ASPIRE, an acronym for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Reaching Their Potential through Education, is a student support program at Pierce College that, despite having to go virtual, is still working hard to reach its goals. The program was created through federal funding from the Department of Education Title III, Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution grant which serves to strengthen academic quality.
ASPIRE is a part of the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion – College Access, Retention, and Engagement Services office and aims to improve the enrollment, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented Asian American and Pacific Islander students. Although the main focus of the program is to help students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, any AAPI students can participate and benefit from the program.
“We’re here to really just support any Asian and Pacific Islander students in any way to help them be successful in their time at Pierce and transitioning on,” said the EDI Ambassador of ASPIRE, Charlynn Aldan.
AAPI students can get connected with ASPIRE by signing up to have a program ambassador plan a meeting for them with a retention manager. Meetings typically take half an hour to a full hour, with a manager speaking with the student and getting to know them, along with putting them in their online system. Going forth from the meeting, members of the ASPIRE program will work with students on scholarships, class management and any financial aid assistance needed.
According to the Community Engagement Specialist of ASPIRE, Kiana Fuega, the most common service that the program provides to students is financial support, whether by helping find students scholarships, filing for financial aid or filling out their FAFSA or CARES Act funding application.
“I think the reason financial services rest on top is because we work with many first-generation students, so they are the first ones in their family to go to college and have to do many of these financial things that they are completely unfamiliar with,” said Fuega.
Fuega also listed assisting students in finding a career field to go into as the second most popular service ASPIRE helps in. Miguel “Aki” Smith, the retention manager of ASPIRE guides students by providing an assessment that reveals what their strengths and weaknesses are. Smith then looks through the results to see what personality type a student has and informs them of possible career fields they could excel in.
ASPIRE will sometimes bring in alumni in fields like STEM to speak at program events and get in contact with current Pierce students in the program who are planning to work in that career field.
Aldan says she was able to successfully transfer to Pacific Lutheran University with help from ASPIRE and the opportunity to network with professionals. She mentioned how the program aided her in growing on a both professional and personal level.
“As someone who’s Hawaiian and Chamorro and cares a lot about equality, being a part of the program and having this job allowed me to help address issues I feel passionate about and let me speak my truth,” said Aldan.
Wanting to help AAPI students feel as safe and heared as possible is important to members of ASPIRE, especially as anti-Asian violence continues to rise. The program has hosted multiple open Zoom meetings for students to attend and voice their feelings about anti-Asian hate.
“My encouragement to students is to reach out to the ASPIRE program as we are here to help students in all of their experiences and look at resources we can provide even outside of the scope of Pierce College,”said Fuega. “We promote safety and community amongst ourselves, along with solidarity within all different groups to help create the greatest environment we can for all students.”
To connect with the ASPIRE program, students can fill out an interest form and visit their website for more information. Students are also encouraged to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in contact with program staff for any help they may require.
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