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Bryan Goudzwaard, Alex Cater, and Stephen Gee

Recent BBA Grads Plan to Launch Nonprofit to Navigate College Admissions

7/13/2009 --

Excelerate will help students position themselves as top candidates to professional schools.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Coping with the realities of college life can be daunting for the most accomplished and best prepared students. But for candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds, the whole process can seem insurmountable. And that's once classes begin. The true test comes in navigating the application process itself.

"If you don't have guidance, you can get lost," says Bryan Goudzwaard, BBA '09 (center), who, along with fellow BBA classmates Alex Cater, BBA '09 (left), and Stephen Gee, BBA '08 (right), developed the nonprofit startup Excelerate. The organization is designed to help underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged students best position themselves for admission to professional schools.

"Other organizations, like the Jackie Robinson Foundation, provide scholarships for disadvantaged students seeking to pursue professional degrees," says Cater, "but there isn't necessarily the mentoring to help students be successful applicants to graduate school. We want to help students align their goals, obtain internships, and position themselves as top candidates."

While eager for Excelerate to make an impact, its founders are realistic about initial expectations and are starting the program on a small scale. The original scope is to offer Excelerate to students already enrolled at U-M who are interested in medical school. Eventually, Cater, Goudzwaard, and Gee hope to expand the program to undergrads at Michigan State University and the University of Illinois, and add a pre-law component.

"Initially, we are looking to have five students over the first three years," says Cater. "We want a high success rate for our donors, so if the majority of those initial students end up enrolling in medical school, it will show that the program can work and hopefully help us secure funding for expansion."

Excelerate students will receive one-on-one coaching from an experienced individual in the medical field and participate in networking programs with fellow students and faculty, practitioners, and, eventually, students at other schools. Another goal is to partner with organizations to create internships and summer positions so students gain experience and mentorship.

"Internships, lab experiences, and summer positions can be extremely competitive among students interested in medicine," says Goudzwaard. "It's like a game you have to play to play in order to make sure you have the preparation needed to apply to medical school. There's no room to make mistakes, and if you don't know how to play you can get lost. We really want to create a community to help these students succeed."

Cater, Goudzwaard, and Gee conceptualized the initial idea for Excelerate during a class exercise in writing business plans. They relied on Cater's observations as a career prep fellow with Management Leadership for Tomorrow and as a minority peer advisor at U-M. Cater was able to test the viability of the business plan this spring when Excelerate was accepted at Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). Launched in 2008, CGIU hosts an annual meeting for students, national youth organizations, and university officials to discuss solutions to pressing global issues. The program emphasizes tangible plans for action, instead of a mere discussion of social problems.

I had to describe the commitment we want to make, the impact we want Excelerate to have, and where we plan to take it," Cater says of the experience, which opened doors to the kinds of networking options, resources, and feedback that will help keep the project on track.

Of the many prominent speakers and participants at the conference -- including former President Bill Clinton and actress/activist Natalie Portman -- Cater says he was especially inspired by Marie Tillman, widow of former NFL player Pat Tillman, who was killed on active duty in Iraq. Through establishing a foundation in her husband's memory, "she has shown that it takes a commitment to make a real change in society," he says. "She's made that change her life's goal, and she's turning her husband's death into something positive."

Once established, Cater, Goudzwaard, and Gee hope Excelerate will produce similarly positive results. At the very least, writing the plan for Excelerate helped them prepare for the transition into professional life.

"The class and project combined everything I learned in b-school," Goudzwaard says, "and put it into something tangible."

Cater is now working as a consultant in Washington, D.C., while Goudzwaard and Gee both landed positions in the Twin Cities. Although their career paths and home bases have now diverged, they are committed to launching their plan, even as they launch their careers.

"One thing I learned at CGIU was that Excelerate has potential," says Cater. "Now it's up to us to leverage that potential."

—Amy Spooner

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,