UCI News

One of a kind

SAGE Scholars teaches career and life skills to high-achieving, diverse UCI students

by Dhanika Pineda, UCI | January 5, 2023
One of a kind
“SAGE teaches you all these important skills you can’t really get from academic classes,” says Daniel Ascencio, a UCI alumni and program graduate, pictured here with current SAGE Scholars students Caroline Yan (center) and Alicia Felix. Steve Zylius / UCI

The Student Achievement Guided by Experience program at UCI was founded in 1999 by the UC Office of the President as part of an initiative to increase the pipeline of diverse students going into the workforce and post grad programs. Out of the nine UC campuses where these programs were originally established, only UCI’s SAGE Scholars program remains.

The two-year professional development program is open to low-income, accelerated sophomores, juniors and seniors planning to stay a fifth year at UCI. SAGE Scholars recruits these students, elevates them and connects them to opportunities in order for them to succeed.

Neda Moayedi

One of the big components [of SAGE] is making sure we create a safe environment for our students and make sure it’s an inclusive environment so that they can ask out loud things that they wouldn’t be able to ask other mentors and other peers,” says program director Neda Moayedi. SAGE Scholars

“I was first-generation, non-traditional [student] when I came to UCI, and you just don’t know what you don’t know,” says Neda Moayedi ‘11, director of the SAGE program. “People say ‘Ask questions,’ but I didn’t even know what questions I was supposed to be asking. One of the big components [of the program] is making sure we create a safe environment for our students and make sure it’s an inclusive environment so that they can ask out loud things that they wouldn’t be able to ask other mentors and other peers.”

Along with SAGE’s assistant director, Cecilia Leyva, Moayedi aims to create a community of camaraderie and support for SAGErs as they embark on their journey, guided by transformative experiences.

The four pillars of the program are: work force and career readiness, leadership and professional development, service learning, and networking. To support those pillars, SAGErs are required to take two courses combined with a series of workshops that provides foundational business acumen training for scholars to learn professional skills, from resume building, interview etiquette and interpersonal skills, such as communication and leadership.

“It’s important to make sure that students have the tools and resources they need to succeed, not just at UCI, but beyond,” Moayedi says.

Daniel Ascencio, a 2021 UCI graduate, is one student who benefitted him his SAGE experience. “There are so many things from SAGE that I carry with me about how to be professional, and how to carry myself in a professional manner in my workspace,” he said.

Ascencio has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, and he is currently an applications and support engineer at Corelis, a Cerritos-based technology company. He will begin an MBA program at Cal State Long Beach this month. During his time in SAGE, he found the working wardrobes workshop most impactful. The workshop taught him important professional etiquette skills, including active listening. He finds that the program is not only beneficial for professional skills, but also for life skills.

“Through these workshops, SAGE teaches you all these important skills you can’t really get from academic classes,” he says.

Another requirement of the program is 10 hours of community service each academic quarter. Daniel Quinonez, fourth-year SAGE student and mathematics major, does his community service by volunteering at the university’s FRESH Basic Needs Hub. He considers this one of the most fulfilling parts of his SAGE experience.

“It might not sound like a lot, but I think it’s definitely taught me that you can always make time to serve your community, and you can always make time to give back,” Quinonez says. “It was two hours every other week or one hour a week. Just having that in my schedule was really nice, because now I can see myself plugging that into my calendar and making it a priority.”

Alicia Felix, a fourth-year psychological sciences major, is thankful to the program, not just for the professional support but for the personal support as well.

“Finding SAGE was a big part of helping me reach out to more opportunities,” she says. “They helped me recognize that I am capable of doing a lot more than I think I can.”

As a community assistant at UCI’s Puerta del Sol housing community, Felix didn’t feel ready to juggle more until her mentors at SAGE encouraged her. She now balances schoolwork and community assistant responsibilities with graduate school applications and a job at Human Options, a domestic violence center in Irvine, where she works with children.

“SAGE is more than just a program, it’s a community. Everybody wants to lift each other up, and it’s really amazing.” she says.

Caroline Yan, a fourth-year public health science major and SAGE ambassador, shares Felix’s feelings. Yan is especially grateful for the mentorship of Moayedi and Leyva.

“At the beginning of class, Neda likes to have us do these breathing exercises with her, and it’s just so nice to be present with everyone there to support each other,” she says. “I feel like my soul has been so replenished.”

As a SAGE ambassador, Yan is happy to get the word out about the program and help foster a spirit of community within the program itself. Following her human relations internship this past summer, Yan looks forward to pursuing a career in human operations after graduating from UCI.

“For people who want to develop professionally, to grow a network, to be able to meet friends and meet amazing mentors like that,” Yan says, “SAGE is an amazing opportunity.”

Dhanika Pineda is a fourth-year literary journalism major.

If you want to learn more about supporting this or other student success activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/student-success. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. To support SAGE Scholars, go to: https://secure.give.uci.edu/donation/?COA1=003726&COA2