120 served with 86% going on to graduate study!

Aspire to make a difference. Excel and make change.

Helping the historically underrepresented be represented in graduate school.

Mission Statement

To educate through teaching and learning, to motivate through critical dialogue and success, to embrace opportunities that take us to the next levels, developing future scholars as leaders….inspiring one scholar at a time!

About the Program

The Excel! Research Scholars Program is designed to prepare undergraduate students for graduate school admission, the rigors of graduate studies, and to be competitive for graduate school funding through involvement in research and other scholarly activities starting in the summer through to the students graduation date at the University of St. Thomas.

Program Goal

The goal of the Excel! Research Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.

Excel! Targets

Excel! targets underserved students. In specific, students who are first-generation college students, students with demonstrated high financial need as defined by the federal government, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential.

student researchers

Recent News

Laila Sheikh

Laila has applied to numerous graduate programs.  We are excited that she is receiving positive response.  Stay tuned for updates on her graduate school admission. 

Laila Sheikh - Laila Sheikh


Grace Maruska has recently been admitted into the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities where she will pursue a Masters in Public Policy in the Humphrey Institute.  Grace is an outstanding graduate from St. Thomas who earned her degree in English and was mentored by Dr. Todd Lawrence of the English department. Congratulations Grace!

Grace - Grace


Clemon Dabney of Cohort #1 has achieved his Ph.D. in Botany/Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2020. Dr. Dabney is now the Director of Medical Cannabis at Red Lake Medical Cannabis Corporation. Dr. Dabney’s mentor was Dr. Roxanne Prichard of Neuroscience. Congratulations Dr. Dabney!

Clem - Clem
student researcher

Congratulations to Habtamu Lajebo

Habtamu Lajebo, a DFC Scholar, recently won a full scholarship to attend the University of St. Thomas and complete his college degree.

A photo of Habtamu - Castor Center List Item Habtamu

We March for Justice 2020

Click here to watch the 2020 We March for Justice Study Tour video. The focus of this year's study tour was the role of faith and faith communities in the Civil Rights Movement. The trip was titled, "Church; The Epicenter of the Movement". Click the We March for Justice tab for more details.  

wmfj 2020 video image - Caster Center List Item - wmfj video

Newsroom Feature

The 2020 We March for Justice Study Tour; Church: The Epicenter of the Movement, was featured on the St. Thomas Newsroom in April 2020. Read the article here. 

wmfj clipping - Caster Center List Item - WMFJ newsroom article

Sameera Taylor

Sameera Taylor, a cohort 12 scholar, has been accepted to the University of Texas, Houston, MPH program. Congratulations Sameera! She will also be presenting her research on March 11th, 2020 at the State Capital. 

Sameera Taylor - Center List Item Taylor
recent graduate

Roumany Phan

Congratulations to Roumany Phan for becoming an M.S. Candidate of Engineering at Penn State University University Park, PA.

Roumany Phan - Castor Center List Item Roumany Phan
recent graduate

Whitney Oachs

Congratulations to Whitney Oachs for becoming an M.P.P Candidate for the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.


Whitney Oachs - Castor Center List Item Whitney Oachs
recent graduate

Martin Beck

Congratulations to Martin Beck for becoming an MSW Administration Candidate at the University of Chicago.

Martin Beck - Castor Center List Item Martin Beck
recent graduate

Maya Angelou Johnson

Congratulations to Maya Angelou Johnson for pursuing a JD at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Maya Angelou Johnson - Castor Center List Item Maya Angelou Johnson
recent graduate

Marissa Abara

Congratulations to Marissa Abara for becoming an M.A. Candidate for Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History at the University of Chicago. 

Marissa Abara - Castor Center List Item Marissa Abara
recent graduate

Elizabeth DeNio

Congratulations to Elizabeth DeNio for pursuing an M.A in the School Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 

Elizabeth DeNio - Castor Center List Elizabeth DeNio
recent graduate

Xing Gao

Congratulations to Xing Gao for becoming an MPH Ph.D. candidate for Epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Xing Gao - Castor Center List Item Xing Gao

Mondraya Howard, Ph.D.

Mondraya Howard is a McNair Scholar from Cohort #4. She graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in Chemistry. After being recruited by many doctoral programs around the nation she accepted the offer to attend the University of Pittsburgh as a Ph.D. student. In her fifth year at the University of Pittsburgh she became a student in the lab of Dr. James Bina where she studied how the bacteria Vibrio cholerae causes disease in humans. Today she celebrates the successful defense of her dissertation entitled: ToxR Regulation of Adaptive Responses in Vibrio cholerae. Following her graduation, Dr. Howard accepted a position as an APHL-CDC Antimicrobial Resistance Fellow at the Maryland Department of Health Laboratories Administration. Congratulations Mondraya, we are so proud of you!

Howard - Castor Center List Item Howard

Priscila Barron Sanchez, JD

Priscilla Barron Sanchez graduated this past spring with her JD from the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She has accepted a direct commission to the Army Judge Advocate Corps. where she interned. She describes her internship as having been a very challenging and rewarding experience. Priscilla shared the following, “I am very excited. I honestly do not think I would be where I am without Excel!, without your direction, guidance and support”. Priscila was the first Excel! Scholar to be a St. Thomas Undergraduate student commencement speaker in 2016.

sanchez - Center List Item Sanchez

Linda Nzabamwita

Linda, a 2018-2019 Excel! Scholar and 2019 graduate, is a MPH candidate at the University of Washington, Seattle, fully funded. She will begin there fall 2019. This summer Linda has been doing an internship in Rwanda with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in the Nutrition Program. The internship is doing a program evaluation for a Fortified Branded Food program that is provided to mothers and young children in efforts to reduce stunting in children. She has been traveling throughout Rwanda with others speaking to people about the program and how it can be improved. 

Linda - Castor Center List Item Nzabamwita

Erin Robb

Erin Robb, a 2018-2019 scholar, is doing a Summer Research Opportunity Program with the University of Nevada, Reno summer 2019. She presented past research at the State Capitol in February 2019. 

Erin Robb - Castor Center List item Erin Robb

Excel! Research Scholars Live Out Hopes and Dreams

The Excel! Program and Director, Cynthia Fraction, were featured spring 2019 in the St. Thomas Newsroom. Read the article here. 

Cynthia in JRC - Center List Item Program Newsroom Article



"Because of Excel, and because I was convinced that I can do something above average, something exceptional, I now see myself as a scholar. I would highly recommend this program to any undergraduate students who strive to see themselves that way."

Jonathan Santos "17

"Your (Ms. Cynthia) passion and commitment to serve us as students has inspired me to bring positive change for the future. Furthermore, I really appreciate your openness, confidence, and flexibility in assisting me to learn more about my role as a scholar. This experience was more than I could have imagined!"

Mai Eng Lee '12

"The information that I learned from Excel such as how to write a research paper, how to do an oral presentation, and how to make a poster helped me well for this summer (summer 2016). I would not be able to write a research paper, give a professional oral presentation, and construct a poster well without training from Excel! In addition, short training such as to be on time, how to connect with your mentor, how to do informational interviews with your mentor and other faculty, and time management have helped me. I want to say THANK YOU for everything that you have done for me and for pushing me to work hard. Thank you so much Miss. Cynthia."

Trinh Ha '17

"She (Ashley Demaio '18) gained confidnece in her ability to do the research. She sid a fabulous job learning how to find the resources and to find really good resorces to use. ...She became less of an observer and more of an active participant. She really was the researcher. That's the whole goal of this program.

Dr. Sara Hankerson

It's really opened my eyes to the differnet opportunities I have in my time here at St. Thomas. You know there are people fighting for you and rooting for you. Even in times where the research is tough, you know there are people that are supporting you and that good things will come out of it. Deep down they care not only about your research, but about you as a person and what you care about, which I think is super important. People get wrapped up in some things and it's more about what they're doing than who they are as a person; with the Excel! program they deeply care about you as an individual alongside your research."

Dustyn Montgomery '20