UCI's School of Law awarded 119 juris doctorate degrees this year. The graduation ceremony was held in May. Courtesy of UCI School of Law.

Irvine, Calif., June 2, 2016 – The Bren Events Center at the University of California, Irvine will host more than 8,000 newly minted Anteater alumni and their families over four days of graduation ceremonies scheduled for Friday, June 10, through Monday, June 13.

In a testament to UCI’s commitment to access and affordability, 49.3 percent of the degrees will be awarded to first-generation college graduates. The high percentage of traditionally underserved students and their corresponding high graduation rates earned UCI the top spot last year in a New York Times ranking of universities that do the most for low-income students.

An analysis of a new Student Achievement Measure also ranked UCI tied for first place in successfully moving students through their educational careers in a timely manner. The SAM, which includes 54 participating colleges in four states (California, Maryland, Missouri and South Carolina) found that 92 percent of UCI students graduate within 150 percent of the normal time (six years for four-year students and three years for transfer students). UCI tied with UCLA in this measure, which was developed by a coalition of organizations mainly representing public colleges and was funded by the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corp.

Chancellor Howard Gillman had this message for students as they prepare for graduation: “Even after you leave our classrooms and say farewell to your professors, I hope you will continue to carry inside you not only memories, but also the lingering essence of our world of inquiry and discovery. You have earned your degree, but your education has just begun.”

A schedule of graduation ceremonies is available on the UCI commencement website. Diplomas to be awarded in 2016 total 8,348, with the following breakdown.

  • Bachelor’s degrees: 7,146, with social sciences graduates accounting for more than 25 percent
  • Master’s degrees: 821
  • Doctoral degrees: 381, (including 114 M.D.s honored in May)

Here are the stories of three outstanding first-generation graduates:

  • A freeway crash changed everything for David Saldana, who will graduate Sunday, June 12, with a bachelor’s in neurobiology. A few days before Christmas 2009, a car carrying his older brother spun out of control and slammed into a post, leaving his sibling with some rather puzzling symptoms. Emerging from a coma two weeks later, the young man began singing in Spanish and addressing family members as numerals instead of by name. Observing his brother’s struggles, Saldana developed a deep curiosity about the brain and a passion for helping those in similar straits. At UCI, he was able to test a potential Alzheimer’s drug on mice and shadow doctors at UCI Medical Center. The first in his family to finish college, Saldana now plans to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in occupational therapy. Contact saldand1@uci.edu for more information.
  • Yelennia Palacios says her story – born to Mexican immigrants, she and her sister are the first in the family to attend college – shows that by following your dreams, anything is possible. When she first dreamed of becoming a doctor, an adviser at Downey High School recommended UCI for its stellar biology program. Now, 12 years later – after receiving a bachelor’s in biological sciences here in 2007 and a Master of Studies in Law at UC Hastings College of the Law – she has accomplished her goal and earned a UCI medical degree in May. With her husband, Julio, and their 2-year-old son, Solomon, she’s moving south to serve her residency in family medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista.  “I can see myself becoming a leader in a large organization dedicated to improving public health,” she said. “You never know what might be in the future.” Contact Tom Vasich at 949-824-6455 or tmvasich@uci.edu for more information.
  • It isn’t easy writing a dissertation with your newborn wailing in the next room and your poet-rapper husband – who goes by the stage name Propaganda – on tour in Russia. But somehow Alma Zaragoza-Petty, Ph.D. ’16 not only pulled that off, but also found time to run in a few half-marathons. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Acapulco, Mexico, and Watts by garment-worker parents who never earned more than minimum wage, the energetic education student is the first in her family to finish high school and graduate from college. Inspired by her own educational experiences, Zaragoza-Petty is exploring ways to improve classroom instruction and university access for low-income, first-generation and other underrepresented youths. She has also mentored incoming graduate students at UCI and amassed a bundle of academic accolades and fellowships on campus. After the graduate hooding ceremony on Saturday, June 11, Zaragoza-Petty hopes to continue her research as a postdoc and eventually become a college professor. Contact azaragoz@uci.edu for more information.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, 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 30,000 students and offers 192 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 $4.8 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 UC Irvine faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UC Irvine news, visit wp.communications.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.