Check out more program statistics below the Message from our Director here. 

‌Aspire to make a difference. Excel and make change.

The Excel! Mission

Helping the historically underrepresented be represented in graduate school.


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.

Recent News 

Download the 2019 Year in Review to see the most up to date news on the program and its scholars. The 2018 Newsletter can be dowloaded here as well.   

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

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

Newsroom Feature

Habtamu Lajebo and his mentor, Dr. Aura Warton Beck, were recently featured on the St. Thomas Newsroom for the research that he conducted this summer on sustainability education in k-12 education. Read the full article here.  

Newsroom capture - Castor Center List Item Lejebo and Beck

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

Amaris Holguin

Amaris will be presenting her research "Pursuing a Path Toward Health Equity: An Analysis of Health Start School-Based Clinics in St. Paul Public Schools" at the Human Rights Forum at Augsburg University this fall. Her mentor, Amy Finnegan, of the Department of Justice and Peace Studies will be going along with her. Good luck Amaris! 

Holguin - Castor Center List Item Holguin

Congratulations Cohort 12

Congratulations Cohort 12 on completing the Summer Research Institute and Research Symposium. Thank you to all those who came out and supported the scholars at the symposium this year on August 1st, 2019. 

Back Row L to R: Jade Tutewohl, Tamu Lajebo, Marcus Nordquist, Jane Ude; Front Row L to R: Austina Lee, Amaris Holguin, La'Daija Deloney, Sameera Taylor  
Cohort 12 - Castor Center List Item Cohort 12

Xavier Adbullahi

Xavier Abdullahi graduted spring 2019 with the inaugural class from the Dougherty Family College. He is now attending St. Thomas fully funded as a Ciresi Walburn Scholar and is working with the Excel! program to mentor future scholars. He has been busy the past few months presenting his research at the Geological Society of America Conference in Phoenix, AZ and the end of the summer and in Pittsburg at the Natural Areas Conference this fall.   

Dustyn Montgomery - Castor Center List Item Abdullahi

Abby Heller

Abby Heller, a 2019 graduate, was the undergraduate commencement speaker in May. She is the third Excel! Scholar to give the commencement speech. Abby is now at Rutgers University as a Lab Manager/Research Assistant in the Manzini Lab at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in preparation to begin her advance degree in the sciences. Congratulations Abby!  

Abby Heller - Castor Center List Item Heller

Book Drive

This summer the Excel! Reads Program hosted a book drive initiated by Excel! Scholar Dustyn Montgomery and the program. Thank you to the Cohort 12 scholars and all those who donated books to this years book drive. 2,700 books were collected! Books will be donated to the Salvation Army to be sent to Africa and to the East Side Freedom Library in Minneapolis.   

Books - Castor Center List Item Book Drive

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

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

Erin Robb

Erin Robb, a 2018-2019 scholar, is doing a Summer Research Opportuniy 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



"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 openess, 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