Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program honored

Logo of Exito training program

Written by Cliff Despres

The Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program at UT Health San Antonio has been named a winner of Excelencia in Education’s “Examples of Excelencia.”

The awards spotlight evidence-based programs that support Latino students in higher education.

Éxito! was a finalist in 20182019, and 2021.

Excelencia in Education, a national group that promotes Latinos in higher education, announced the winning “Examples of Excelencia” on Oct. 28, 2021, in four categories — associate, baccalaureate, graduate and community-based organizations.

Éxito! won in the graduate category.

“The four standout programs are models of culturally responsive, asset-based efforts with evidence of effectiveness in recruiting, retaining, graduating and preparing Latino students for success in the workforce that others can learn from to more intentionally serve their students,” according to Deborah Santiago and Sarita Brown of Excelencia in Education.

Éxito! recruits 25 Latino students and health professionals annually for a culturally tailored curriculum to promote pursuit of a doctoral degree and cancer research career.

“We’re excited by the recognition of our Éxito! program as an ‘Example of Excelencia,’” said Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, population health sciences department chair at UT Health San Antonio and director of the university’s Institute for Health Promotion Research and Salud America! network. “We aim to help Latinos take the next steps from a master’s degree to get their doctoral degree and focus on careers in Latino cancer research and prevention.”

The Need for Éxito!

Latinos earn just 3.9% of all science and engineering doctoral degrees conferred, according to the National Science Foundation.

Also, reports show that Latinos are not proportionally represented in research, nursing and doctoral fields.

Éxito! aims to increase that number.

Each year, the program hosts a five-day summer institute in San Antonio.

The event features Latino researchers and program alumni to share the latest in Latino cancer, enhance career development and provide motivation to apply for doctoral programs. Institute participants also join group discussions to foster networking, sharing of personal cultural experiences, and learning what it means to be a minority in an academic environment.

Why Éxito! Works

Of 226 Éxito! trainees since 2011, over 26% have enrolled in or graduated from a doctoral program.

Also, the Éxito! summer institute significantly increased trainees’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy, according to a recent study of Éxito! program results published in the Journal of Cancer Education. The study also found significant increased research skills among Éxito! interns.

Participants gather for a group photo at a past Éxito! summer institute.

In 2018, Éxito! was named an innovative “Program to Watch” in a report by Excelencia in Education.

Now, Éxito! is among the newest “Examples of Excelencia.”

This year, Excelencia in Education received 145 program submissions representing 23 states and Puerto Rico.

Éxito! and the three other winners — Ambiciones at Howard Community College in Maryland, Cardinal First at North Central College in Illinois, and the College Success Program at Conexión Américas in Tennessee — were among 21 finalists. These are now featured online in Excelencia’s Growing What Works Database. This is the only national online, searchable database for institutional leaders, funders and policymakers interested in identifying what works for Latino students.

Also, program descriptions of Éxito! and this year’s other finalists are in a compendium available for free here: 2021 What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education.

What Éxito! Means to Trainees

Past Éxito! trainees say the program motivated and supported their pursuit of a doctorate.

“I had no one to talk with about the application process. Being a first-generation college graduate and master’s level graduate, I can’t get insight/guidance from family,” said Laura Rubalcava of San Antonio, a 2011 Éxito! trainee. “It’s been inspiring to see people just like me overcome barriers and become successful in their fields.”

Another trainee, Nicholas Acuna, is now a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.

He also said the summer institute provided him with future colleagues and friends he can rely on and push, because they all want to see each other succeed.

“I feel confident that I can get into a PhD program,” Acuna said. “To be honest, this was the first time I felt comfortable in a space with other individuals like myself.”

Go to www.exitotraining.org for more information.

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