UTSA ACE Scholar Program provides financial, academic support to help local high schoolers transition to college
(March 1, 2016) -- Tucked inside the Tomas Rivera Center for Student Success (TRC) office on the second floor of the Durango Building, the Access College and Excel (ACE) Scholar Program has been steadily working behind the scenes to help incoming freshmen from high schools surrounding the downtown area transition successfully to college.
Seniors from 11 high schools in Edgewood ISD, Harlandale ISD and San Antonio ISD who have at least a 2.5 high school GPA are eligible to apply for the program. If accepted, each student receives up to $2,400 over the course of two years to help pay for their education at UTSA.
In addition to the scholarship, the ACE Scholar Program provides tutoring, mentoring, monthly meetings with their academic advisor and a variety of special programs in their first two years at UTSA that help the students explore their interests and expand on their academic experience while practicing good study habits, time management and planning skills.
This bridge-building UTSA program has been a pillar at the Downtown Campus since 1999, with its founding just two years after the campus opened at its current location on the near west side of downtown San Antonio. ACE scholars are required to take all of their courses at the Downtown Campus during their first semester at UTSA.
“Since classes are generally smaller at the Downtown Campus, it allows the students to transition well from high school to UTSA,” said Leticia Longoria, assistant director of the TRC at the Downtown Campus. “In fact, many of our students choose to take as many of the classes as they can at the Downtown Campus after their first semester because they prefer the lower student-teacher ratio and the close-knit community.”
The program not only promotes academic success, it also promotes community. Each incoming cohort attends a summer “meet and greet” event during which they really get to know each other before the first day of class. At the beginning of each fall semester, a reception and awards ceremony is held to welcome the new cohort and introduce them to the ACE scholars from previous cohorts. Sophomore through senior ACE scholars serve as peer mentors to the freshmen. Additionally, the program helps gear the students to be civically engaged by participating in annual service learning projects with organizations like the City of San Antonio, Children’s Hunger Fund, San Antonio Food Bank and Texas Diaper Bank.
"ACE is a great program for students who need assistance with academic support, transitioning to college, and financial assistance, shared Rocio Alvarado, a criminal justice major who was part of the 2014 ACE cohort. “The ACE mentors gave us important information we needed to know about classes, where to buy books, how to study, how to manage our time wisely, etc. Advising meetings helped us keep up with our grades to make sure we are on track and helped us find ways we can improve academically. It also made it easy to meet new people by participating in group activities outside of the school such as volunteering for the Children’s Hunger Fund. Participating in outside activities helped everyone come together later to make study groups. ACE just made the college transition easy."
"The ACE Scholar Program has really helped me to grow as a person, and taught me a lot of responsibility by holding me accountable for my actions and making sure I have my priorities right for my own success," shared Miranda Castillo, an engineering major who is part of the 2014 ACE cohort.
"The ACE program has taught me good study habits, which is not something I learned in high school. If it weren’t for the ACE program, I would have done terribly in my first semester,” said David Gandaria, a public health major and member of the 2015 ACE cohort. “I made more friends than I would have if I weren’t in the program and the ACE staff are always checking in to ask me how I’m doing and to encourage and support me. The ACE program was one of the major reasons I chose UTSA and I encourage every student who goes to one of the eligible high schools to apply."
And while the scholarship only lasts for two years, the academic support continues until they graduate. The experiences and friendships they make, however, can last a lifetime.