by Deanna Hoang-Yen Tran
Labs. Science Classes. Research opportunities. Layhannara Tep came into UCLA as a “hardcore” biology major, as some students would call it, taking on the whole stereotypical pre-med package. However, she was confronted with that realization that the path she had set out on was not a path that she had chosen for herself. Shewasn’t happy and this reflected in her grades.
Like Tep, many students feel indebted to their parents. They fed us. They raised us. They taught us. They put so much into our well-being, and it’s only right for us to pay it back in some way. Many times we find ourselves making our decision based on this mindset, yet it calls into question the decisions that we want to make.
Conflicted with the wish to fulfill her parent’s or her own wishes, Tep found guidance from a program called Southeast Asian Campus Learning Education and Retention (SEACLEAR) during her freshman year. She has been involved with it ever since.
The goal of SEACLEAR, a Retention Project of the Vietnamese Student Union, is to help students face academic and personal challenges and successfully graduate from UCLA. The point of retention is keeping students at UCLA at an academically strong level, and making sure that they graduate rather than drop out.
The Vietnamese Student Union officially founded SEACLEAR in 1998. The people at VSU discovered that many members of the community were experiencing academic troubles. These members included student leaders who found themselves placed on academic probation and subject to dismissal.
SEACLEAR’s main target student population is Southeast Asian studentswho have been dismissed from the university or are on academic probation. The first focus is bringing these high-risk students back up. The second focus is prevention.
Since its inception, SEACLEAR has developed into a project with four different components: Mentorship, Internship, Peer Counseling, and Wellness. It has also recently introduced a new component: Transfer Component.
The mentorship program entails the pairing of an upperclassman or alumni to a student. SEACLEAR focuses heavily on the pairing process, and considers student preferences ranging from gender to academic field of study. The goal is to find a mentor that will be ideal for the personal support and professional growth of the student. Once a pair has been selected, the mentor engages in one-on-one meetings with his or her mentee. Through these one-on-one interactions, the mentor and mentee build a support system together.
The peer counseling component is for the students who would prefer a person who is experiencing college as they are. There are one-on-one counsel services that are holistic in nature, which are centered in three meetings each quarter. Discussion topics range from academic plans to more personal issues.
The new transfer component will focus primarily on transfer students who face a different experience from the typical undergraduate who began at UCLA as a freshman. Many Southeast Asian students are accepted as transfer students, and despite the many other programs UCLA offers in assisting transfer students, there is a lack of retention geared services.
The wellness component focuses on addressing taboo topics such as gender, sexuality, mental health, and spirituality. Students who share similar backgrounds in being familiar with the refugee experience can share their stories and expand their mindset.
Students who use SEACLEAR’s services can also give back to their community through the internship component, bringing the service around full circle. The internship component is for students who wish to take a step further in being involved with the Southeast Asian community and take the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills as a leader. Interns find themselves participating in fun and creative topics, small group discussions, and challenging the taboos and misconceptions in the community concerning their background, culture, and education.
That’s what SEACLEAR comes down to: the act of giving. The idea of rising above the challenges that poverty and pressures can weigh on a student, and then helping another student.
`”Some of the students that are most rewarding to work with are students who were previously dismissed or who struggled on academic action and who find a way to make it back,” Tep says. “[They] work hard and end up giving back because they understood how significant the community was in helping them to graduate and helping them to get back in.”
Tep graduated UCLA last year with a double major in Asian American Studies and English with a Creative Writing Concentration. She continues to be involved with SEACLEAR as the full-time Project Director. She has no regrets.