UCI News

First-generation students make up half of UCI’s class of 2018

Over 7,000 graduates will participate in commencement ceremonies this month

June 4, 2018
First-generation students make up half of UCI’s class of 2018
UCI will host 11 commencement ceremonies between Friday, June 15, and Monday, June 18, in the Bren Events Center. Here, 2017 social ecology graduates celebrate. Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., June 4, 2018 — More than 7,000 students and their families will attend University of California, Irvine commencement ceremonies between Friday, June 15, and Monday, June 18, in the Bren Events Center.

Overall, UCI will grant nearly 9,800 undergraduate and graduate degrees this academic year. And in a testament to the school’s commitment to access and affordability, 50 percent of bachelor’s degrees (4,305) will be awarded to first-generation college students – the second year in a row that half are first-gen. This high percentage of traditionally underserved students is one reason why UCI has twice earned the top spot in a New York Times ranking of universities that do the most in helping students achieve the American dream.

“This graduating class continues to highlight how well UCI serves the people of our state by offering a world-class education to our best and brightest students, regardless of their financial circumstances, and acting as a powerful engine of upward economic mobility,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman.

The graduation data also validates UCI’s 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. UCI remains a popular choice for California’s Latino high school graduates, receiving more fall 2018 applications from them than any other UC campus.

This year, UCI will grant bachelor’s degrees to over 2,000 Latino students (2,014), almost double the number awarded five years ago (1,034) and more than triple the total 10 years ago (637).

Graduates will also benefit from the high value of a UCI education. According to Forbes’ 2018 ranking of America’s best-value colleges, the campus is No. 4 for delivering “the best bang for the tuition buck based on tuition costs, school quality, postgrad earnings, student debt and graduation success” – and is No. 2 for having the most success with upward mobility.

A schedule of graduation ceremonies, 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: 8,616, with social sciences accounting for more than 25 percent
  • Master’s degrees: 687, with the highest numbers in education (168) and engineering (167)
  • Law degrees: 115 (commencement was May 12)
  • Doctoral degrees: 335 (including 95 M.D.s honored June 2)
  • Community college transfer students receiving bachelor’s degrees: 2,536
  • Federal Pell Grant recipients receiving bachelor’s degrees: 3,284

Here are the stories of three outstanding graduates:

Four years ago, Skyler Phamle came to the United States from Vietnam speaking almost no English. This month, she’ll graduate from UCI with a bachelor’s degree in psychology & social behavior. As a girl in Saigon, Phamle heard her parents speak occasionally of her mother’s siblings. They had perished one by one on perilous boat journeys to America after the city fell to the North Vietnamese. “Most of my aunts’ and uncles’ bodies were lost in the ocean,” says Phamle, now 25. Her parents saved money for years to bring her and her older brother to the U.S. Now she wants to repay their hard work and help other impoverished international students navigate university life. This fall, she’ll begin earning an M.S. in counseling (with a student development in higher education option) at California State University, Long Beach. A Santa Ana College mentor convinced Phamle that she could attend a four-year college. UCI provided scholarships and other support. “I want to thank UCI,” she says. “Over there [in Vietnam], if you don’t have money, you can’t do things. Here, if you have the skills and you have the knowledge, even if you’re broke, you can make it.”

It all started with a middle school tour of UCI. When it came time to apply for college, Yessenia Lemus remembered the beautiful setting and vibrant students she had seen that day. Although she’d be the first in her family to go to college, and Irvine was very different both geographically and culturally from her Compton neighborhood, Lemus knew she’d excel. The campus environment inspired her to expand her intellectual boundaries and pursue a double major in business administration and sociology. Lemus also worked as an intern at Kingston Technology. After graduation, she’ll spend a year gaining additional real-world experience through work and travel before applying to MBA programs. But no matter where in the world she goes, Lemus says, “UCI was the birthplace of my adult development and lifelong friendships, so it will always have a special place in my mind and heart.”

An unfavorable encounter with organic chemistry forced Philip Terry Chen to rethink his career aspirations. Instead of studying to be a physician who would treat individual patients, the Hacienda Heights resident decided to major in public health policy and treat entire communities. After earning his bachelor’s degree at UCI in 2014, the first-generation college grad headed to Oakland for a stint with AmeriCorps, during which he developed an after-school academic program in gardening and cooking for at-risk youth. Chen also taught the students how to make sculptures from cardboard, a skill he still uses to craft “Star Wars” Stormtrooper helmets, light sabers and other movie props. In 2016, he returned to UCI for a Master of Public Health. After graduation, Chen hopes to find work protecting blue-collar employees from dangerous chemicals and other job hazards.

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 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 $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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