meaningful place in this field."

Ánimo accepts 15 to 18 of the 60 students admitted into the counseling program each year and provides them with academic support, mentoring, and networking and growth opportunities through a research group and a student association. By sharing her own background, Mejía also aims to create an environment where students can bring their experiences into the classroom and to ensure there is representation for Latinx students in the field. While the program includes students from various ethnicities who are bilingual and bicultural, many Ánimo students are Latinx and first-generation, making these efforts particularly helpful.

“I'm intentional about creating safe spaces where the students feel like all parts of themselves can belong in the classroom," Mejía says. “The hope is they will take that and do that for their clients."

Paola Acosta, a first-generation Ánimo student, found that the program likewise helped her navigate higher education and prepared her for providing care and giving back to her community.

“This program is vital for future bilingual and bicultural counselors and therapists because much of the average curriculum, tools and theories have been based on western ways of healing that may not apply to communities of diverse backgrounds," Acosta says. “The Ánimo emphasis provided the ability to identify and implement culturally relevant interventions with clients as well as increase our confidence when using Spanish in the therapy room."

Because Latinx individuals make up a significant portion of the U.S. population and face unique mental health challenges given their backgrounds, Mejía says it is particularly important to train counselors to effectively serve this community.

“[Latinx] tend to have a lot of stigma related to seeking mental health services, so we need to have culturally sensitive, culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate services to meet those needs when clients actually come to us," she says.

Other Programs in the Spotlight

​​CSUCI CIMAS students on Santa Rosa Island

​​​​A group of CIMAS students from CSUCI visit the Santa Rosa Island Research Station.​

In addition, three CSU programs were designated Programs to Watch by Excelencia in Education:

  • CSU Channel Isla​nds's CIMAS (CSUCI Initiative for Mapping Academic Success): CIMAS aims to improve learning outcomes and create a sense of belonging for students who became disengaged during the pandemic. It offers weekly workshops and mentorship to students who did not pass one or more classes the previous semester and awards a scholarship covering a summer course for students who complete the program.
  • Cal State LA's Engaged English Course: This required course in the university's Department of English ensures English majors are equipped to give back to their communities in a professional setting. Students in the course participate in community engagement projects to learn how to work with other community members across different cultures and identities.
  • Cal State Fullerton's Transfer, Adult Re-entry, Parenting and Pregnant Student (TAPP) Center: The TAPP Center supports non-traditional students in these groups by connecting them with campus resources and services as well as helping them build community.

Finally, this year, Excelencia in Education granted its Seal of Excelencia to 14 colleges and universities, four of which were CSUs. Cal State Long Beach​, Cal State LA and CSUN earned the seal for the first time, and Sacramento State was recertified. These join a group of 39 schools that have demonstrated a significant impact on the education outcomes and lives of Latinx students. CSU Channel Islands, Fresno State, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State also hold the seal.

Almost half of the CSU's student body is comprised of Latinx students, and 21 of its universities are Hispanic-Serving Institutions. See other ways the CSU supports Latinx students.