For incoming freshmen at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), the idea of relocating to Orange County and joining an undergraduate student population of over 30,000 can seem intimidating. This is especially true for students coming from smaller towns outside of Southern California, like second-year pharmaceutical sciences major Ethan Chhan.

As his high school career came to a close, Ethan was plagued with worries about adapting to life at UCI. Additionally, as a first-generation student, Ethan was not sure what his first year of college would look like. He recalls, “Coming from a small town and moving to Irvine, was a bit alarming to think about. I kept thinking, ‘What should I do? How should I prepare for this? How am I going to find myself around campus?’”

Around this time, Ethan’s father asked him if he was planning to take any summer courses at UCI. This wasn’t something that Ethan had considered before, and he had never thought about heading off to college early. He wanted to enjoy the small-town charm he had grown accustomed to and say his goodbyes to many of his friends. He recalls, “I wasn’t too sure of going across the state just yet.” However, with his father’s persuasion, Ethan discovered and enrolled in UCI’s Freshman Edge program.

Freshman Edge is a six-week program that offers incoming UCI students the chance to live on campus, start earning credits toward their degree, and connect with other students, faculty, and staff. While this year’s Freshman Edge program will be held online due to health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic, enrolling in this program is still an excellent way for new Anteaters to acclimate to campus life.

For Ethan, attending Freshman Edge was the perfect solution for the fears he had been harboring prior to his freshman year. He explains, “It was six weeks of exploring UCI, learning about the campus, and understanding the resources that were at my disposal.” 

Additionally, Ethan says that he was able to build lasting friendships through Freshman Edge and find a community of support with other students who had similar backgrounds to his own. By connecting with other first-generation students who were new to the college experience, Ethan felt more comfortable building a life on campus.

His experience with the program was so positive that Ethan decided to get involved and help next year’s group of incoming freshmen. As a Freshman Edge mentor, Ethan received formal training and learned how to create the most welcoming environment for incoming students. Mentors are also invited to offer feedback on previous years’ programs, develop program events, and work with students on an individual and group basis.
Ethan says that working as a Freshman Edge mentor was eye-opening and gave him the opportunity to learn more about UCI and develop important skills. He notes, “I discovered more resources on campus and learned how to better refine my leadership abilities as well as my communication skills with people in a professional and non-professional environment.”

Through his work as a Freshman Edge mentor, Ethan was also able to work with UCI’s Student Success Initiatives (SSI) and learn more about the programs and services that they offer. For instance, he explains that SSI introduced him to campus resources that were particularly helpful for first-generation students, such as the Counseling Center, FRESH Hub, and the Center for Student Wellness & Health Promotion.

As someone who has experienced Freshman Edge as both a participant and mentor, Ethan encourages UCI’s incoming freshmen to check out the program. 

I would recommend Freshman Edge to any student who has the slightest notion that they’re not going to have a good time in college. Whether you’re from a small town or have never been away from home a lot, this program will shift your attitudes greatly. Once you get a lay of the land, it’s not as scary as you might think.

Ethan has made great strides during his time at UCI. Once a nervous incoming freshman who was unsure of what the future held, he is now a confident mentor to other students in need of reassurance. While Ethan still has two years at UCI ahead, he is eagerly making plans to continue his education by applying for a graduate program to work towards his goal of becoming a community pharmacist.

Are you an incoming freshman interested in enrolling in UCI’s Freshman Edge Program? Then check out their website here. UCI students interested in learning more about SSI and the variety of programs and services it offers can visit their website here.