Alma Flores '09 recalls how difficult it was choosing a college.
"Being the first person in my family to go to a university, I didn't know how things worked," says Alma, who moved to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico with her family when she was eight. "I visited the UCLA campus and liked it, but I wasn't sure it was the right place for me."
A second visit to UCLA changed all that. She came to participate in an event hosted by the UCLA Academic Advancement Program (AAP). There she and other newly admitted freshmen and transfer students had the opportunity to learn about student life through a variety of activities and workshops. AAP is the nation's largest university-based diversity program. It welcomes all students whose academic profiles indicate they would benefit from the program's guidance and support, including tutoring, counseling and mentoring.
"I got to talk to faculty, staff, alumni and other students," Alma says. "They made me feel welcome and convinced me that I would get the support I needed to succeed at UCLA."
And succeed she has. Alma, now a senior, received a 4.0 GPA last spring while taking 25 units, participates in the UCLA McNair Research Scholars Program for young scholars who are committed social change, and is applying for Ph.D. programs in bilingual education.
"The people at AAP have played an important role in so much of what I've accomplished as an undergraduate," says Alma, who now works as a peer counselor for the program. "I've always been able to turn to them and know they'll understand where I'm coming from. They recognize that for students of color, college can be a different experience."
This month, Alma and her mother, who shares her name, will be bringing AAP's message of diversity and support to other parents and students by facilitating an AAP workshop called First to Go during UCLA Parents' Weekend, October 17 – 19. First to Go will provide parents of students who are the first in their families to go to college with information about resources to help them get the most out of their time at UCLA. Parents' Weekend is a three-day event created so that parents and undergraduate students can experience campus life together.
Alma's mother is delighted that this year Parents' Weekend coordinators are reaching out to AAP students and their families with special workshops and counselors. "Coming to campus for the first time can be intimidating," Mrs. Flores says. "It's good to know that there are people on campus that look like you, are of similar financial and cultural situations, and share your questions and concerns."
According to Charles Alexander, AAP director and associate vice provost for student diversity, "It is so important to have family support your educational aspirations. We encourage every parent to attend Parents' Weekend to experience a bit of what it is like for their child to be a student at a great university such as UCLA."
Alma's younger sister Esther, who also will be attending Parents' Weekend, recently chose UCLA over Princeton. She began as a freshman in the fall. "Princeton offered me a scholarship," she says, "but UCLA offered me something more important. With AAP I know I'll have the support I need."