Two Impressive Anteaters

The Knowledgeable Guide

When 18-year-old Jabari McDonald arrived in Irvine in the fall of 2010 to begin his studies at UC Irvine, his mind was already made up — UCI was not the place for him. He planned to transfer as soon as possible.

Several days after McDonald moved into Viento, a residence hall in the Mesa Court Housing Community, a representative from Mesa’s Community Programming unit visited the hall, inviting freshmen to apply for its paid community-wide leadership position. Encouragement from his RA and some slight pressure from his mother to get a job convinced McDonald to apply, and he was hired as a Mesa Court Community Programmer. Since then, his accomplishments at UCI have come full circle. Now a third-year, McDonald is Viento’s Resident Advisor, as well as a Campus Representative, SPOP staffer and one of the most inspiring leaders on the UCI campus.

“I had no idea it would lead to the things that it did,”  McDonald said in regards to becoming a CP his freshman year.

Between his 49 freshman residents and the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals to whom he has provided campus tours since his freshman year (he gives around 11 tours per quarter), McDonald has served as a positive presence in the lives of many.

“What’s great about being a tour guide is that not only can you get people to want to come to UCI, which really is our job, [but also] it’s amazing because you can get people to want to come to college in general,” he said.

As we sit in Mesa Commons, where he has dined for the past three years as a Mesa Court staff member, McDonald cannot hold back his passion as he discusses his experience as an RA this year.

“What I really love to see is my residents getting involved … I love seeing them find their niche because college is really a process of elimination and figuring out what you do and don’t like to do,” he said. “It makes me really emotional to see them like ‘Yeah, I really like to do this,’ or ‘I’m thinking about doing this,’ because I see people coming in, a lot of them, not knowing what they want to do, and figuring out what to do … I just see them growing as people, and as individuals.”

For his residents, McDonald has created many programs, including “Involvement Panels” composed of students who have distinguished themselves on campus. On Halloween, the Viento residents had a celebration that coincided with midterms, so he bought a Piñata, had everyone write down the sources of their stress on pieces of paper, taped them to the cardboard contraption and let them beat it vigorously.

The Queen of Academics

Before enrolling at UCI, fourth-year Faye Cheng never saw herself as a leader.

“My transition from high school was very different. I was a lot more shy,” she said.

Today she is the Coordinator for the Peer Academic Advising Program, working directly with UCI faculty members to enhance the academic success of students in each of UCI’s 15 academic units.

It all began when Cheng joined the Summer Multicultural Leadership Institution the summer before her freshman year.

“That kind of opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a leader and there are different kinds of leaders. It really inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and explore what I could do,”  Cheng, who entered UCI as an undecided/undeclared student, said.

Cheng went on to become a part of the Freshman Year Experience Program, founded the first-ever Academic Peer Mentorship program for undecided/undeclared students at UCI and was hired as an undecided/undeclared Peer Academic Advisor her junior year.

Each year the PAAs, successful upper division students who meet with students individually to discuss how best to fulfill degree and major requirements, among other issues, are trained in the spring so that they may officially begin advising incoming freshmen and transfers at summer orientations.

During spring quarter 2012, Cheng, as coordinator, led the weekly Peer Academic Advising training, ensuring that each of this year’s Peer Academic Advisors would possess the skills necessary to efficiently advise their respective students during individual meetings and appointments. She also ensured that all 50 PAAs became experts on UCI’s many student resources and made an extra effort to encourage Peer Academic Advisors from different academic schools to interact with one another. Though preparing to essentially teach a class every week, on top of a full schedule of her own classes and a long list of other campus commitments, required a great deal of time and hard work, Cheng feels that her many responsibilities have ultimately been a very positive and rewarding experience for her.

“Advising students is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. They look up to you, they really appreciate the efforts you put in,” Cheng said.

“The idea in itself is rewarding, knowing that as an upperclassman, you make a difference in individual lives. I feel that strength comes from support. If you have a connection with someone on campus, at least one person, that is going to set the foundation so that you can reach further and beyond what you are comfortable with,” she continued.

Although she is no longer a Peer Academic Advisor herself, Cheng still devotes at least five hours of her own time per week to individually advise undecided/undeclared students.