How UCI’s New Umoja Pilot Program Supports Transfer Students of Color

For fifth-year sociology major and psychology minor Wiley George Wilson Jr., transferring to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) was the start of a years-long journey that would culminate in the creation of a new program that offers support for students just like him.

UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program represents a campus partnership with the Umoja Community Education Foundation, a community and resource dedicated to promoting “student success and improved lifetime outcomes for all students through a curriculum that is responsive to the legacy of the African and African American diasporas.” Overseen by Student Success Initiatives and the Transfer Student Center, UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program is designed to help transfer students of African descent transition to university life.

While UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program is awaiting official designation from the Umoja Community Education Foundation, program Counselor/Coordinator Adeeva Meyers reports that they have received several applications from the 85 incoming transfer students who identify as Black or African American. She also shares her belief that the program will have a hugely positive impact on these students’ lives, saying:

“We couldn’t be more excited to launch the Umoja Pilot Program! This program will allow transfer students across the African diaspora to build community, receive academic support, and gain resources for success. We aim to cultivate a sense of belonging by uplifting the unique and diverse experiences of our students so that they maximize their experience at UCI and leave with knowledge and tools to attain their goals and achieve success.”

While the Umoja Pilot Program launched this year, back in 2019 when Wiley transferred to UCI, the program was still just an idea for the campus. However, Wiley was already familiar and passionate about the Umoja Community thanks to his participation in El Camino College’s Umoja affiliate program, Project Success. His dedication to the program led to an invitation to become an Umoja Lead Ambassador and work towards getting UCI’s fledgling program off the ground.

As an Umoja Lead Ambassador, Wiley travels to different community colleges across California to promote UCI’s program and talks about the many resources that students can utilize on campus, including free textbook loans, laptop and hotspot loans, tutoring scholarships, and priority consideration for housing at Arroyo Vista (particularly for the George Washington Carver HouseRosa Parks House, and Academic Excellence Black Scholars House). Wiley also works with incoming students to assist with their transition to life at UCI and help them build communities of support.

For Wiley, establishing supportive relationships with peers is very important. This is why he, and other Umojians, decided to found the Umoja Club, a student-run extension of the Umoja Pilot Program that offers opportunities for students to meet and develop deeper connections. As President and Chief Executive Officer of the Umoja Club, Wiley has organized special themes to focus club activities. For Fall 2021, the theme is “Umoja as a Power Base.”

“I like to think of our incoming transfer students as family members going from one home to a new one where they may know of us, but don’t necessarily know us on a personal level,” he says. “So our focus for this quarter is introducing ourselves and making sure students know who we are and that we are there for them.”

Winter Quarter 2021’s theme will be “Financial Freedom.” Wiley explains that this quarter will be focused on helping students develop “financial literacy and economic empathy and understanding.” Through educational workshops covering topics such as credit scores and investing in stocks, the goal is to share financial knowledge that empowers students and lets them know that they have various financial opportunities and pathways available to them.

Finally, the Umoja Club’s theme for Spring Quarter 2022 is “It Takes a Village.” Wiley says that this theme is based on the idea of ubuntu, which roughly translates to “I am because we are.” He explains:

“It takes a village to physically, mentally, and spiritually develop anyone. We will focus on developing our students in a positive way and making sure they become leaders at UC Irvine and outside of UC Irvine by getting them ready and prepared for the real world.”

While planning is still underway, Wiley hopes to end Spring Quarter with a leadership summit that will introduce students to leadership positions on UCI’s campus and throughout the local community as well.

Looking forward to the future, Wiley has big plans for the Umoja Pilot Program, the Umoja Club, and himself. “In regards to the Umoja Pilot Program, the hope is that we will become the official Umoja affiliate program at UCI by the end of the academic year,” he says. “We also want to keep creating courses that we can offer incoming and current Umoja students to help them become more campus-savvy.” Wiley’s goal for the Umoja Club is to help it grow and become a well-known and well-loved campus organization.

Finally, with his expected graduation date in 2022, Wiley is looking forward to pursuing a master’s degree program that focuses on administrative policy law and administrative learning. He hopes to use his experience to become an administrator who enacts policies and laws that can lead to systemic change for students or a counselor or program coordinator devoted to helping students.

When asked if he had any advice for UCI students, Wiley offered a message for UCI’s Black student body:

“There are a number of discrepancies that we go through on this campus, and there will be people who cannot understand what it means when I say that I identify as a Black man. Being the only Black man or Black person in general in the entire classroom can be very painful. It can feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to that truly understands you—people who can really just say ‘I see you.’ So please, utilize the Center for Black Cultures, the Black Student Union, the staff at the Black Alumni Association, and other campus organizations. You can also apply for housing at Black-theme houses that are all about each other. I want you to know that we are a family here and that we really do love and care for each other, so please utilize the resources around you.”

To learn more about UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program, click here or contact program Counselor/Coordinator Adeeva Myers at ammyers@uci.edu. You can also follow UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program on Instagram here. For more information on the Umoja Club, email Wiley at wgwilson@uci.edu.