College. The best years of your life, right?

Well, not always!

Especially if you come from a family where you are first to go to college. In that case, college might be something you either see as unattainable, or extremely intimidating. What if you went to a small high school and didn’t quite get the educational foundation you needed, finding out too late as you struggle to pass your first quarter of college classes? Maybe you can’t afford to go to your dream college far from home and find yourself commuting to school, driving for hours a day when your friends are having fun, experiencing freedom in their own dorm rooms. Maybe you get to college only to find out that there is only 2-3% of the entire school population that looks like you. These, along with many others are reasons that first generation, minority, and marginalized populations of students might not see college as the time of their life. 

But does it have to be that way?

For many UCI students who have been, or are currently struggling with real challenges that are standing in the way of their own success, there is one person on campus doing some great things to make the college experience not only manageable and enjoyable but also life changing.

Her name is Adeeva Myers, the newest counselor at Student Success Initiatives. With a passion for helping students find success, she has found herself in the right position at the right time, to create significant changes that are having a direct impact on the Anteaters at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). 

Adeeva’s Path to UCI

Attending a very small charter high school in Los Angeles, called Community Harvest, Adeeva is the first to admit that it was very under resourced. Her senior year, the school hired their first ever college counselor, and that person made a massive impact on Adeeva’s life. Even though Adeeva ended up as the valedictorian, she questioned applying to the colleges she really wanted to go to. That changed when she met with the new counselor who helped her to look at things in a completely different light. Where Adeeva was unsure, her new counselor was adamant about insisting that she not undermatch for schools. 

“My counselor was there with me the whole time, helping keep me on a path that got me to my first choice. Her support was paramount. She encouraged me to research UC Berkeley, and when I did, it immediately became my first choice. Her simple advice to apply where I wanted to go, was something I greatly appreciated. So I did. I applied to Berkeley, and I also applied to UCI. Unfortunately, UCI didn’t accept me, but I have no hard feelings. I ended up at Berkeley with conditional approval. If I participated in a developmental program over Fall, with a target to fully enroll in the Spring. Getting in but not totally getting in, was a rollercoaster.”

At UC Berkeley near Sproul Plaza

The Berkeley Fall Program for Freshman (FPF) required that Adeeva take classes that were not on the main campus but she was still able to live in the dorms. The goal was for her and others to become better acclimated to campus. However, the transition was still not easy. 

“To be honest, I felt like an imposter. For one, I didn’t think that my high school prepared me academically, and hearing other students talk about their high SAT scores and AP credits, instantly made me feel like an outsider and I didn’t really feel welcomed. It was really hard for me to reach out for help. I always did things on my own and felt that asking for help was a sign of weakness. Everything changed when I connected to the African American Student Development office. For the first time, I could connect to others who understood how I felt. I began to find myself, I gained confidence and started to get involved in different communities on campus, including a sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. This was a turning point for me. Finding a community that I connected with made me feel like I belonged and that I was there for a reason.”

On Sproul with my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Now at UCI, with job duties that help students navigate similar feelings and challenges she faced when she first got to college, Adeeva is able to be like her counselor helping students believe in themselves, and find communities to fit into.

“I want to help students who feel like they don’t belong, realize too that they are here for a reason. Everytime I meet with a student, in the back of my mind, I am so excited that I can be there for them, like so many counselors were there for me.”

While participating in the University of California Washington D.C program (UCDC), Adeeva got first hand experience doing educational policy research. The work made her realize that she was not destined to be a researcher, but she did learn about how many challenges first generation and underrepresented students were facing. The numbers and statistics were staggering. This experience helped her focus on what she really wanted to do after college.

Following her instincts, Adeeva went to graduate school at the University of Southern California (USC) for their Educational Counseling Program. There she had an opportunity to work with the USC College Advising Corp supporting high school students in navigating the college application process. She followed students through their journey and had a chance to work with first gen, low-income and undocumented students. This experience sparked her interest in pursuing a career in higher education counseling.

After graduate school, Adeeva refined her job search by the population of students that she wanted to work with. Her passion in helping support underrepresented students led her to the position at UCI with Student Success Initiatives. With the various programs and focus on student success, she knew it was exactly what she wanted. 

“It’s pretty much my ideal job! When I started, I realized that aside from the interview, I had never been to UCI before but because I went to UC Berkeley, I knew that I was already part of the UC Family. In exploring the campus, I have to say that Aldrich Park is my favorite spot and at lunch, you just might find me walking around the Ring Road. I love walking around, seeing all the students rushing to and from classes and I just think of all their potential in what they can become.”

Connecting Students to Resources

With so many resources, it is not always easy for Anteaters to know which resources are right for them. Adeeva explains how she approaches this problem with the students she serves. 

“A lot of times, when students come in, I first ask them about their goals after they graduate. ‘Where do you see yourself in one year, or five years?’ I like to get to know them as individuals and then try to find out where they want to end up and then I think of how to get them there. A lot of the time I am reverse engineering their goals. If they are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), then I can refer eligible students to the California Alliance for Minority Participation to get support for underrepresented students pursuing that path. A lot of times, students just need someone to talk to, or they need someone to help them navigate the campus. I also believe that peer mentorship is really valuable, so I will often send students to the SOAR Pathfinder Program, to get a student’s perspective of how to navigate, and that can help a lot.”

She notes that “it also depends on timing. If you are a freshman, you might have different needs than a sophomore, and same for a junior or senior. It is not a one size fits all approach that we take here at SSI.”

A Holistic Approach

In talking about how she works, Adeeva used the word “holistic.” So we asked her what she meant by this. 

“When I say a holistic approach, I mean that I am not just looking at their academic progress. I am making sure that they are doing well as a person. We might take a step back from discussing their grades in a class, and talk about how their family is doing and see if that is impacting their school. Maybe the student is struggling because they aren’t eating enough. If that is the case, then making sure they know that the Fresh Basic Need Hub, could get them the food they need, which will give them energy to focus on the classwork that they might be struggling with. I always like to look for the root causes. And sometimes it is not as simple as one challenge that students are facing.”

The Vision for Gateway Scholars and Sun Scholars 

When asked for her vision of the Gateway Scholars Program that she is coordinating, Adeeva talked about the importance of partnerships. 

“The Gateway Scholars Program is a program in collaboration with the Center for Educational Partnerships, SSI, and SOAR. The program is designed as a way to enhance how we are serving students. The Gateway Scholars are comprised of students who come to UCI through various partnerships formed between UCI and Santa Ana College, Anaheim Union High School District, KIPP, the Compton College Promise, Reality Changers of San Diego, the Council of African American Parents, and the Sun Family Foundation. Students who were engaged with these various entities before entering college, are offered the opportunity to be Gateway Scholars after their admittance to UCI. Some of the partnerships are supported by generous donors who are committed to ensuring student success throughout their entire academic careers at UCI. The Sun Family Foundation is one of our leading partners in an effort to not only financially support Sun Family Scholars at UCI, but ensure their success through their collaboration with SSI.

My vision for the Gateway Scholars Program is to prepare every student with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate UCI, achieve academic success and maximize their experiences at the university. Every scholar will receive targeted interventions as needed and/or requested. Scholars will become autonomous in their journey at UCI and will be empowered to be leaders on campus. A constant community of support is cultivated through SSI and SOAR to meet their diverse set of needs and aid in student retention. Scholars graduate prepared to pursue professional degrees and join the workforce.”

The program ensures that students meet with me for more than just academics. We take a holistic approach helping students manage personal, professional, and life challenges.  We have programming that promotes stress relief, wellness, how to connect your major to your career and how to navigate your first year on campus. Students are required to meet with a SOAR Pathfinder Peer Educator to give them a greater perspective on how best to navigate campus life. Students share their grades with me and if there are issues that need attention, I assist and make referrals. Additionally, we have community-building events that allow students to meet each other and get to know one another.”

Adeeva’s top tips

Knowing how much advice Adeeva delivers to UCI students, our last question was, ‘what is her best advice for each year of college’?

Here is what she shared. 

When you are a freshman: “Get connected somewhere. Find someone who will have your back and support you. It could be an office, a faculty member or a student group but you need someone or a group of people who can be there for you. It’s helpful to have at least one place you can feel safe.” 

In your sophomore year, “Start to consider getting involved with research. This is a great way to have hands on experience in a field of study that you might want to consider for graduate school or a career. Research experience can help land future internships and jobs.” 

When you are a junior, “Consider studying abroad or getting an internship. Experiential learning outside of the classroom is crucial to your success and I often hear that the biggest regret students have is not studying abroad.”

Senior year, “if you have not already, visit the Career Center. Not doing so was my biggest regret. You need to have a solid resume, cover letter and start searching for a job before graduating. Think about where you want to work and take steps to get there. If you are going to graduate school, making sure to have your application deadlines straight, and start identifying who you will be asking for those letters of recommendation.” 

Brunch off campus as a hobby

When asked what she does for fun, Adeeva answered without hesitation. “I love going to brunch with family and friends, especially discovering new places. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, breakfast food is the best. Especially when it is a spinach and cheddar cheese omelet, with an americano on the side!” 

How You Can Support Student Success

There are many areas at UCI that can benefit from philanthropic support. When asked why people should consider donating to the Student Success Initiatives, Adeeva’s answer was not what you might expect. 

“I would love to see more funding for programs that support students who commute to campus. I meet with a lot of students who feel like commuting pulls them from the real college experience. As a result, I often see students struggle to make friends and limited with their campus engagement opportunities. I also see how both of these factors can impact their ability to reach their academic goals. Supporting SSI means that you are supporting all types of students who face a variety of other challenges. It makes me feel sad when I meet with students who don’t feel like they are able to fully engage in the college experience. We work hard to support students and additional funding would increase our reach in helping more students.”

To learn how to support the SSI, including their efforts to help commuters feel like they are part of a community, you can learn more here.