Spring Elections: SOAR Referendum

SOAR-01-01While the Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center referendum failed to meet quorum by 55 votes last spring, campaign organizers are not giving up this spring quarter election with its new campaign called SOAR UP symbolizing it is moving up and further from last year.

SOAR, a center that is dedicated to supporting and promoting the development of student initiated outreach and retention projects, is temporarily funded by administration for three years. Until 2046, SOAR asks for a fund of $6.50 per quarter from students, due to the expansion of programs implemented that will take effect in 2016.

With these funds, SOAR hopes to expand on programs and services that include a food pantry available to students, reduced printing and free testing materials.

But, being a temporary program is difficult.

“If you’re temporary, you’re vulnerable to just going away the next day. You don’t know something could happen where you just abruptly need to stop your services, and at a center like this where it serves as a home away from home,” Co-Coordinator Chief Executive Julee Yoo said.

Sanne Bergh | New University

Sanne Bergh | New University

“The first thing that comes with being permanent is that we will be known as a center that works and fights for the students and that would give us the power and the recognition we need,” Co-Coordinator Chief Executive Parshan Khosravi added.
But much more than that, Graciela Fernandez, the director of SOAR, says there are hardships for being a temporary program when it comes to addressing problems of retention, one of the large focuses of SOAR.

Though the retention rates at UC Irvine are in the lower to mid 90 percent, vast improvements are needed when students are observed through their respected ethnic groups.

“In particular with the Latino and African American students, there is a lower retention rate that is in the 80s. Another group that is really struggling is our international students, when you begin to break down our Southeast Asian students, are encountering some challenges,” Fernandez said.

“Currently the information about students’ academics is primarily housed within each academic school. At the SOAR Center, however, we don’t have that information. Most of the students we see are by word of mouth.”

With the additional funding, SOAR hopes to address student academic struggles early on and to show that ultimately, their voices are heard and they feel like they belong in the campus community.

The referendum, which will be assessed to every undergraduate student, will begin in the fall of 2016. Once the referendum takes place, students who attend summer school on campus will be also pay the fee, as the SOAR Center will remain open and available to provide its services during the summer.

However, students who are qualified for financial aid are covered for the fee of $6.50.

“The way the referendums are built is that they’re not intended to be a burden, so that is built on so 33 percent goes to financial aid and financial aid will utilize that money to offset the cost of the financial aid students,” Fernandez said.
The new change that is added to the referendum for this year is that in the next 25 years, students will be able to vote if they approve of the center, which will depend on whether the issues will differ.

As long as 60 percent vote yes, SOAR will pass, yet they still remain to push for more support.

Jessica Figueroa, chief coordinator of the Grassroots committee, says that their aim for the campaign is to contact 200 organizations and clubs.

“We want to make sure that SOAR becomes an advocacy for students’ issues. That is our vision for the expansion of SOAR. We want to create better relationships with other places around campus, but also expand relationships with centers that we have relationships with right now,” Khosravi said.

While last year, anyone was allowed to help, changes have been made to the agenda this year. Now, SOAR has an official team of 20 official members that is comprised of a marketing committee, an events committee, and a volunteer committee.

“Our team is so strong not in the fact of just numbers, but in their dedication and time commitment they are willing to make to this process. There is that sense of accountability. Now, we have chiefs that are leading their own team and we have deadlines and projects they need to finish,” Yoo said. “With last year and the confusion with quorum, we stopped at a certain point, but what we can continue to do is fight until the very last minute when the campaign closes.”

Theza Umali is a volunteer coordinator for SOAR, she says that along with outreaching to student organizations on campus, she is currently in the process of outreaching to her residents.

“We are trying to reach out to different clubs, talk to classes, we want to emphasize to give Anteater Mentorship Program (AMP) more funding to help with their cause, outreach to high schools and have other clubs start their own outreach as well,” Umali said.

One of the factors that help students transition through their first year are SOAR’s current programs such as the AMP and the Ambassador Program.

AMP, initially created and funded by SOAR, collaborated with ASUCI when they helped fund the program. The way the program works is that freshmen, transfer students and international students are paired with a mentor. The first class in the fall quarter is aimed to address students with housing and the available resources. The second class in the winter quarter works to help students learn how to grow as a leader.

As such, AMP is a retention effort that makes sure students are well integrated into the community and become leaders, and remain in good standing with the school.

“We are really here to help them through that appeal process. Our goal is to really catch those students that don’t get that attention and making sure that retention and outreach becomes a campus wide effort,” Fernandez said.

That is why for this year, SOAR is aiming to expand its programs and services to students.

“What we did start doing is having a list of all the other spaces on campus that are available, that when students came in, we directed them to other spaces, such as CSL, when the SOAR multipurpose room was overcrowded. Becoming permanent means that we have more freedom to fight for more spaces,” Yoo explained.

After the campaign, Fernandez hopes to create committees that will go over the constitution of SOAR and create the means to make sure it will be student voiced. These students will be in charge of what programs will be happening in SOAR.

“We wanted to make sure that the student money that is being used for the center, that the students can then hold us accountable for the center to really be representative of the students,” Khosravi said. “We can do more, and we want to do more, but that needs to be supported by the students.”

One of the ways students can help is to vote.

“It’s important to vote. Not only for our referendum, but for the other referendums and candidates because these are our student leaders and it does affect you. Make sure you’re aware, and we’re stressing that your voice counts,” Figueroa said.