Melissa Felix Building Student Futures Through Casa Azteca
Melissa Felix is the Student Affairs Assistant for Casa Azteca. Casa Azteca is a pilot program that serves as a transitional assistance service for commuter students. The program was partial funded and greatly supported by the non-profit organization Casa Familiar and was created in the summer of 2010 and initially began with 13 students that fall and 14 students in the spring. The program helps create “learning communities” among students by enrolling them in specific classes together. This helps the students develop scholastic relationships with other students and in turn helps support each student by reinforcing academic success. “We try to mimic the high school tradition of moving along with your own friends and graduating with them. The students get to know each other and help each other succeed by sharing study habits, note taking and test taking methods with each other.” The initial program did not have tutoring services and in the spring that was one strategic addition to the program. The students are required a certain amount of mandated time with tutors, mentors and peer advisors as well as community service. “If I had had mandated time with my tutors and peer mentors when I was a freshman, I probably wouldn’t have had such a difficult time myself, so that’s why we try to re-enforce students spending dedicated time with peers and mentors. It only adds to their success,’ says Felix.
Students from specific zip codes of Southeast San Diego who may have remedial needs are mandated to enroll in the program in order to be admitted into the university. It’s a way to offer help to students that are not in other transitional programs such as the Educational Opportunity Program (E.O.P.) or Compact for Success and might not come from families with an education background. The students are only required to be part of the program for their initial semester at school. Students from the initial fall semester have returned to become peer-mentors, which helps the success of the program by demonstrating its success to new students. “We learned a lot of things our first semester and this spring we were able to greatly improve the program,” says Felix.
Aside from helping coordinate the program and creating curriculum, Melissa also serves as an advisor for the students as well as a role model to them. She also helps coordinate the peer mentors and assists with the hiring process. “In a few years I envision the program being much larger with many more students and fully funded.” “Even though some of the students may initially resist the mandates of the program, they quickly see the benefits that it has,” Melissa says. Something that Melissa enjoys is seeing students return and want to be part of the program to help future students entering the University. “It’s something that makes me proud to see students wanting to be more involved with helping out and also spending time in community service projects.” Community service projects can include clean-ups or painting and beautification projects, some of which have been done in their own communities of San Ysidro and Southeast San Diego. “The one thing I enjoy the most is talking to students and finding out what they need and what they want their university experience to be like. I enjoy helping them with their challenges and getting them to the next level; I had mentors that helped me and it feels right to help others now,” says Melissa