The effort started in 2010 at a meeting of community members seeking to boost the number of Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian students attending California State University campuses.
Five years later, Cal State campuses, including Cal Poly Pomona, have trained university students to do outreach as initiative ambassadors and hosted four “Journey to Success” college fairs.
Members of a steering committee representing 17 CSU campuses convened at Kellogg West on Sept. 9 to discuss recent successes with the campaign and brainstorm about how to continue to serve students.
The committee highlighted the four student ambassador trainings for the initiative; the four “Journey to Success” college expos hosted, including one at Cal Poly Pomona; and participation in community events to further outreach efforts as successes in 2014-15. The group is looking to build on their successes in 2015-2016.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Initiative steering committee is one of four across the CSU targeting specific ethnic populations, says Marisela Cervantes, director of community partnerships at the Office of the Chancellor. AAPI’s committee kicked off first, with the others to follow in the fall.
“These folks are our experts in reaching AAPI students, reaching their families and helping these students to be successful in college,” Cervantes says.
Thavery Lay-Bounpraseuth, coordinator of Cal Poly Pomona’s Asian & Pacific Islander Student Center, said the idea behind the initiative is to reach out to an underserved community.
“It’s to demystify this stereotype of Asian American students being educationally successful, a model minority,” she says. “We are very diverse. There are communities that don’t have access to college.”
Lay-Bounpraseuth understands the struggle all too well. Her family immigrated to the United States from Cambodia when she was 5. Although her two older siblings went to college, her parents didn’t understand how the American university system worked. She learned to be proactive and to ask questions, but many first-generation students aren’t aware of the available resources out there and do not know what questions to ask, she says.
The “Journey to Success” expos the university has hosted, which target grades six through 12 and those attending community college, offer a place where students and their parents can get their questions answered. Cal Poly Pomona also has an ambassador program that trains its students to go to local high schools and share their experiences.
The AAPI started with four campuses in 2010. The decision to focus on Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders came out of the examination of data from the Early Assessment Test. The exam is administered to 11th graders in California to determine their college readiness in English and math.
The results showed that while some Asian groups scored high on the test, others did not show acceptable levels of proficiency, specifically Samoan, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong and Guamanian students.
“Asian American educational attainment looks great on the surface, but when you look more closely at the different ethnic groups, you see huge disparities,” Cervantes says. “That’s why this initiative was created. What can we do to help keep these students from slipping through that educational pipeline?”
Cervantes adds that the academic achievement of members of those groups can be difficult to chart because many identify themselves in multiple ethnic categories. Anecdotally, the effort has built stronger ties in the communities, something that contributes to student success, she says.