Joining forces to forge BETTER FUTURES

UCI School of Social Sciences and Center for Educational Partnership are collaborating to increase educational access for first-generation students

Graduation Cap

As a top-10 public university and first in-class tier one research institute, UC Irvine is committed to being an engine for social mobility. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the annual make-up of its graduating class: More than half of the students who earn bachelor’s degrees are the first in their family to go to college.

“In order to build robust educational pathways, schools must recognize the importance and impact of outreach,” says Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies. “Early partnerships are critical for student access, efficacy and success.”

The first in her family to graduate high school, she’s intimately familiar with the struggles first-generation students face navigating a complex higher education system. That’s why she’s leading the Associate Deans for Access Initiative, a collaborative effort with the Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) through the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) to engage directly with first-gen students at local high schools in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

CFEP and EAOP forge relationships with school sites and districts to demystify the college application and four-year education process. The new initiative builds on these partnerships by fostering internal and external dialogue that highlights UCI student voices and experiences. The vision, says Castellanos, is to eventually involve all UCI associate deans of undergraduate studies to engage the partnership by cultivating early contact and ties for high school students.

“As we aim to have first-generation students see themselves as Anteaters, the direct contact with our schools and its majors offers another platform of access and support,” she says. “We’re heavily focused on connecting with first-generation underrepresented students – those who identify as Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian and others – to break down barriers hindering college admissions.”

The outreach leverages established relationships with local high school counselors who work closely with first-gen students. Social sciences, which enrolls the largest number of undergraduate students on campus and administers the First-Generation, First Quarter initiative on campus, is working as the lead school on the effort. Their first panel discussion, held in early November via Zoom and assisted by the Social Sciences Academic Resource Center, had more than 80 high school students in attendance. Castellanos kicked off the meeting with a quick introduction of UCI, the UC system and her own experience as a first-gen student on campus, and then turned the floor over to three social sciences undergrads who shared their UCI stories.

 Great outcomes transpire when a collective works toward preparing our younger generations to learn an unfamiliar system that can be intimidating if not demystified. 
–Jeanett Castellanos,
 Associate Dean, Social Sciences Undergraduate Studies

“If a student identifies as low-income, first-generation, or as a person of color, events like these can encourage them to attain a post-secondary education,” says Emily Ramon who talked about her UCI experience as a first-gen transfer student majoring in sociology and Chicano/Latino studies. “Notably, the narratives and advice came from current undergraduate students, which may create a stronger connection and impact among students. These events could help narrow the educational gap by creating more cultural and social capital for this community.”

Ashley Cheri, director of EAOP at UCI, agrees.

“This collaboration could not have come at a better time as it speaks to the needs of not just our students but our program's ability to appropriately prepare students for college. Often times, students don’t know about major choice till they are seniors applying for college. This collaboration addressed a gap in our outreach and education to high school students by providing a UCI student panel as the mechanism to educating and sharing information. What a great way for our first-gen high school students to see themselves at UCI, as future Anteaters. The stories connected, the students connected and together we accomplished our goal. I look forward to future collaborations as this is just the beginning to the opportunities ahead!”

The initiative – which hosted additional virtual sessions in winter and spring quarters – looks forward to further collaboration with associate deans across campus.

“Great outcomes transpire when a collective works toward preparing our younger generations to learn an unfamiliar system that can be intimidating if not demystified,” says Castellanos. 




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