The Metropolitan Education Commission (MEC) was established in 1990 by the Pima County Board of Supervisors and Tucson Mayor and Council. It is composed of 34 Citizen Commissioners who advise, make recommendations, and serve as advocates for the education and welfare of Tucson and Pima County citizens. It was incorporated in 1991 and received its 501 (C) 3 status in February 1992. In 2007 the MEC established the Regional College Access Center (RCAC) to provide culturally relevant, comprehensive higher education preparation information and assistance with a specific focus on first generation college students. The goals of the RCAC are to prepare students for college, to help students pay for and graduate from college, and to support worksforce development.
In 2011, Gina Valencia was hired to be the MEC/RCAC's Student Ambassador at Sunnyside High School. Like many kids in her school, Gina's life has been marked by financial need and, at times, turbulent family circumstances. A good student and active member of the MEC's Youth Advisory Council/Tucson Teen Congress (YAC/TTC); Gina was seeking an opportunity to help improve the college going culture of her school. She used her political savvy and overabundant willpower to create special opportunities for her classmates. She began by securing office space with computer access for one-on-one advising sessions on procedural college needs, admissions, and financial aid applications; she also established consistent office hours so that students would know when to reach her. She then developed a priority appointment list based on class ranking for juniors and seniors. Additionally, Gina also assisted the MEC/RCAC with the design and implementation of an evaluation tool that measured the "college-going effectiveness" of Sunnyside High School's student environment. This academic year, Gina has been even more proactive in addressing the college access needs of her classmates. When she realized no plans had been made for ACT and SAT Prep Workshops at her school, she asked school district officials if she could organize these activities. Her first SAT Prep Workshop took place on Saturday, September 29th, 2012 and her first ACT Prep Workshop was held on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012. Her contributions to her school are immeasurable and ongoing.
With regard to her own college needs, Gina has already applied and been accepted at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University; she has also applied to Cornerstone University, Quinnipiac University and Pacific University.
In 2007, the MEC/RCAC developed and introduced the college access website www.metedu/rcac as a way for area students to have a local resource for their college access needs. The site content is in a constant state of upgrade and review, and has attracted a large number of visitors over the years.
In 2011, the MEC/RCAC introduced the Student Ambassador Program at 4 target high schools. The program structure involves 1 school site counselor that coordinates and monitors school based activities, and 1 student ambassador that works on college access initiatives with the site counselor; both the counselor and the student are paid by the MEC for their services. The ambassadors are trained provide RCAC Website/College Access classroom presentations, and one on one college access advising at their respective schools. They are also required to participate in a monthly MEC/RCAC Student Ambassador staff meeting at the MEC office. Among the many positive educational aspects of this program is that the ambassadors are introduced to a professional level of record keeping accountability, and a heightened sense of community awareness.