The PACE program: A pathway for pioneers

The PACE office entrance at the Behrakis Student Center in Haverhill. Photo by Isa Grullon

For many first-generation students, the college experience can be a difficult process to navigate. Pathways to Academic & Career Excellence, better known as PACE, is a Student Support Services program funded by a TRiO grant from the U.S. Department of Education.


At NECC, the PACE staff consists of Director Kristen Arnold, Data Specialist Christine Carbone, Academic Adviser Sheila Corsaro, and Transfer Adviser Jessica Rocker.


PACE serves both NECC campuses. The Haverhill office is in the Behrakis Student Center, room SC213 and the Lawrence office is in the Dimitry Building, room L101.

Seating area in the Haverhill PACE office where students can find various items from high lighters to candy hanging on their holiday tree all year round. Photo by Isa Grullon

Lyric Iraola, 18, of Lawrence is a childhood development major and a first-generation college student. She heard about PACE from a family member. “They are there to help. I want to continue college after my two years here, so they’re going to help me go to UMass Amherst or Lowell, wherever,” says Iraola.



The pandemic has made it difficult to bring new students into the program over the past year.
“It’s hard to appeal to students when you aren’t in person. They couldn’t see us present on campus. They think it’s like a gimmick sometimes.” says Rocker. “We’re hoping this year is a little bit better,” she adds.

As the event and field trip coordinator, Rocker had to get creative in order to continue providing fun things to keep students engaged.
“Everything went virtual. For me it was really hard because I had to figure out a way to connect with students and still do the same things but do it virtually.”

Some of the virtual events provided by PACE have included a cooking class, paint nights andeven a ghost tour. Rocker thinks they will continue to include virtual events in the rotation of activities moving forward.

PACE promotes a welcoming atmosphere. Photo by Isa Grullon

Kimberly Garcia, 18, of Lawrence, studies art and design at NECC. She learned about PACE when Rocker contacted her about joining the program.
“I like how they do events, like the art event, we did it through Zoom, it was awesome.” says Garcia. “I feel like they’re helping me be more out there,” she added.
Garcia plans on transferring to a four-year school and ultimately finding an art and design job.

“On our most recent Annual Performance Report 89% of our students persisted, 95% of our students were in good academic standing, 87% of our students graduated with an associate degree or certificate within 8 semesters of entering PACE and 64% of our students earned an associates degree or certificate AND transferred to a four-year college within 8 semesters of joining PACE,” Arnold shared in an email.

PACE also hosts field trips to various colleges and universities in the area including Merrimack College, Salem State University, UMass Lowell and more.

The PACE “Wall of Fame” where student success stories are displayed. Photo by Isa Grullon


For more information on PACE and to see if you are eligible to join the program call 978-556-3403 or email