Within the sphere of one’s college experience, nearly every student will experiment with the various locations around school in order to find some place to call one’s own. Whether it’s to chill, study, hang out, rest or find a peace of mind, we all want to have that one place where we feel like we belong. For some students, they can find that in a secluded spot under the trees in Aldrich Park, the desk by the window at Langson Library or by a particular corner at Starbucks. For me, that place is the corner office space located between Gateway and the Cross Cultural Center, known as the Student Outreach and Retention Center.
A center run for the students and by the students, the SOAR office opened its door last fall to commence a three-year trial run. This experimental trial, granted by the Vice Chancellor Parham in response to student demand for such a facility, will determine if and how much a center like this could do to benefit the student.
Now entering its second year, the center has worked diligently to promote student empowerment and leadership through academic and wellness programs and support student driven outreach and retention initiatives.
To provide the students with the necessary information and resources that would enable them to do more than just survive in college, but also thrive there, was something I remember hearing the first time I became acquainted with SOAR, but it wasn’t until I actually began to frequent the center that I was able to grasp this concept. The amount of students who come to the center, whether it’s to study, coordinate events for other organizations or attend leadership workshops, shows the uniqueness of SOAR and the students who frequent the center. Students who come here were actually motivated to make something of themselves and be passionate about making an impact on our education.
In a time where college is often portrayed as the party scene and the “YOLO” catchphrase seems to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues, the people at SOAR reminded me why I came to this university in the first place
I’ll admit that the Mac computers and the complimentary bagels and coffee is what had initially attracted me to go to the center, but the people that I’ve met through SOAR are why I can now go every day and call it my home on campus. Every time I visit the center, I am greeted with friendly dispositions from both friends and strangers, many of them who also consider the SOAR center to be a place to call their own.
Second-year political science major Estefania Gallegos calls it her “home away from home” and a place where she can forget about the stress of exams and homework by coming to relax with friends.
“I really love this place,” said Gallegos. “My favorite memory was during finals when a group from my stats class came to the center to study and cram before the final. It was really helpful! I kid you not, I got an A+ on the final.”
Another student who frequents the center, Jason Arceneaux, notes that there is a sense of community within the center.
“I’ve only started coming this year, but I know everybody here now,” said Arceneaus. “New people come in all the time and then I see them start to get involved in the SOAR community.”
Even for students like Michelle Lim, who was not around last year to become acquainted with the center, they were able to fit in comfortably and gain something from SOAR. Thanks to SOAR, Lim is starting off her first year in college with an internship through the center.
“I learn a lot here. Not only is it like a second home to me, but it’s a place where I can grow, interact and network with a lot people,” said Lim. “I’m only a first year, but SOAR has helped me learn about all the opportunities there are on campus.”
In addition to giving freshman a head start to their university experience, SOAR also reaches out to transfer students. Third-year transfer Andrea Gordillo said, “It’s a great place for me to hang out and study and meet new people — I’ve had a lot of really cool conversations with everyone and I like finding out what they’re up to in terms of their organizations and internships.”
Currently working as a SOAR Student Ambassador, a favorite memory Gordillo recalls is when she was tabling for the Transfer Track event and was able to speak with other students about the many opportunities that UC Irvine has to offer.
Whether the center will stay as a permanent department after its trial run depends on the referendum that will help the center continue to exist. Despite this risk of the center being shut down if the referendum does not pass, students like Sherilyn Datu continue to call this place their own. Calling it the “hidden gem of UCI” for its secluded location behind Gateway, Datu states that it is the sense of security that is what keeps her coming back.
“I can voice my opinions without feeling judged. I truly believe that the center has helped me to grow in self confidence and want to succeed in UCI.”