SOAR center launches the Pathfinder Program

By Ashley Alvarez

Tucked away on the ground floor beneath UCI’s Gateway Study Center is SOAR, UCI’s Student Outreach and Retention Center. SOAR, a resource steered by students for students, is dedicated to the promotion of five core student values: advocacy, student initiative, wellness, access, and equity.

The SOAR center promotes and supports student initiated projects to fully involve and engage students at UCI. Advised by professional staff and Student Advisory Committees, Student Coordinators work directly with student leaders to plan, organize, and implement their outreach and retention projects on and off campus.

“Its purpose is to help students initiate projects come to life. “Take the ‘Fresh Needs hub’ for example. It [was] derived from SOAR because at one point a student saw the need for food access to students on campus. Faculty doesn’t always see that, they see students come to class and leave, but students notice these things. This is a place where students can come pitch their ideas and then if it’s a really good program idea it could potentially take off. Ultimately, student club organizations come here to pitch their ideas for retention and outreach, and so we guide them on how to fill out the application and get funding.”

Successful projects that were initiated at SOAR by students include the 2016 instatement of the FRESH Basic Needs Hub, the DREAM Center, and more currently the reinstatement of the UCI Pathfinders program, which made its debut at the Pathfinder’s Launch Party hosted at the SOAR center on Jan. 16.

“The Pathfinders program is a peer to peer consultation program. Being peers ourselves, we’re able to use our experiences and our training to help students transition to college life, as well as direct them to the resources they need,” says pathfinder Jordan Nakanishi, a third-year psychology and social behavior major.  

Pathfinders was created as a resource to promote retention among the underrepresented population at the university. Its services are tailored to address emotional well-being, academics, financial well-being, social well-being, and leadership — the five areas  Assistant Director Hannah Jones determined to be vital factors that influence student retention.

“Pathfinders is here to help with, for example, that feeling of being lost and alone in college. A lot of students who come here feel it’s easy to get lost at UCI, like there’s a lot going on but they don’t really have much direction, so we try and help them with the things occupying their mind,” explains Solano. “You know how… when you talk to another person you sometimes gain clarity? That’s kind of what we try to achieve. We help clarify what their goals are, what they want to tackle; we apply the area of retention that they need. And then sometimes we might refer them to the office that can help them with their inquiry. Occasionally if their troubles are severe we might walk them over to the CARE center or consultation office,” he says.  “What we really want to be is a party that doesn’t put pressure on them. Like other offices sound kind of scary sometimes so we’re just that third party that’s calm and can walk them along the way.”

Pathfinder Rolan Huynh adds that the success of this program lies in the fact that it is student run and can appear more approachable, causal and relatable to the student population it serves.

“Students started generating ideas on what we need as students…  for example, it’s hard to make friends here so that’s one of their retention areas — belonging, otherwise listed as social wellbeing,” says Huynh.  “So because you feel alone you don’t enjoy your college experience and want to drop out. Well we can help with that. We can offer a support system additionally we also have the resources to direct them towards clubs and organizations that can facilitate the support they need.”

Currently there are nine Pathfinders available to students, seven of which are new and underwent training during the fall quarter.

“Because we do offer consultations, [pathfinders] were trained during fall quarter and went over the various areas of retention,” Huynh said. As part of their training, pathfinders also attended workshops, often lead by former pathfinders, on various subjects like the financial and academic needs of students.

Pathfinders is overseen by three Pathfinder Coordinators, Kurt Solano, Junnica Ceralde and Victory Onyekwere, who are all undergraduate students.

Under the guidance of Solano, Ceralde and Onyekwere, the pathfinder team organized the launch party as a way to promote the center and its resources.

“The launch party was an idea, an opportunity to familiarize students with the space, we’re trying to promote awareness of the center’s presence and the resources it has to offer students,” says Nakanishi.

Since the program aims to achieve retention, its outreach is, for now, predominantly targeted at first-year students.

“Ideally we’re trying to target freshmen because if they know about us from the beginning then we can help them through their college years,” says Huynh.