The Academic Affairs office proposed a new initiative last month that will become an integral part of the upcoming spring elections for Associated Students of UC Irvine. The Promoting Opportunities With Educational Retention (POWER) initiative proposes funding for an academic resource center for undergraduates that focuses on academic preparation and retention.
The initiative, which received an overwhelming majority vote of 12-1-0 in the legislative council of ASUCI, calls for an increase of $7 per quarter in student fees to make funds available for the creation of a student-run and student-initiated POWER Campus Resource Center. The center would serve as an outreach to the undergraduate student body, and encourage students to utilize resources for mentoring, academic preparation and retention.
The POWER initiative describes the center as a freestanding entity separate from ASUCI, although it will also act much like other centers currently found on campus. Much of the management and decision-making of the center will be made by a student board of directors. However, a professional staff and director will oversee the center. The director will report to the vice chancellor of student affairs and be held responsible to dean of students or dean of counseling and career services.
In addition, the initiative stipulates that the POWER center will provide a mentorship program in which first-year and second-year students will have the opportunity to be mentored by upperclassmen, who can help them get involved on campus. POWER mentors will serve as mediators for campus resources, much in line with what a peer consultant does at the Career Center.
“Students come in, we know there are all these resources, we know we can study abroad, we can do research, we can participate in UCDC, but we don’t know exactly how to do these things,” said Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez, a fourth-year political science major and chair of Student Initiated Academic Preparation (SIAP). “The model behind the POWER center is in having junior and seniors who have had experiences before act as mentors. For example, if a student wants to study abroad, then the mentor would recommend a visit to the CIE/EAP office or mention a friend who he knows has studied abroad for the student to speak to.”
Along with the POWER resource center, the initiative will provide funding for academic prep programs, a long-standing initiative that’s currently overseen by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP), an administrative office under the vice chancellor of student affairs. Student organizations have the opportunity to apply for funding for academic programs with CEP and the student-run advisory committee. However, in light of the recent budget cuts, students see the pool of money diminishing and this is a concern for many groups who have traditionally held outreach programs. In order to minimize the budget crunch, the initiative proposes to allocate 21 percent of the funding to external recruitment programming.
In terms of retention, the POWER initiative recognizes that UCs have the ability to recruit new students, but also have trouble keeping their students at their campus. The only other entity that may have the retention component is under the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE), which runs the DUE academic probation.
“When students are referred to AP, it’s already too late and they get kicked out of school. This is an urgent situation because of the budget cuts and because students working on programs are not given resources to work on it properly,” Gonzalez-Vasquez said. The initiative proposes to allocate another 21 percent to retention programs.
Although the POWER initiative hopes to attain different programming aspects and a resource center, students wonder what other benefits the center will provide.
Since a main component of the center is mentorship, the committee looks forward to extending the mentorship by setting up a repository of past syllabi of classes and exams for students to look up professors and view what professors have offered or taught in past. Furthermore, the center will work collaboratively with many of the resources on campus, such as Learning and Resource Center (LARC), to make academics more accessible for more students and provide visibility to resources of which students may not be aware.
The new center has the support of Manuel Gomez, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Sally Peterson, Dean of Students, and Sharon Salinger, Dean of Undergraduate Education. The trio worked closely with the students behind the POWER initiative to make it fit with the other campus resource centers under the domain of the dean of students. In particular, the committee worked with Salinger in terms of allowing many of the center’s program participants to be eligible to receive academic credit units towards the civic engagement minor (effective fall 2008) for their service and work in programs they initiate.
“High-school outreach programs are important for enhancing diversity at UCI,” said Megan Braun, chair of the finances and rules committee in ASUCI and a third-year art history major. “They provide a much-needed service to the community and are an enriching service activity for college students. Currently, UCI does not have adequate funds to devote to these projects and with the pending budget cuts the shortages will only increase. POWER will provide the funds and the resources to host enhanced high-school outreach activities, thus providing a much needed program to the UCI campus.”
Likewise, the initiative has the support of student groups from all over campus. Some of the groups who are working actively on the initiative include organizations affiliated with the Cross Cultural Center, such as Alyansa, the Asian Pacific Student Association, and the Vietnamese Student Association and Vietnamese American Coalition. There are other groups on campus who have specific outreach programs for high-school students that may benefit from this initiative as well, such as UCI Circle K’s Key to College or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan’s RAZA Youth Conference.
“The POWER Initiative is somewhat a part of the three aspects of the UC mission, which are to teach, to pursue research and to provide service to the community. With this initiative, it gives us, as a student organization, avenue to pursue successful high-school outreach and gives us an opportunity to help give back to the community,” said Sarah Bana, a second-year quantitative economics major and president of UCI Circle K.
Though the POWER initiative is only starting to gather energy on campus, many other schools in the UC system already have entities comparable to POWER on their campus, such as UC Berkeley’s BRIDGES and UC Santa Cruz’s E Squared.
In BRIDGES, students have the opportunity to participate in an internship to outreach to historically underrepresented groups, increase communication and earn credits in the process. According to a Christian Science Monitor article, programs such as these allow the university to become more accessible and demystify the college experience.
Notably, other UCs are facing the same problems due to lack of funding from state legislature for recruitment and retention programs. Despite the budget cuts, there are a few successes. One such accomplishment was at UC San Diego, where students passed STASIS, an initiative similar to POWER, a year ago. Similarly, UC Santa Barbara passed a referendum last year that targeted the allocation of money and there are discussions for the construction of a center as well. While other UCs run into problems in terms of finding space for such a center, Irvine already has the framework and essentially only needs funding.
The POWER initiative will be on the ASUCI spring elections voting ballots for students during the third week of the quarter. According to ASUCI regulations, in order for the initiative to pass, 25 percent of the student population needs to vote and of those who vote, 65 percent of the students need to vote “yes” on the initiative.