Cal State Fullerton Effort Snags 'Examples of Excelencia' Award

Program Creates Supportive Community for Hispanic Grad Students

A Cal State Fullerton program that aimes to increase the number of Hispanic students who earn a graduate degree has one a national award.

Enhancing Postbaccalaureate Opportunities at Cal State Fullerton for Hispanic Students (EPOCHS) was honored Wednesday by Excelencia in Education!, a national initiative to identify and promote evidenced-based programs and departments effectively boosting Latino enrollment, performance and education.

EPOCHS creates a community that provides support and guidance so that students — including those who are underrrepresented and disadvantaged — can see their educational goals succeed.

"It makes us feel welcome," says Maria Salazar, a graduate student studying Spanish. “It gives us a chance to connect with people. I'm thankful for that."

In the six years since its inception, EPOCHS has increased the number of Hispanic graduate students from 691 to 1,091. It also has created a setting that empowers such students as they move forward in pursuing their advanced degrees.

EPOCHS is this year's recipient of the "Examples of Excelencia" Award for graduate-level institutions. Cal State Fullerton was the only CSU campus to even reach the finalist stage. The award was presented at a Washington, D.C, awards ceremony, where atherine Powers, program director and director of graduate studies at CSUF, spoke.

"For many, they are the first in their families to enroll in postsecondary education. They are unaware of how to navigate the system," said Powers. "They worry about how to fund their schooling, how to juggle work, school and family while working and, sometimes, feel they 'don't belong' in a master's or doctoral program."

Through EPOCHS — and its sister program, SOAR (Strengthening Opportunities, Access and Resources) — we have created a campus culture promoting postbaccalaureate education," added Powers. "More importantly, we make sure that they feel like they belong and that they can succeed."

"It's not just going to school and taking classes and then you're done," said Jeanette Hernandez, who is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology. With EPOCHS, "you feel a little more invested in college … it makes the experience more enjoyable."

The program provides graduate learning specialists, workshops to enhance and enrich participants' experience and skill sets, specialized staff to provide support and assistance and faculty mentoring. The program also offers monetary support for research projects required by some university degree programs.

For the awardss, more than 190 nominations from 33 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico were made. A national selection committee selected select one "Example of Excelencia" from each of the four categories: associate, baccalaureate, graduate and community-based organization.

A short video that includes students speaking about their experiences can be seen online.

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