Irvine be­comes Lati­nos’ top UC choice

Cam­pus is rec­og­nized as a His­panic Serv­ing In­sti­tu­tion — a rare dis­tinc­tion for elite re­search uni­ver­si­ties.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Teresa Watan­abe

For most of her life, An­gela Vera never imag­ined her­self at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia. She grew up in a low-in­come Santa Ana neigh­bor­hood, the daugh­ter of a Mex­ico-born car­pen­ter with sec­ond-grade school­ing who stressed the value of ed­u­ca­tion but didn’t know how to guide her.

“I al­ways thought UC was for stu­dents up here,” she said, hold­ing her hand above her head. “I never saw my­self as ca­pa­ble.”

But af­ter a Santa Ana Col­lege coun­selor en­cour­aged her to raise her sights, Vera trans­ferred to UC Irvine two years ago. The cam­pus, she said, gave her the fi­nan­cial aid, aca­demic sup­port and lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties she needed to thrive — and fu­eled her am­bi­tions to pur­sue a grad­u­ate de­gree af­ter she com­pletes a dou­ble ma­jor in crim­i­nol­ogy law and so­ci­ety and so­cial ecol­ogy next year.

UC Irvine may seem an un­likely haven for Latino stu­dents. The cam­pus is lo­cated in what used to be a largely white Re­pub­li­can com­mu­nity, home now to so many Asians that peo­ple joke that UCI stands for Univer­sity of Chi­nese Im­mi­grants.

But the Irvine cam­pus is now the most pop­u­lar UC choice for Latino fresh­men ap­pli­cants, top­ping long­time leader UCLA for the first time last fall.

And last month the cam­pus won fed­eral recog­ni­tion for serv­ing Lati­nos — a still­rare dis­tinc­tion among elite

re­search uni­ver­si­ties.

In all, 492 cam­puses in 19 states and Puerto Rico have been des­ig­nated His­panic Serv­ing In­sti­tu­tions, which al­lows them to ap­ply for about $100 mil­lion an­nu­ally in fed­eral re­search grants. To qual­ify, the cam­pus stu­dent pop­u­la­tion must be 25% Latino, with more than half fi­nan­cially needy.

In Cal­i­for­nia, nearly all Cal State cam­puses, at least half of Cal­i­for­nia Com­mu­nity Col­leges and half of UC cam­puses have re­ceived the recog­ni­tion. But UC Irvine and UC Santa Bar­bara are the only HSI cam­puses among the 62 mem­bers of the Assn. of Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ties — an elite net­work of pub­lic and pri­vate re­search uni­ver­si­ties that in­cludes the Ivy League, UC, Stan­ford and USC.

Just three of the na­tion’s 100 uni­ver­si­ties with the largest fed­eral re­search port­fo­lios are HSI cam­puses — UC Irvine rank­ing sec­ond to a spe­cial­ized can­cer cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Texas, said Terry Har­tle, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Coun­cil on Ed­u­ca­tion, which rep­re­sents 1,600 col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

“One con­cern about ma­jor re­search uni­ver­si­ties is that they don’t nec­es­sar­ily look like the pop­u­la­tion of the United States,” Har­tle said. “They are over­rep­re­sented with whites and Asians and un­der­rep­re­sented with African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics.

“What you’re see­ing at UC Irvine … is a con­scious de­ci­sion to make cer­tain they ex­pand the na­ture of the pop­u­la­tion they’re serv­ing.”

UC Irvine Chan­cel­lor Howard Gill­man said the cam­pus has pushed to di­ver­sify its cam­pus as part of its pub­lic mis­sion and urged other top in­sti­tu­tions to do the same.

“We think it’s im­por­tant to show that great higher ed­u­ca­tion can be there for all of the peo­ple,” he said. “The de­mo­graph­ics of the state are chang­ing, and great in­sti­tu­tions that were there for gen­er­a­tions past should also be there for gen­er­a­tions of the fu­ture.”

For the first time ever, more than half of UC Irvine’s grad­u­at­ing class this year are first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents.

UC Irvine, Gill­man said, is not only ad­mit­ting more Latino stu­dents but also help­ing them suc­ceed. Eight of 10 fresh­men who en­tered in 2010-11 grad­u­ated within six years, about equal to whites and blacks and just be­low Asians. Grad­u­a­tion rates for trans­fer stu­dents are even higher.

Suc­cess took time. The cam­pus be­gan lay­ing the ground­work in 1983, when it cre­ated the Santa Ana Part­ner­ship with lo­cal schools, Santa Ana Col­lege and Cal State Fuller­ton to im­prove col­lege-go­ing rates in the area. It in­ten­si­fied the ef­forts af­ter state vot­ers in 1996 passed Propo­si­tion 209 ban­ning race-based af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, said Stephanie Reyes-Tuc­cio, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tional Part­ner­ships.

The cen­ter serves 12,000 largely low-in­come stu­dents a year, three-fourths of them Latino, with pro­grams to pre­pare them for col­lege and help them suc­ceed. It sup­ports those in­ter­ested in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math and helped de­velop a col­lege-go­ing plan for ev­ery high school stu­dent in the Santa Ana Uni­fied School District. Af­fil­i­ated fac­ulty also con­duct re­search and of­fer teacher train­ing.

About 85% of high school stu­dents who work with the cen­ter com­plete the col­lege prep course­work re­quired for UC and Cal State, com­pared with the statewide av­er­age of 43%, Reyes-Tuc­cio said. She raises about three­fourths of her $10-mil­lion an­nual bud­get from pub­lic grants and pri­vate gifts.

Sev­eral Latino stu­dents said they chose UC Irvine be­cause of gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial aid and prox­im­ity to their fam­i­lies in sur­round­ing cities. But many said they ex­pe­ri­enced cul­ture shock mov­ing from largely Latino neigh­bor­hoods and schools to the univer­sity, where only a quar­ter of stu­dents share their eth­nic back­ground.

Gloria Ochoa and David Cosme, trans­fer stu­dents from Mt. San An­to­nio Col­lege in Wal­nut, said they ini­tially were taken aback by con­ser­va­tive stu­dent ral­lies against im­mi­grants and Mus­lims, fea­tur­ing signs such as “Build That Wall” and “You’re Not Wel­come Here.”

“I was won­der­ing if I chose the right school,” said Cosme, a third-year so­ci­ol­ogy ma­jor who was born in Mex­ico and is the first in his fam­ily to at­tend col­lege. “I won­dered if I would fit in. Would I have to hide my iden­tity?”

But he and Ochoa said they soon dis­cov­ered sup­port­ive fac­ulty and staff, more than 25 Latino stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions and cam­pus cen­ters of­fer­ing many sup­port ser­vices.

Cosme found a com­fort zone vol­un­teer­ing with the cam­pus food pantry and a Chi­cano stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion, MEChA. “UCI pro­vides a lot of spa­ces for my com­mu­nity to feel safe and ex­press our­selves,” he said.

Ochoa, a third-year psy­chol­ogy and so­cial be­hav­ior ma­jor, said she was amazed by the of­fer­ings at the cross cul­tural cen­ter, where she at­tended a work­shop on trans Latina ac­tivism. Her dis­ap­point­ment at be­ing wait­listed at UCLA van­ished, she said, when she dis­cov­ered the rich re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties at UC Irvine, where she is ap­ply­ing for po­si­tions to study autism and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

“One great thing about UCI that they don’t get a lot of recog­ni­tion and credit for is that a lot of fac­ulty do re­search and there are so many labs to ap­ply to,” Ochoa said.

Stephanie Gon­za­lez, 22, dis­cov­ered her “fam­ily,” as she calls it, at the Stu­dent Out­reach and Re­ten­tion Cen­ter, where she was able to find friends, lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties and food — peanut but­ter and jelly sand­wiches that eased hunger pains since she could not af­ford a cam­pus meal plan. She was hired by the cen­ter to de­velop men­tor­ship pro­grams and trained peer ad­vi­sors to help stu­dents through such hard­ships as home­sick­ness, breakups and aca­demic strug­gles.

Daniela Estrada, daugh­ter of a cook and hos­pi­tal worker from Mex­ico, cred­ited much of her suc­cess to cam­pus men­tors.

A coun­selor with the SAGE Schol­ars pro­gram for aca­dem­i­cally gifted, low-in­come stu­dents helped her craft a re­sume that landed her a law firm job when she thought she was un­qual­i­fied. Mark Pe­tracca, the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment chair, passed along re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties and nom­i­nated her for the pres­ti­gious Tru­man Schol­ar­ship, which pro­vides up to $30,000 for grad­u­ate stud­ies lead­ing to a pub­lic ser­vice job. She plans to at­tend law school to be­come a pub­lic de­fender af­ter com­plet­ing a Ful­bright pro­gram teach­ing English in Colom­bia.

“Pro­fes­sor Pe­tracca changed my ex­pe­ri­ence and tra­jec­tory and fu­ture by believ­ing in me more than I did in my­self,” said Estrada, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence ma­jor who will grad­u­ate this month. “That’s what so many stu­dents want: some­one to be­lieve in them.”

UC Irvine’s per­for­mance re­views re­ward fac­ulty who con­trib­ute to “in­clu­sive ex­cel­lence.” The cam­pus has cre­ated a data­base to con­nect fac­ulty to op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­vance di­ver­sity and eq­uity and has set a goal for at least half of them to be in­volved by 2020-21.

Some stu­dents said the cam­pus could do more — of­fer more scholarships, for in­stance, and ex­pand the food pantry. Ad­min­is­tra­tors say they aim to do both with more fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as an HSI cam­pus. A few stu­dents said they were be­ing marginal­ized by a plan to re­lo­cate space for im­mi­grant and LGBTQ stu­dents to a less cen­tral part of cam­pus, al­though a univer­sity spokesman said the fa­cil­i­ties will be up­graded and more spa­cious.

As for Vera, UC Irvine gave her a full ride and a chan­cel­lor’s schol­ar­ship to vol­un­teer in Peru. She has found friends and a way to ex­press her cul­tural iden­tity, es­pe­cially danc­ing for the Bal­let Folk­lórico de UCI.

The once in­se­cure Latina who never dreamed she could at­tend UC Irvine is now its ir­re­press­ible evan­ge­list.

‘What you’re see­ing at UC Irvine … is a con­scious de­ci­sion to make cer­tain they ex­pand the na­ture of the pop­u­la­tion they’re serv­ing.’ — Terry Har­tle, Amer­i­can Coun­cil on Ed­u­ca­tion

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

AN­GELA VERA, 21, re­ceived a full ride from UC Irvine and a chan­cel­lor’s schol­ar­ship to vol­un­teer in Peru. But grow­ing up, she hadn’t en­vi­sioned her­self at a UC.

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

MARIELA HER­NAN­DEZ, left, An­gela Vera, and Jen­nifer Lima pre­pare for a re­cent cam­pus per­for­mance with Bal­let Folk­lórico de UCI. Last fall, UC Irvine topped UCLA for the first time as the most pop­u­lar Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia choice for Latino fresh­man ap­pli­cants.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

UC IRVINE STU­DENTS An­gela Vera, left, and Daniela Estrada are part of the grow­ing Latino stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at UC Irvine, which re­cently earned fed­eral des­ig­na­tion as a His­panic Serv­ing In­sti­tu­tion.

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