A Struggle To SOAR Higher

Anna Nguyen / New University

News sources reporting on the likely budget cuts to enrollment and certain departments on each campus have maintained the current uncertainty of the effects.  But these cuts have already taken a toll on UC Irvine’s quality education in unseen ways.

Already, an upcoming student organization is struggling to rise because of the cuts. Student organizations are arguably one of the most crucial aspects to a UC quality education, and this upcoming organization’s purpose of outreach and retention is vital in maintaining a strong campus.

Student Outreach and Academic Retention (SOAR) has been in the works for nearly a decade here at UCI. Since last year, many were involved with the progress of the center, including former ASUCI President Megan Braun and former vice chancellor of student affairs, Manuel Gomez.

SOAR stands for an ongoing struggle at UCI to create an outreach and retention center that other UCs already have. This year, SOAR has high hopes of opening a center that would offer students a meeting location, resources and information about various programs and services on campus as well as a place to simply hang out.

Alex Chan and Mahalia Knight, both UC Irvine students, have been leading the way this year to make the center a reality. Volunteers have been meeting with them weekly to progress on the center.

Chan expressed that the main purpose of SOAR is essentially a centralized location for students that are interested in outreaching to the community.

“Ultimately, we see SOAR doing various things from student initiated classes, their own outreach programs, foundations to work with different offices on campus and student-initiated mentorship programs,” Knight said.

SOAR has made progress as the location for the center is confirmed to be on the first floor of Gateway Commons.  Currently, students with SOAR are planning for various programs such as a retention service to help minority and underrepresented students on campus.

SOAR also wants to reach out to the community and give resources to students as part of outreach. But more than anything, Knight expresses that she wants students to enjoy UCI.

“High school outreach is only half the center. It’s also for UCI student retention, to get advice  and have that connection,” Knight said. “I’m really enthusiastic about the prospects of the center because we are so new, there’s so much we can do — anyone can get involved. If there are things we want to see corrected on campus, we can use the SOAR center to do that.”

Though SOAR’s main objective is to promote programs on campus for UCI students and secondly to help out the community, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham shed perspective on the obstacles of establishing the center at the SOAR Town Hall on Jan. 18.

He explained that the SOAR proposal overlaps somewhat with services that the administration can  already take care of. He went on to talk about how bad the budget crisis is going to be for UC and how it will determine what resources are available. Parham’s message was not stated outright, but implied that SOAR needed to prove its purpose further, especially amidst the cuts UC will have to take.

The budget SOAR hoped to receive to keep the center going from Chancellor Drake has been rejected, and SOAR cannot open week seven of winter quarter as they had hoped.

These setbacks have not stopped students with SOAR from working to move forward. Knight is very passionate about the SOAR center and fell in love with high school outreach her freshman year.  She recalled taking an outreach trip with the Native American Indian Association and realized that her outreach team were the only people the students at the Native American boarding school knew from outside of their community. She knew from then on that she wanted to help students find their way to higher education.

“As college undergraduates we are guides and mentors to high school students,” Chan said. “We can make a difference in students’ lives. I love the idea [of the center] and feel we should take advantage of this opportunity, to go out there make a difference.”

So even though SOAR may have a broken wing because of lack of funding and bigger barriers in proving themselves, the students involved are not giving up.