Students overcome obstacles to graduation with help from technology, caring advisers

For some among the 3,360 FIU graduates this summer, getting to graduation took longer and was more challenging than they had anticipated. In some cases, conquering the academics was the easy part: family responsibilities, health issues and financial pressures threatened to derail the best laid out plans.

Take for example Juna Joseph, 25, who was her ill mother’s primary caretaker for years. When her mother’s health took a turn for the worse and she had to move to an assisted living facility, Juna was left homeless. Around the same time, she lost her part-time job.

She was on the verge of dropping out of FIU when she confided in her adviser and he stepped in. That type of intervention is the hallmark of FIU’s Graduation Success Initiative (GSI), university-wide initiatives designed to help undergraduate students succeed academically and graduate on time. Her adviser helped Juna find on-campus housing and work. Juna stayed in school and even made the Dean’s list. She will receive her bachelor’s degree in social work on Monday at 10 a.m.


In the three years since it was put in place, FIU’s GSI has helped thousands of students make decisions about their careers, overcome obstacles and stay on track toward graduation. The GSI has resulted in a 12-point improvement in both the six- and four-year graduation rates and has received several national awards, including a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored grant.

“We are now graduating more than a quarter of the incoming class in four years,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “That means students accrue less debt and are able to contribute financially to their families and community more quickly.”

On Monday, August 4 and Tuesday, August 5, 2014, FIU will celebrate six commencement ceremonies at the FIU Arena on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 SW 8th St. in west Miami-Dade County. For a full commencement schedule, click here.

A select group of standout students will be recognized as Worlds Ahead graduates at the ceremonies.

They include:

  • Haitian-born Elcana Jean-Pierre suffers from cerebral palsy but was not diagnosed until she was in her teens. Unable to walk, her mother would carry Elcana from place to place. Her disability prevented her from living a normal life, this included attending school. When she was nine years old, in an attempt to reach the United States, Elcana, her mother and sister boarded a small boat, which was later intercepted by the Coast Guard. Elcana and her family were taken to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After two years of living in tents, Elcana fell ill. She and her family were flown to Miami so Elcana could receive proper medical treatment. Shortly after arriving in the US, she officially began her schooling at the age of 12. The following year, Elcana was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. On Monday, August 4, at 10 a.m. she will be receiving her bachelor’s degree in social work.
  • Cuban-born Fausto Fleites knew very little English when he enrolled at FIU to pursue a computer science degree, a program he was unable to complete at the University of Havana. Despite challenges, Fausto graduated with a 3.99 GPA. He went on to obtain his master’s and is graduating with a Ph.D. in computer science on Monday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m. During his time at FIU, Fausto played a pivotal role in Florida Public Hurricane Loss Model (FPHLM) research. For five years, he was the technical leader in implementing and integrating different components for this large-scale computer model to assess hurricane risks and to project annual expected insured residential losses in Florida.
  • To help support his family, which came here from Uzbekistan and Ukraine, Sean Bari, 22, started working at a Cold Stone Creamery 30 hours a week when he was 16 years old. Today he is the general manager of two Cold Stone stores. On Tuesday, August 5 at 3 p.m., he will receive a bachelor’s degree in accounting from FIU. He will be the first person in his family to receive a college education, and has already been accepted into the master’s program in the school of accounting at FIU, starting this fall.

For more on these and other FIU Worlds Ahead graduates please click here.

The commencement speakers will be:

  • Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Katherine Archuleta at 10 a.m. on Monday.
  • Florida Senator Anitere Flores at 3 p.m. on Monday.
  • Member of the Florida House of Representatives José Félix Díaz at 7:30 p.m. on Monday.
  • Member of the Florida House of Representatives Jeanette M.  Nuñez at 3 p.m. on Tuesday
  • Member of the Florida House of Representatives Erik Fresen at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

For more details about FIU’s summer commencement ceremonies, please visit