First-generation students make up more than half of UCI’s class of 2019

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Irvine, Calif., June 4, 2019 — More than 8,000 students and their families will attend University of California, Irvine commencement ceremonies between Friday, June 14, and Monday, June 17, in the Bren Events Center.

Overall, UCI will grant 10,323 degrees to 9,403 undergraduates this academic year. And in a testament to the school’s dedication to access and affordability, more than half of those bachelor’s degrees will be awarded to first-generation college students. This large percentage of traditionally underserved students is one reason why UCI has twice earned the No. 1 spot in a New York Times ranking of universities “doing the most for the American dream.”“Our numbers tell the story of UCI’s commitment to providing a world-class education to students from all backgrounds. These graduates represent the best and the brightest, regardless of their financial or other circumstances,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “UCI prioritizes acting as an engine of upward socio-economic mobility, and we look forward to seeing these graduates pursue their own American dreams.”

Graduates will also benefit from the high value of a UCI education. According to Forbes, UCI ranks No. 1 in the country among public universities for “best value.” The 2019 Forbes list is the latest in a series placing UCI in the top tier of colleges nationwide. U.S. News & World Report currently rates it the seventh-best public university in America. Money magazine has named UCI No. 3 among the “best colleges in the U.S.” And in the 2019 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education rankings of this country’s universities, UCI placed first for offering an inclusive, supportive learning environment.

In addition, the graduation data validates UCI’s continued status as a Hispanic-serving institution, a federal designation awarded to universities where at least 25 percent of undergraduates identify as Latino and at least half of all students get financial aid. This year, UCI will grant bachelor’s degrees to 2,288 Latinos, a number that has steadily increased for the past decade.

A schedule of graduation events, including cultural celebrations, is available on the UCI commencement website. Diplomas will be awarded at 11 ceremonies over four days, with the following breakdown:

  • Bachelor’s degrees: 10,323, with social sciences accounting for more than 25 percent
  • Master’s degrees: This data will be available in July.
  • Law degrees: 142 (conferred May 11)
  • Medical degrees: 110 (conferred June 1)
  • Community college transfer students earning bachelor’s degrees: 3,001
  • Federal Pell Grant recipients earning bachelor’s degrees: 4,390

Here are the stories of three outstanding UCI graduates:

  • Monica Xu English was 14 when she escaped her abusive home, but her problems did not end there. Over the next year, she dropped out of high school and bounced around hospitals, an emergency shelter and foster homes, only staying in one place for weeks at a time. Eventually, she was reunited with her Chinese mother, and her life stabilized – though the early trauma has taken a mental and physical toll. These days, as English graduates with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, she reflects on how her multicultural identity (her father is Irish American) and exposure to different languages and cultures while in foster care sparked her love of the humanities. English is co-president of the philosophy club at UCI and an active member of the campus’s Foster Youth Resilience in Education program. She is literate in four languages and in 2018 alone traveled to 15 countries. Her biggest goal, English says, is to be a humanitarian. As a professional model and mentor – as well as an avid writer and public speaker – she wants to use her platform to raise awareness of foster care and mental health issues.
  • As Ryan Ha was finishing up his undergraduate degree, intending to go into financial planning, he had an experience that altered his educational and professional goals. Ha often donated blood at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and during his senior year, he got the chance to meet someone who had received his blood after a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. The deeply moving encounter left him wanting to help others on a greater scale. Ha was accepted into the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing at UCI after finishing a year and a half of prerequisites at four different community colleges. Graduating this month with a concentration in community and population health nursing, he has appreciated the program’s holistic model – focusing not only on physiological problems, but also on psychological and emotional factors.
  • Floranne Tavailau Ellington has lived her life in almost constant motion. Her early years were spent on a boat in Half Moon Bay with her family before they relocated to Lakeport, a small town about 125 miles northwest of Sacramento. Ellington attended middle school and high school in San Jose before coming to UCI. But now it appears she’ll be staying in one place for a while. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, she applied to and has been accepted into a Ph.D. program in computer engineering at UCI, where she’ll work on developing medical sensors to monitor fetal health under the guidance of Hung Cao, assistant professor of electrical engineering & computer science. As a UCI undergrad, Ellington – a first-generation college student whose parents are from England and Samoa – has been a tireless organizer of programs to encourage young people, particularly women, to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She was the main coordinator for her sorority’s Athena Olympiad 2019, in which she helped guide 36 middle and high school students through activities such as lab tours, a Raspberry Pi workshop, and informal college and career counseling. Following her doctoral studies, Ellington hopes to continue managing and developing machine learning research projects. “After working in industry for a few years, I want to either come back to academia or work in outreach,” she says, “as I want to support the next generation in STEM, especially underrepresented communities.”

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.