When the U.S. Department of Education designated it as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2017, UCI became only the second campus among the American Association of Universities to receive this prestigious honor. But that was just the start for UCI, whose strategic plan includes a commitment to building new pathways for historically underrepresented students. An important part of that plan involves the work being done by the UCI-OC Alliance.
Established by UCI Foundation Trustees in 2021, the UCI-OC Alliance serves to connect local leaders and businesses with the university to advance Latino students, staff and faculty through engagement with more than 135 programs on campus. This goal of upward mobility for students is accomplished through communication, collaboration and engagement with university administration and support groups, as well as participation in and active support of on-campus Latino events and programs.
Among the UCI-OC Alliance’s achievements so far is the creation of the Latinx Resources Database, which catalogues the more than 135 services, programs and resources at UCI dedicated to enhancing the Latino experience, including outreach efforts, academic initiatives, and retention programs. The database is available to students, faculty and community members, including local K-12 students and their families.
UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman (left) and guests.
The Honorable Gaddi H. Vasquez kicks off the panel discussion.
UCI-OC Alliance Executive Director Maria Cervantes.
Claire Trevor School of the Arts Dean Tiffany López.
UCI Cancer Center Clinical Research Coordinator Judit Castellanos.
Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing Dean Mark Lazenby participates in the panel discussion.
(Left to right: President and CEO of the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Reuben Franco; UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman; Hon. Gaddi H. Vasquez; Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing Dean Mark Lazenby; Wells Fargo Executive VP and Head of Hispanic and Latino Affairs, Patty Juarez; UCI alumnus Andy Paz; UCI Cancer Center Clinical Research Coordinator Judit Castellanos; UCI-OC Alliance Executive Director Maria Cervantes.
With the assistance of corporate partners such as Edwards Lifesciences Foundation, Experian, Monster Energy Cares, Pacific Life Foundation, Kia America, Inc., and the Corporate Directors Roundtable of Orange County, the UCI-OC Alliance has awarded over 38 scholarships to undergrad scholarships and are expecting additional scholarships to be awarded later this school year. Alliance members have facilitated dozens of new internships and have provided meaningful engagement in most of the UCI schools. This will play a critical role in supporting UCI’s aspiration to further its Hispanic-serving status by doubling the number of Latino doctoral students and growing the number of Latino faculty members by 20 percent by 2030.
“My parents could not fulfill their dreams of finishing college, but they continued their dream through me,” says Aaron Rodriguez, a 2021-22 UCI-OC Alliance Scholarship recipient. “Wouldn’t it be great if I reached a point in my life where I could pay for my parents to go back to school and complete their education? Thanks to my experience with the UCI-OC Alliance and to donors such as Monster Energy Cares, I now believe that anything is possible.”
The alliance has also conceptualized and assisted in the development of a special UCI Health initiative on diabetes in the Latino community. Three working groups formed by UCI Health are focused on prevention, treatment and research.
Currently, 47 alliance members, including 12 UCI alumni, serve as ambassadors who work at the intersection of multiple communities and are committed to advancing Latino students and programs at UCI. Sixteen new members were added in 2022-23. New members are community leaders who represent healthcare, medicine, pharmaceuticals, consulting, engineering, higher education, finance, law, business, retail and utilities. More than 20 advisory groups for UCI schools and programs are diversified by the addition of Alliance members.
“As a UCI Foundation Trustee and founding member of the UCI-OC Alliance, I feel extremely proud of the work we have collectively accomplished by becoming ambassadors to our students by forging meaningful alliances of Latino community leaders and university leaders contributing to UCI as the number one choice of in-state first-generation students among all UC campuses for five consecutive years,” says Gaddi Vasquez, a UCI Foundation Trustee and UCI-OC Alliance member.
“The part of being on the Alliance I enjoy the most is meeting UCI undergraduates,” adds UCI-OC Alliance member and longtime local broadcast journalist Val Zavala. “We are given several opportunities through ‘speed mentoring.’ Every student is bright, eager and has such an interesting background. I can tell they are headed towards success.”
As an alliance member and Santa Ana businesswoman with a long track record of civic leadership Patricia Velasquez believes that the university is making a significant impact on the lives of students and increasing their chances of success. “At UCI, this impact is on a larger scale that will be long-lasting,” she says. “A wonderful surprise has been that our work may transcend to other universities, for an even greater impact on Latino students beyond UCI.”
For Maria G. Cervantes, the UCI-OC Alliance’s executive director, the group’s success in the past few years is personal. “I am excited to work alongside UCI’s leadership and 47 prominent Orange County business leaders who are deeply committed to UCI’s Latino students and programs,” she says. “As a first-generation bicultural Latina myself, the alliance is an inspiration, and I look forward to building the professional leaders of the future.”
About the UCI-OC Alliance: Established in 2021, the UCI-OC Alliance supports UCI as a Hispanic-thriving university. Trustee-initiated and university-driven, the alliance serves Orange County by connecting local leaders and businesses with UCI to advance Latino students through mentorships, scholarships, internships, program support, corporate partnerships, special events and initiatives and networking opportunities. Learn more by visiting uciocalliance.uci.edu.