Cape Central Grads First to Complete Southeast’s ACE Program, Get Jumpstart on College


From left are Alexa “AJ” Cook, Blake Crowson, Maria Enderle, Jordan “Eli” Arnn and Megan Smart.

Four 2020 Cape Central High School graduating seniors have made the most of their high school years, so much so they’ve got a two-year jumpstart on their college education.

The students – Jordan “Eli” Arnn, Maria Enderle, Megan Smart and Alexa “AJ” Cook — are the first to graduate from Southeast Missouri State University’s Accelerated College Experience (ACE).

“I, personally, am so proud of this talented and driven group of students.  It has been an amazing experience getting to know each individual student and see them grow in both their success and confidence,” said Tinea Ortega, coordinator of academic programs at the Cape College Center (CCC).

The graduating high school seniors are the first cohort to complete Southeast’s ACE pilot program launched in fall 2018.  Under the program, Cape Central High School students who elect to participate attend the Cape College Center during their junior and senior years of high school, taking Southeast and Three Rivers College (TRC) coursework. They simultaneously earn credit towards their high school diploma while completing either an Associate of Arts from TRC or their CORE 42 general education requirements.

“The ACE Program is such a tremendous opportunity for our students, but it takes a lot of self-discipline,” said Nancy Scheller, principal at Cape Central High School. “I’m extremely proud of this group for taking on the challenge and finishing.  It says a great deal about their character.”

Ortega said the students all finished the program with excellent grade point averages. Arnn, Enderle, Smart and Cook have completed an Associate of Arts in General Education from Three Rivers College (TRC) and will graduate from TRC this month. They also are invited to participate in Cape Central High School’s graduation program tentatively set at this time for 7 p.m. June 13 at Tiger Stadium.

From left are Alexa “AJ” Cook, Megan Smart, Maria Enderle, Jordan “Eli” Arnn, Blake Crowson and Southeast President Carlos Vargas.

Arnn, Enderle, Smart and Cook have completed an Associate of Arts in General Education from Three Rivers College (TRC) and will graduate from TRC this month.

A fifth student, Blake Crowson completed the CORE 42 general education core, but sadly passed away April 29 as the result of a vehicular accident.

“Blake was such a talented young man and an asset to the Cape Central Marching Band’s drum line,” Ortega said. “His smile was infectious, his personality was bright and he was so kind. He left a legacy of music to everyone he knew. We will miss him dearly.”

Kimberly Anello, adjunct instructor in the Department of History, had Blake in her American History class and reflected on his time as her student.

“I remember Blake very well. He was a very sensitive, kind and a caring individual who worked hard to maintain his grades in my class,” she said. “He participated in class discussions, and I was so proud to see him finding his voice as an adult. He was a dedicated musician. He loved percussion. I was very proud to have known him.”

A public memorial service to honor Blake’s memory is planned for 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, at The Water’s Edge at 7501 State Highway 25 in Cape Girardeau.

The ACE Program began as an initiative with Cape Public Schools as an opportunity for students to jump-start their college career by allowing students from different backgrounds, including first-generation college students, the opportunity to earn college credit in an inclusive, supportive environment at the CCC, Ortega said.

Cape Public Schools covers students’ tuition costs at Southeast’s dual credit rate, but families are responsible for textbook rental and course supply fees.  When students graduate high school, all general education courses are completed and students can begin working on their major coursework which saves valuable time and money.  Students are also able to take advantage of Southeast’s tutoring and career services, Disability Services, the Center for Writing Excellence and Kent Library while in the ACE program, she said.

The program is designed to help them transition and to be successful at a four-year college. The CCC provides a personalized and comprehensive setting for the students to flourish, Ortega said. The program is modeled after the college environment. The students take 15 credit hours each semester at the CCC offered by TRC and Southeast faculty. The classes are part of the regular Cape College Center schedule with the Cape Central students integrated with other CCC college students.

Arnn, Enderle, Smart and Cook have all been admitted to Southeast for the fall 2020 semester.

Cook says she’s excited about becoming a musical theatre major at Southeast’s River Campus.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect while going in (to ACE), but these past two years have definitely proven that I made the right choice,” she said. “It is genuinely relieving to know that I don’t have to take any general education after this.”

Arnn said she enrolled in the program as she began contemplating her educational journey. She plans to attend Southeast Missouri State, eventually earn a Master of Science in Nursing and become a midwife.

“I know I have a long path of education ahead of me and wanted to pursue it early,” she said.

While Arnn notes the program is a “serious commitment to your education, she says, “I was hoping to get adjusted to college before making the full leap to a regular college campus.”

She says she’s grateful to have her first two years of college under her belt and to be on a faster track as she enters college, a common sentiment among her fellow ACE participants.

Because of its outstanding success, the ACE program has continued and the Cape College Center is now advising its third cohort of students who will begin the program next fall. Since its inception, 19 students have participated.

“The students who participate in the ACE program are true leaders and this first group is no exception—they will be missed but I wish them all great success!” Ortega said.

For more information on the program, contact Tinea Ortega at, call (573) 332-0516 or visit

About the Cape College Center:
The Cape College Center (CCC) is located at 1050 S. Silver Springs Road in Cape Girardeau. The CCC is a partnership between Southeast Missouri State University, Three Rivers College and Mineral Area College. The CCC is an open enrollment higher education center, providing community college-type services to the citizens of Cape Girardeau County and the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center service region. At Cape College Center, students get the benefit of a college education with personalized service; a great start to college at an affordable cost, allowing their financial aid to go further; and help in achieving college success.