Giving UCI’s Underrepresented Students an Early Start

If you asked Adeeva Myers, Counselor/Coordinator for Gateway Initiatives at UCI’s Student Success Initiatives (SSI), she’d tell you that it’s never too early to prepare for your freshman year of college. With the global pandemic forcing nearly all university experiences to a remote learning environment, offering incoming UCI students a way to prepare for Fall Quarter became more important than ever. 

Recognizing this need, Adeeva partnered with Paulina Raygoza (Director), Joey Leon (Assistant Director) and Daniel Cano (Program Specialist) from UCI’s Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) Center to launch the first-ever Gateway Scholars Early Start Program during Summer 2020. Funded by a one-time grant offered by UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, the Early Start Program was designed to provide incoming UCI students with mentorship and resources to help them adapt to university life.

Adeeva says that the Early Start Program was an essential extension of the Gateway Scholars Program. “Through a collaborative effort between SSI and the SOAR Center, the Gateway Scholars Program aims to support the advancement and holistic development of its students,” she explains. “The Gateway Scholars Early Start Program expanded on these goals by supporting historically underrepresented students in their transition to UCI by empowering students and addressing areas of the academic achievement gap.”

The Gateway Scholars Early Start Program served incoming first-generation college students and students with high financial need. Students from the partnerships cultivated between SSI and the Center for Educational Partnerships, such as KIPP, the Council of African American Parents’ Scholars and Reality Changers of San Diego, were invited to apply for the virtual seminar held before the start of the 2020 Fall Quarter. 

During the course of the three-week program, the 35-enrolled students prepared for the online learning environment by completing readings and writing assignments. They were also encouraged to attend workshops where they learned about the virtual resources and services they could leverage during their transition to college life. Finally, participating students were placed into small cohorts where they had the opportunity to forge relationships and build their community of support through interactive activities and peer-mentorship opportunities. 

For Adeeva, the Early Start Program played an important role in helping students cope with the stress and anxiety of starting college—feelings that were compounded by the new virtual environment. “I have always believed that if I can make an impact on just one student, then I have done my job,” she says. “With Early Start, we were able to impact 35 students in their preparation for their college journey, so that’s a huge success to me.”

Participating students also expressed their belief that the program was successful. In a survey administered after the program, student responses were overwhelmingly positive. One student revealed, “It was comforting to know that there are people and resources that will be there for you in times of stress and uncertainty to help you heal mentally.” Another student shared, “I found that the different resources were all very valuable. I am sure that I am going to need a lot of support since I am a first-generation student, so knowing that there are resources out there that are willing to help me is very valuable.”

While this year’s Early Start Program concluded at the start of Fall Quarter 2020, Adeeva emphasizes that the students who participated in the program will still have access to continued support and resources through the Gateway Scholar Program. This includes access to one-on-one consultations with Adeeva, weekly educational workshops, social events, mentorship through the SOAR Pathfinder Program, scholarships to UCI’s Learning and Academic Resource Center and much more.

Reflecting on the Early Start Program and the Gateway Scholars Program as a whole, Adeeva is proud to see how far they have come in the past two years.

“My favorite part about being the Counselor/Coordinator for the Gateway Scholars Program is the opportunity to meet with students. I love to hear their stories, where they come from and their aspirations for the future. The students in the Gateway Scholars Program are truly inspirational. The most rewarding part of this position is knowing what place students were in when I first met with them and witnessing how they have grown—not only as students but as leaders and agents of change on campus. I want to see students reach their fullest potential despite what challenges or barriers may come their way.”

For more information on the Gateway Scholars Program or the Early Start Program, check out their webpage here or contact Adeeva at ammyers@uci.edu