Academic Program Prepares Freshmen for Success

August 27th, 2020

AMES, Iowa ­– Exploring resources, networks, the Iowa State University community and the agricultural industry is what students in the Academic Program for EXcellence (APEX) do the summer before their first year on campus.  

Elizabeth Martinez-Podolsky, director of multicultural student success in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the program’s purpose is to help incoming multicultural students transition to Iowa State. This year the program was shortened from eight to five weeks and presented as a virtual class due to COVID-19.  

Daisy Hernandez, Joshua Woolfolk and Paola Rodriguez Valiente participated in the Academic Program for EXcellence this summer. The program was held virtually due to COVID-19.

“I always try to make it as professionally holistic as possible,” Martinez-Podolsky said. “When COVID-19 hit I was devastated because I knew we would miss out on the social events.”   

In past years students would attend events ranging from the symphony to farmers’ markets to art museums to tours of ag related industries in central Iowa. This summer students were able to meet virtually with agricultural industry representatives and leaders in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  

Through weekly virtual meetings Martinez-Podolsky said she assigned tasks to help the students explore their personal potential and understand the opportunities available in the college and on campus.

“It’s important to make it an integrated experience for the students,” Martinez-Podolsky said. “That’s what makes this bridge program successful.” 

Normally around a dozen incoming CALS students participate in the program, but those numbers declined due to the pandemic. The three students who participated this summer included Daisy Hernandez, Paola Rodriguez Valiente and Joshua Woolfolk.  

Daisy Hernandez, a freshman in microbiology from Des Moines, Iowa, said the program helped her build connections with students, faculty and staff. The program was a valuable experience that allowed her to get a better understanding of the college and the challenges ahead. 

“Through this program I was able to visualize my goals and was reminded of the obstacles that I would be facing in the years to come,” Hernandez said. “It is a valuable opportunity that really enriches your experience here at Iowa State University.” 

Valiente, a freshman in animal science from Puerto Rico, said the program introduced her to resources and helped her become familiar with Iowa State.    

“It’s allowed me to transition from high school to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faster than I expected,” Valiente said. “Without this program I wouldn't have transitioned into higher education as easily as I did, especially during a pandemic.”  

The program helped Woolfolk, a freshman in animal ecology from Osage, Iowa, get back into the school structure and schedule. He graduated from high school a semester early, which meant he had been out of school for nine months prior to starting this fall.  

“More than anything, it gave me an opportunity to get back into the ‘school’ mindset. I was able to gain some essential knowledge about the resources available to students, a prime example being the planners from the academic success center,” Woolfolk said.   

Along with the resources, Woolfolk said it allowed him to discuss his views and concerns with peers and leaders in the college.   

“While I would have liked an in-person experience, it was a great opportunity to get to know some people and start building a network on campus,” he said.  

The program offers eight tuition-free credits and is open to high school seniors who can apply at