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Living the Mission 2019 Year-End Report

Ken Surdin

Director, Excel Program

In 2019, the Excel Program (Expanding Career, Education, and Leadership for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) continued fulfilling its mission to provide an innovative, inclusive college experience for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, award professional education certificates, and prepare students for employment and fulfilling lives. We graduated our first cohort of seven pioneers, where Mr. Keith Parker, President and CEO of Goodwill North Georgia, gave the formal address. Excel students were recognized at Georgia Tech’s May commencement ceremony and transitioned into employment across metro Atlanta. Positions included a clerk at the Center for Leadership and Disability at Georgia State University, a forklift operator at I.K. Hoffman, a crew member for Paradies Lagardère at the Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, an Atlanta City parks employee, and different positions in customer service on Georgia Tech’s campus. We enhanced our transition courses and activities to better prepare students for post-college life by addressing the areas of employment, housing, transportation, health and wellness, financial literacy, social and leadership development, technology, communication, and support. Additionally, the Excel Program faculty and staff developed over 200 competencies collected from seven domains to track student skill attainment by leveraging several national resources for best practices. We piloted a 16-week social skills course that includes role-play and improvisation, using PEERS®, an evidence-based curriculum. The Excel team also completed 18 hours of design thinking training with Wayne Li, Director of Innovation and Design Collaboration, to help us design prototypes for overall program improvement. In this report, we’ll share how we are working towards our vision of a world where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are an integral and valued part of higher education, the workforce, and society.

This Year in Review: 01

Inaugural Graduation




2019 Highlights

Community Support

Meaningful Collaborations


Mentor Spotlight


Curriculum Innovation


Meet the Team

Living the Excel Program Mission Excel embraces the principles of access to all opportunities in society. It provides a structured and supportive postsecondary educational opportunity and addresses the full scope of the needs of individuals with intellecutal and developmental disabilities— from fundamental academics to social activities and vocational training. Program activities are categorized under academics, social growth, independent living, and career development. Graduates of the certificate program will have learned work readiness skills, employability skills, social skills, executive function skills, and they have gained work experience through internships.

CELEBRATING EXCEL’S FIRST GRADUATING COHORT Graduation In May of 2019, seven Excel students graduated, earning their second of two certificates. The students were also recognized at Georgia Tech’s afternoon bachelor’s Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 4, 2019. As this cohort was the first to finish all four years, it was a momentous occasion for all of us. Excel graduates earn two separate certificates: one in academic enrichment, social fluency, and career exploration, and a second in social growth, leadership, and career development. The curriculum includes traditional subjects such as reading comprehension, math, and science, as well as life skills such as financial literacy, interpersonal communication, and community engagement.

It is unique in that students take classes as a cohort, but also alongside degreeseeking Georgia Tech students in courses from the course catalog, including GT 1000, a reccomended course for all firstyear students. Beyond classroom instruction, Excel students have spent the past four years attending football games, interning with government entities, getting involved in student organizations, and working on and off-campus jobs. To support the Excel students throughout these endeavors, 200 Georgia Tech students have served as mentors, coaches, or tutors for the program. Those relationships are integral to helping the Excel students navigate campus resources, their growing independence, and life at Tech.

2019 Highlights



Students and their peer mentors attended a retreat and workshop to prepare for the semester ahead.

Excel staff hosts a networking event for current students and mentors, previous students and mentors, and career partners.

March The spring formal is an inclusive dance attended by 120 people from the Georgia Tech community.

May The inaugural cohort, comprised of seven students, received their second certificate resulting in graduation from the Excel Program.



Excel hosted two summer academies where 24 potential students participated in a “week in the life” of an Excel student.

The Student Advisory Board Events Committee organized a Friendsgiving event that donated 250 nonperishable items to Georgia Tech’s food pantry, Klemis Kitchen.

October Excel hosted 180 Georgia Tech community members at their third annual Trunkor-Treat with the Georgia Tech Police Department.

December The final event of the semester, hosted by The Student Advisory Board Sports Committee, was a social outing using MARTA to get to and from a Hawks basketball game.


Excel Mentorship Program

The Excel Student Advisory Board (SAB) is a collaboration committee of students and mentors designed to strengthen the bonds between the Georgia Tech community and the Excel Mentorship Program. The SAB is split into four factions: Recruitment and Retention (new mentors), Events Committee (dances and Trunk-or-Treat), Sports Committee (organizes weekly pickup games, and manages logistics for major Georgia Tech game day events), and an Alumni Committee.

The Excel Mentorship Program is designed to capitalize on student strengths to increase student leadership capacity, social fluency, and skills for adulthood. Students and mentors work together to achieve academic success, develop a social network, and establish healthy lifestyles.

Excel Mentors are selected to serve as committee chairs because of their demonstrated exceptional leadership and service to the program. A total of six students oversee the SAB, and each leads a diverse committee to accomplish their initiatives.

In 2019, the program consisted of 200 members recruited from all six colleges on campus and is comprised of paid coaches who lead groups of volunteer mentors and paid academic tutors.

Design Thinking Workshop with Design Bloc

Campus and Community Partners

This year, we partnered with Design Bloc, a Vertically Integrated Project at Georgia Tech, created to implement the principles of design thinking across the Institute. Through a workshop and 18 hours of training, our staff learned how to teach the principles of design thinking to Excel students to broaden their exposure to experiential learning. Design Bloc also helped us create a design-thinking based transition capstone course for fourth-year students that includes resource mapping, transition planning, and outside of class meetings with a social-work intern, family, supporters, and allies.

Our students are active members of the broader Georgia Tech community. During the academic year, each student spends at least 50% of their class time in inclusive classes across campus, with topics ranging from Video Game Design to Genetics. In 2019, Excel students participated in 70 different courses taught by Georgia Tech faculty. Excel students were also members of over 75 different Georgia Tech clubs, one of which is re-establishing the national organization Best Buddies on Georgia Tech’s campus.


Career Readiness

In the Excel “Intro to Programming” class, Jose Oglesby, former software engineer at Microsoft, hosted four one-hour workshops where students explored coding through a microbit platform. Students learned how to program a device to play games, communicate, and play music with a tangible object and interactive platform.

In 2019, 37 students participated in 90 internships or part-time jobs. Fifteen of these students held more than one position simultaneously. A total of 10,667 internship hours were completed in 2019.

Healthy and Happy Living Excel Academic Coordinators continually modify course curriculum and create new courses to promote student growth and skill achievement. In 2019, Excel offered its first rendition of Health and Wellness. Students participate in a lecture and then work alongside their mentors to achieve individual cooking and fitness goals.

The students’ need for on-the-job coaching and travel training increased to over 100 hours as they moved into positions of greater responsibility and with off-campus employers. As of publication in February 2020, all May graduates have had offers of employment. Eight-five percent are currently employed and continue to thrive. A January graduate is working with Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to secure supported employment.

Indiviualized Growth

Supporting our Students

In the Fall of 2018, as the Excel Program entered the final year of the inagural cohort, we identified the need to develop competencies that would track student skill attainment and progress. The Excel team used an iterative approach to finalize the list of competencies, incorporating several national resources for best practices. We customized the list to fit the unique needs of Excel students and refined it over the year.

Excel Staff was trained and certified in the evidence-based Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERSÂŽ). PEERSÂŽ is a social skills training intervention for youth with on the autism spectrum however, Excel has expanded the curriculum to fit the needs of all Excel students. The Excel team has modified two16-week Social Skills courses that includes curriculm for both students and coaches.

Measure of acheivement of roughly 200 competencies are being collected over seven domains: employment, housing, transportation, health & wellness, financial literacy, social & leadership development, and technology & communication.

Excel carefully selects veteran coaches in the Excel Mentorship Program to fulfill the PEERSÂŽ social coach role where they work outside of the classroom to consistently reinforce the material Excel students and coaches are taught. This includes roleplaying different social scenarios to prepare them for life after Excel.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT Donor Spotlight To commemorate 40 years of service as Director on their board, McKenney’s, Inc. established the Don L. Chapman Excel Endowment Fund. Don Chapman’s, IM ‘61, generosity and leadership was pivotal in the establishment of Excel at Georgia Tech. This endowment named in his honor will help students and contribute to creating a world where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are an integral and valued part of higher education, the workforce, and society. Don Chapman is known throughout Atlanta as a respected businessman, entrepreneur, and civic leader, whose business prowess is matched only by his philanthropic spirit. He has a long history of giving back to Georgia Tech through both board and committee engagement, as well as significant charitable contributions in support of students, faculty, research, and athletics.

Through this endowment, Don’s legacy of service in business and the community is honored. Don spoke on the importance of Excel, “In leading and serving on boards of associations and organizations that serve people with disabilities in myriad ways, I was convinced of the importance of programs like Excel for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) that addresses the full scope of the needs of this population. As a Georgia Tech almunus, it makes me proud to be a yellow jacket knowing we are serving the entire community.” The Excel Program at Georgia Tech can always benefit from your contributions, as there is always a need for program enhancements and support for students who could not otherwise attend. Your gift will go into a general expendable account to meet Excel’s most pressing needs or can be part of the Endowment Fund.

The Impact of Giving “In the 76-year history of the Rich Foundation and the hundreds of grants issued since the foundation was created in 1943, we have identified 10 Impact Grants. These Impact Grants are grants that we believe are so meaningful that they are making lasting impact on the lives of our citizens. Excel is included in the 10.� said Thomas Asher, President of the Rich Foundation. Established in 1943, the Rich Foundation is a private foundation in Atlanta that supports arts, civic, education, health, environment and social welfare.

The Rich Foundation has awarded more than $50 million in grants to local organizations, including multiple gifts to the Excel Program. Ongoing support from organizations like the Rich Foundation allows Excel to continue to serve, grow, and develop meaningful lives for those with intellectual and developmental diasbilities. For more information on supporting the Excel Program, please contact, the Director of the Excel Program, Ken Surdin at | 404-385-8157 or the Director of Development, John P. Byrne at | 404-385-3878.

MENTOR SPOTLIGHT Ms. Inclusivity – Ms. Georgia Tech

Rachel Luckcuck, a fourth-year Business major, has built quite the resume while attending Georgia Tech. Rachel is a Scheller College of Business Dean’s Scholar, Denning Technology & Management Program scholar, Vice President of Recruitment for Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, and was elected Ms. Georgia Tech last November. On top of all her other outstanding accomplishments, Rachel has been part of the Excel Mentorship Program since her first year. She has held every position Excel offers, and despite everything she has going on, Rachel always finds time to give to the students she has developed genuine friendships with over the years. Rachel has never looked at her time in Excel as a job but has looked at it as a way of life. She is a champion of inclusion, a true friend, and a massive asset to the Excel Program. It goes without saying, Rachel is widely loved by Excel staff, coaches, mentors, and students alike.

Rachel believes that her college experience would not be the same without the relationships she has made through Excel. For the final interview to determine the finalists in the Ms. Georgia Tech competition, Rachel was asked to pitch a project that would improve Tech’s campus. She took it upon herself to ask the Excel students what they would like to see more of on campus. The overwhelming response that Rachel received was “more friends.” After hearing this response, she pitched a plan to promote awareness of neurodiversity and inclusion on campus and will receive funding to help achieve her goal. Before being elected Ms. Georgia Tech, Rachel gave this quote, “I am so grateful to the Excel Program for giving me incredible friendships, and I hope to show the rest of campus what amazing opportunity there is to have relationships within Excel like I do. I can’t wait to stand on the field Saturday and represent respect and inclusion on campus thank you, Excel and Go Jackets!”


Ken Surdin

Ashley Johnson

Rene Reese

Elaina Hemmelfarb


Career Development Coordinator

Emilee Manning Mentorship Coordinator

Administrative Professional II

Transition Specialist

Luke Roman

Mentorship Coordinator

Heather Dicks

Nathan Held

Career Development Coordinator

Career Development Coordinator

Allison Maloney

Ashley McKeen

Lecturer, Curriculum Developer

Alba Gutierrez Social Work Intern

Lecturer, Curriculum Developer

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2019 Excel Program Year-End Report  

2019 Excel Program Year-End Report  

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