In the Spotlight: Katrina Arce, Director of CSTEP

Leah Schmerl
Katrina Arce

Earlier this year, New York State Department of Education (NYS DOE) selected St. Francis College to launch and run a Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) that prepares students from under-represented populations for careers in medicine, health and other fields that require professional licenses.

SFC is one of 50 colleges that NYS DOE funds to host CSTEP at their institutions.

CTEP is now up and running, in part thanks to the Katrina Arce, who joined St. Francis College earlier this month as the College's first CSTEP Director.

The inaugural cohort of students – approximately 150 students will be involved each year – is coming on board. And the program itself is taking shape: students accepted into it will join a vibrant community that provides support services, financial assistance, and career and research opportunities they need to succeed.

Ms. Arce recently spoke about launching CSTEP at SFC and the experience she brings to the College.

CSTEP is launching its inaugural year. How are you helping get it off the ground?

We are building our student experience journey right now. It's a lot of communicating and working with different offices [at St. Francis College] to see where we can provide additional support in addition to all the services that these offices already provide. I will be managing and establishing all of that.

What's your background?

I grew up in Manhattan, [mainly] in Chelsea. I attended New York University for my undergrad, and then I went on to Columbia University, Teacher's College for my master's in higher education.

I worked for a few years at Baruch College. I was in their student life division, primarily working on developing their freshmen seminar course.

After that, I lived in Los Angeles for about five years, and worked at the University of Southern California [USC], specifically in [Marshall] School of Business.

The office [I worked in] was unique because, in addition to academic advising, it had a student affairs focus...Because of that, I was able to start a brand-new program specifically for transfer students coming from community colleges.

How did your USC experience set you up to lead CSTEP at SFC?

My role is to manage and oversee [the launch of CSTEP], starting it from scratch. That is similar to what I did at USC. The transfer program is my legacy in that office. I was able to develop a program for a specific population of students that delivered them extra support. That program still exists even after my leaving. So being able to build that skeleton that's there for years to come, it's the perfect experience for my role with CSTEP.

Why is CSTEP important?

There are so many reasons. I truly believe in programs like CSTEP because I was able to attend my undergraduate institution because of a program [that was] very similar. The program [I was in] had academic, social and extracurricular support embedded into it. Without it, I absolutely would not have been able to graduate. Having that support system and a community of students who are navigating college together is instrumental in retention and graduation rates.

I think CSTEP specifically is important because there is significant under-representation in sciences, in health-related fields and in licensed professions in general. For there to be a program that will guide students to continue with those majors through college and beyond, to encourage students to think about what it means to have a career in one of those fields, is really crucial.

What do you hope you accomplish for CSTEP in its first year at SFC?

I want students to see [CSTEP] as a home away from home. Community is huge. So [I hope] to create a cohort of students who are really engaged in the program and feel like they have made lifelong friends in it.

The other piece is making sure that we're meeting the needs of the students. I want to hear the student voices, to hear from them "what is it that you want to get out of this program?" So my second goal is making CSTEP a program that's for the students. That means incorporating different support systems, in collaboration with a lot of offices across St. Francis, but really having students involved in the creation of the program as well.

What makes SFC special to you?

I appreciate the fact that the majority of students are from the New York city area. I can relate to that. I'm teaching a freshman seminar right now, so I'm getting to know students on a personal level. So I would say, without a doubt, it's the students that drew me to St. Francis College.