UCLA College Honors Students Present at Major Conference

Two UCLA College honors students presented at the annual Academic Resource Conference sponsored by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission.

Jeremiah Barnett giving his presentation at the ARC.

Held in April in Burlingame, Calif., this year’s conference theme was “Future Perfect,” and focused on encouraging university faculty, administrators and staff attendees to exchange ideas about how to transform their schools to meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.

Third-year neuroscience and African American studies double major Chinyere Nwonye and fourth-year political science major Jeremiah Barnett joined Jennifer Lindholm, Assistant Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Director of Honors Programs at UCLA, in a presentation about the newly redesigned College Honors Program titled “Learning, Being, and Doing: Launching a New College Honors Program.”

In another session facilitated by Director of Assessment Kelly Wahl and Director of Curricular Initiatives Mitsue Yokota, both of the UCLA Division of Undergraduate Education, Barnett offered his insights into learning outcomes and interests.

Lindholm noted that Nwonye and Barnett, both Honors Fellows, were invited to speak because of their valuable contributions toward enriching UCLA’s traditional College Honors Program and developing the new pilot program, which will welcome its inaugural cohort of first-year students this fall.

During the group’s 15-minute presentation, Nwonye and Barnett each shared their personal experiences as honors students in order to explain how the honors program was transformed to be more experiential and interdisciplinary, more tailored to students’ individual interests, and better positioned to cultivate a community among honors students.

“I was thrilled, humbled, honored and of course nervous,” Barnett said of being invited to speak at the conference. “But I was excited to be able to share my story.”

Barnett spoke about his expectations on entering the honors program compared to what he felt he ultimately gained from the program. He stressed the importance of discussing learning outcomes with students. Nwonye talked about experiential learning and how it has enriched her academic career.

Lindholm said that student participation in these meetings is essential as it allows conference attendees to hear directly from students and ask them questions about how to get students to be more connected to university programs.

“We do a lot of talking about students and how to document ‘evidence’ of their learning such that federal expectations for institutional effectiveness are satisfied,” she said. “Too often though, we don’t invest enough time actually talking with students and, especially, listening closely to what they have to say. When we do, the conversations are more fun and good ‘outcomes’ tend to result for all involved.”

Nwonye said, “The [attendees] were very interested especially because Jeremiah and I were there and [we could explain] how students become more engaged and how we’re going to do that [in the honors program].”

Chinyere Nwonye

Barnett said he thought the support of the UCLA administrators added to the audience’s enthusiasm and interest in the presentation.

“Being backed by the [attendees’] peers from UCLA gave us, as students, a level of credibility that allowed us to speak and others to listen,” Barnett said.

Nwonye and Barnett hope that more students might be invited to participate at similar conferences in future, noting that they offer a valuable real-world perspective that administrators and staff don’t often hear, and that inviting students to contribute to the conversation can impact

the decisions made by university leaders.

“I felt like I was representing my peers who don’t have the opportunity to speak in front of people, to help make decisions that may impact students’ lives,” Barnett said.

“Jeremiah and Chinyere did a fantastic job representing UCLA and our honors program,” Lindholm said. “Their valuable perspectives, coupled with their poise, candor and enthusiasm, made them the stars of every session in which they participated.”

Seen and Heard Backstage at UCLA College Commencement’s 2 p.m. Ceremony

Friday, June 15, 1 p.m. It’s College Commencement Day at UCLA and one of the biggest ceremonies of the year is about to start.

Across campus, families and graduates take photos at Bruin Bear, buy flowers and decide on meeting spots. As the graduates say goodbye and line up on the LATC South Tennis Courts, preparing for their big entrance into Pauley Pavilion, families make their way into the arena, where they survey the crowds of people already packed into the stands, trying to figure out where they’ll have the best view of their graduate.

Inside Pauley Pavilion Club, another group is gathering: the UCLA faculty and student speakers who will lead the ceremony. Here, faculty put on their commencement robes and get into position for their march down the center aisle of Pauley Pavilion’s John Wooden Court to the stage after the graduates have been seated.

For the faculty, commencement isn’t a once in a lifetime experience – it’s an annual one, a ritual they participate in every year to honor their graduating students. Yet in the hour leading up to the ceremony, they are as excited as the graduates marching into Pauley Pavilion, eager to celebrate the Class of 2018 and start bringing another academic year to a close.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes peek backstage at UCLA College Commencement’s 2 p.m. ceremony.

1:00 p.m. College staff volunteers arrive and begin their assignments. Volunteers help set up food, pin hoods to faculty gowns, organize programs and more to make sure the ceremony runs smoothly.

1:17 p.m.: Faculty begin to arrive and get dressed in their commencement robes, with the help of staff volunteers.

1:29 p.m.: A professor compliments her colleague’s matching red robes: “You look like you graduated from the same place I did!”

1:36 p.m.: Faculty chat about their summer plans.

1:37 p.m.: Chancellor Gene Block arrives.

1:40 p.m.: Faculty begin finding their places in the lineup. Chairs are labeled with the names of each member of the faculty and students who will have a speaking role in the ceremony in the order in which they will walk out so they end up in the correct seat onstage. For those who will not be speaking, signs indicate where each College division should gather so they are seated together onstage.

1:49 p.m.: Members of the VIP party – Carol Block and special guests of the stage party – are escorted out to their seats in Pauley Pavilion as the graduates begin the procession.

1:51 p.m.: A professor takes a grinning selfie of himself in his robes.

1:52 p.m.: Chancellor Block takes photos with several faculty members and the student speakers.

1:55 p.m.: An announcement is made about a change to the seating procedures, prompting laughter and jokes around the room about how well the faculty will remember what to do.

2:04 p.m.: Watching a live feed of the graduates entering Pauley Pavilion, student vocalist Ritu Sreenivasan exclaims, “Wow, that’s so cool! I’m gonna cry.”

2:06 p.m.: Dean Patricia A. Turner greets Sreenivasan and student speaker Emily Yamane, who says, “I’m so nervous!” Dean Turner assures her, “You’ll be fine.”

2:08 p.m.: The faculty gather at their assigned seats or with their division to prepare for the processional.

2:16 p.m.: The faculty stand and line up, ready to walk out.

2:18 p.m.: Faculty are told they will have to wait a few more minutes because the graduates are backed up getting into Pauley Pavilion.

2:22 p.m.: Professors and students pose for pictures with each other as they wait.

2:24 p.m.: The faculty are led down to the stage of Pauley Pavilion!

UCLA Faculty on Undergraduate Research Week

Professors Gregory Pottie, Kara Cooney and Alvaro Sagasti share why they support undergraduate research and why they find Undergraduate Research Week so impressive.

Undergraduate Research Week showcases and celebrates undergraduate research and creative projects across disciplines. Open to undergraduate students in all majors, the week provides opportunities for students to present their work to the UCLA campus community, alumni, and visitors. In the first four years of holding the event, participation has grown to over 1,000 student participants.

Advising Communities of Excellence (ACE) fosters community of advisors

Marian Gabra, center, with the ACE Committee

Twice per quarter, around 50 staff from across UCLA gather at interactive workshops to discuss best practices, tools, and theory about the work they do every day: advising students.

The workshops are part of College Academic Counseling’s Advising Communities of Excellence (ACE) Professional Development Program. Combining workshops and smaller learning communities, ACE is a unique blend of scholarship, community-building, and professional development that, only in its second year, is already gaining recognition as one of the most significant professional development programs for college advisors in the country.

Marian Gabra, director of advising professional development, created ACE from the ground up in 2016, under the direction of Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Support Corey Hollis. Inspired by a growing movement across the advising profession toward professional development in order to achieve greater student success, Hollis tasked Gabra with building a professional development program for advisors at UCLA.

“The goal is to get us all on the same page, speaking the same language, and supporting students in a very intentional way and in a way that’s very collaborative and cohesive,” Gabra said.

Gabra leads ACE’s committee of 20 volunteer members representing the College of Letters and Science and departmental advisors, the Schools, and the Division of Student Affairs.

“Building community, practicing theory, and theorizing practice”

The ACE program includes bi-quarterly interactive workshops, each one focusing a different topic, such as “Fostering Resilience in Students and Ourselves,” “Advising Approaches and Theories,” and “Supporting First-Generation Students.” Workshops include readings of scholarship and theory, a brief presentation about the topic, and discussion of scenarios and case studies. At the end of the workshop, each participant formulates an action plan for how they will incorporate what they’ve learned into their own practice.

Workshops are open to all staff campus-wide as well as graduate students if space allows. Each workshop typically sees around 50 attendees on average, and they represent a wide range of advisors, from academics to the Career Center, from Residential Life to financial aid – any staff member who advises students is encouraged to attend.

Staff can join smaller ACE learning communities through the ACE Reads Study Group Program, which focus on specific topics, such as wellness, UC basic needs, and leadership and management. Each study group is expected to produce a deliverable at the end of the academic year, such as a published paper or presentation. ACE has partnered with UCLA Librarians to develop a seven-workshop series that will launch this summer and extend throughout the next academic year. This series will support advisors who wish to learn more about conducting their own academic research within the field of advising.

The ACE mentoring program also provides additional support and mentorship opportunities for campus professionals.

With the tagline “Building community, practicing theory, and theorizing practice,” ACE is not merely a training course, Gabra said.

“What sets ACE apart from other professional development programs is our desire to participate and engage with theory, whether that’s to become more scholarly advisors or to be scholar-practitioners,” Gabra said. “The fact that we’re providing the support through librarians and in partnership with faculty is really going to help propel this program forward and [position] UCLA advising as the frontrunners in the country.”

Making an impact at UCLA and beyond

The national advising community has already taken note of ACE. In March, Gabra and the ACE program won the Excellence in Advising Innovation Award from the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Region 9, which represents California, Nevada and Hawaii. At last year’s Advising Research Symposium hosted by ACE, the Director of NACADA’s Center for Advising Research, Wendy Troxel, said that while many universities want to have a program like ACE, UCLA is the first to really make it happen.

Shahla Rahimzadeh, academic advisor in the College of Letters and Science and a member of the ACE committee, said that ACE empowers her and her colleagues by validating their efforts and recognizing the importance of their work. And, it’s made her a better advisor to her students.

“If we can work on ourselves, self-reflect, and [focus on] our own development, I think in turn that has an impact on what we do with students,” Rahimzadeh said.

Janel Munguia, undergraduate counselor in the English department and advisor of the minor in entrepreneurship, agreed that when advisors can learn from each other and share ideas about their work, it is beneficial both for the advisors and their students.

“ACE provides a forum for both individual growth of each academic advisor, as well as the growth and strengthening of our relationships with each other as part of a cohesive community,” Mungui said. “ACE gives us this gift of time with each other.”

Gabra hopes ACE fosters enthusiasm towards advising at UCLA and inspires in the advisors a sense of pride for the work they do, which will ultimately benefit the students most of all.

“Advisors aren’t just here to tell students what classes to take, but to work with students to collaborate with them, partner with them, and create a more meaningful experience for them,” she said. “If I’m asking students the right questions and supporting them and encouraging them to realize their dreams and working with them to create a strategic plan, to get where they want to go, then they’re going to do so much better.”

Study abroad peer advisor and UCLA Guardian Scholar encourages students to see the world

Walk into the International Education Office in 1332 Murphy Hall and you might be greeted by Montana Epps, a third-year history major and study abroad student peer advisor with infectious enthusiasm for studying abroad.

About to embark on her third study abroad trip, Epps is dedicated to not only overcoming challenges in order to pursue her own travels, but also helping fellow students make their study abroad dreams a reality.

For Epps, studying abroad started early. As a junior in high school, she spent six months in Peru, living with host families and attending a local Montessori High School through an international youth exchange program called American Field Service. There, she was “humbled” to discover differences between the United States and other parts of the world – like the fact that students in Peru graduate high school in just three years – and bonded with the young children of her host parents.

“As I taught them English, they taught me Spanish,” Epps said.

But once she started attending UCLA, her study abroad days were far from over. Inspired by her experience in Peru and motivated to fulfill her foreign language requirement, Epps set her sights on UCLA Summer Travel Study’s Spanish program in Granada, Barcelona and Madrid.

On the trip, Epps got to practice her Spanish with locals and experience the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona as well as the quieter, more laid-back Granada. She formed close relationships with her professors and appreciated that they gave her and her classmates plenty of opportunities to explore in between classes.

“I loved visiting certain destinations that we went to that make me feel almost small because it’s so humbling,” she said. “You get to see that other people have been here, there’s history here, there’s culture here.”

Exploring the museums, cathedrals and monuments of Spain also gave Epps an epiphany about her own academic goals. Perhaps, she realized, the pre-med track she was on at the time wasn’t her true passion after all. So, she switched majors.

“I realized, you know what Montana? I think you enjoy history,” she said. “I loved learning about the history of the places we were visiting.”

This summer, Epps will take on an entirely new adventure: attending Yonsei University in South Korea through the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP). She hopes to take courses in history and Korean cinema, and to discover a culture very different from the ones she experienced in Peru and Spain.

When she’s not abroad, travel is never far from Epps’s mind. In her job as a student peer advisor in the UCLA International Education Office (IEO), she has made it her mission to ease students’ fears about studying abroad, introduce them to all their options, and help them navigate the application process.

Epps feels a special connection to the students who must overcome financial challenges in order to pursue their dreams of studying abroad. A member of the UCLA Guardian Scholars Program for students who are former foster youth, she understands how disheartening it can be for former foster youth like herself and other students to feel that they can’t afford to study abroad.

But, she tells them, they do have options. UCEAP and UCLA IEO offer scholarships, and students’ financial aid packages apply toward study abroad programs.

“There are ways to study abroad, you just have to go out and look at those resources and get more information and that’s what I try to provide for students, especially when they come in with financial burdens,” Epps said. Helping fellow students realize their study abroad dreams has made such an impression on Epps that it’s now her career goal to work in an office like UCLA IEO.

Kate Herring, UCLA IEO Student Services Coordinator, said Epps has always impressed the staff with her poise, initiative and enthusiasm for guiding fellow students through the study abroad process. She’s an example of how anyone, no matter their circumstances, can achieve their dream of studying abroad, and she demonstrates the power of studying abroad to change a person’s life.

“It’s very inspiring that she didn’t necessarily have the support system that other students do but she’s made study abroad happen for herself,” Herring said. “She shows that anyone can study abroad, and she shows how the experience can help you grow as a person and shape you and the rest of your life.”

Studying abroad, Epps said, has made her more open minded and more accepting of other cultures and languages. She encourages students nervous about studying abroad to not live in fear, but instead step outside their comfort zone and embrace the opportunity to have an adventure.

“The world is so big and you never realize how big it is until you actually leave your city or country and go out and see it because there’s so much it has to offer,” she said. “I love learning new things and I love being put in situations where I don’t know what’s going to happen next because I think it’s really exciting. I learned to love those situations and that’s why I study abroad and that’s why I love doing it.”

Photos by Kya Williamson