excel graduation ceremony

a new kind of graduation - first cohort of students completes excel program

As Carrie Rose Crayton looked around at her classmates in regalia, taking pictures with the Ramblin' Wreck after their graduation ceremony, all she could say was, "I am so going to miss this."

Four years ago, Crayton came to Georgia Tech as part of the first cohort of Excel, a postsecondary education program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It was the first four-year program of its kind in Georgia, and it was uniquely Georgia Tech.

Watch highlights from the Excel graduation event on April 27.

This week, seven of those students graduated, earning their second of two certificates and celebrating with their families and guests at a ceremony on Saturday, April 27. The students will also be recognized with Georgia Tech’s graduating students during the afternoon bachelor’s Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 4.

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 degree-seeking Tech students in classes from the Georgia Tech catalog, including GT 1000.

"In the past, Georgia Tech has been recognized for its brains," said Ken Surdin, director of the Excel Program, at the Excel graduation event. "Today, it's being recognized for its heart."

terry blum speaks at the excel graduation

Terry Blum speaks at the Excel graduation at the Scheller College of Business on April 27.


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-campus jobs. Ninety Georgia Tech students have served as volunteer 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.

students listen during a class session

Natalie Jackson, center, listens to Randy Lewis, former senior vice president of Walgreen's, speak at the Impact Speaker Series in November 2018.

excel students visit sweet auburn curb market

Excel students navigated MARTA and the Atlanta Streetcar to visit the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in September 2017.

rashad isaac on jackson street bridge

Two students, including graduating student Rashad Isaac, participated in a photography internship and took photos on the Jackson Street Bridge.

students in washington d.c.

Excel took a group trip to Washington, D.C., in February 2017.


students tailgating on the fifth street bridge

Excel and Georgia Tech students tailgate on the Fifth Street Bridge in Tech Square in September 2018.

students dressed up for halloween

Students participate in Halloween festivities on campus in October 2018.

excel students participate in a networking event

Excel students participate in a networking event in April 2019.

Each student is graduating with their own career aspirations, and some have already secured job offers. Two will work in positions at University System of Georgia institutions — Alex Goodman has accepted part-time jobs with Georgia Tech’s Campus Recreation Center and with Sodexo, and Kurt Vogel will work in a fulltime role at Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability. He interned with the Center as an Excel student, and also has been an advocate at the Georgia state legislature.

In her remarks at Excel's graduation event, Terry Blum, the Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship, professor in the Scheller College of Business, and faculty director for the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, emphasized her pride for the graduates as they carry the Excel vision into the next chapters of their lives.

"Excel’s vision is a world where people with disabilities are an integral and valued part of higher education, the workforce, and society," she said. "We hope we are helping to create this world that we want to live in — the Excel students certainly are."

Congratulations to the 2019 Excel Graduates


Carrie Rose Crayton

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Carrie Rose was involved with Campus Christian Fellowship. She interned with the Georgia Tech Women's Volleyball Team and the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center. She plans to work at sporting events or at a senior center.


Alexandria Goodman

Hometown: Fayetteville, Georgia

Alex was involved with the Georgia Tech Chorale and Swim Club. She completed internships at Barnes & Noble and Rural Sourcing. Alex plans to work at Georgia Tech's Campus Recreation Center and with Sodexo.

Rashad Isaac

Rashad Isaac

Hometown: East Point, Georgia

Rashad was active in Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech and Campus Christian Fellowship. He participated in a service trip to Juarez, Mexico, and will work as a customer service crew member.


Natalie Eriania Jackson

Hometown: Dacula, Georgia

Natalie, an avid sports fan, interned with the NBA Summer League. She is employed with Sodexo and plans to continue working as a cashier and in customer service.


Faith Elisabeth Roman

Hometown: Rutledge, Georgia

Faith was involved with For the Kids at Georgia Tech and the Student Mental Health Coalition. She interned with Signature Healthcare, Lutheran Towers, and the Atlanta Children's Museum. She plans to work as an activities assistant at an assisted living residence and in customer service.


Franklin Eleodoro Bailey Sanders

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia

Frank was involved with the Chess Club and Wrestling Club. He interned with the Georgia Tech Police Department, Georgia Tech Housing warehouse, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He works at I.K. Hofmann as a warehouse forklift operator.


Kurt Vogel

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia

Kurt was involved with Campus Christian Fellowship and volunteered to help with flood relief efforts in West Virginia. He interned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Access Board, and American Association of People with Disabilities.

  • Graduating students pictured with Ken Surdin
  • Excel graduation photos by Revelry Photo House (Zach Porter)
  • Other photos courtesy of the Excel Program
  • Story by Kristen Bailey
  • Video by Steven Norris

The Excel Philosophy

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 this population — 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.