Don WILLIAMS describes Destination Higher Education, which introduces students to the UCSC community. Photo by Jessica Tran.
Don WILLIAMS describes Destination Higher Education, which introduces students to the UCSC community. Photo by Jessica Tran.

As 33 high school students pile out of buses into Cowell Circle, volunteers, interns and coordinators of Destination Higher Education (DHE) greet them with hugs and welcome signs. These students will spend their next three days immersed in UC Santa Cruz, courtesy of DHE, a Student Initiated Outreach program (SIO).

DHE introduces underprivileged high school students and potential transfer students from low-income communities to the benefits of a university environment. Held from April 11 to 13, the program offered introductory workshops ranging from financial aid to admissions guidelines and bonding activities for the students, each of whom has been accepted to UCSC for Fall Quarter 2013.

DHE is one of several SIO programs funded by Engaging Education, a UCSC student outreach and retention center. Other SIO programs include Oportunidades Rumbo A La Educación (ORALE) and A Step Forward (ASF), both of which collaborate with DHE.

Due to decreased funding and housing limitations, DHE has been forced to cut back on the number of students they take into the program, said DHE coordinator Jabari Brown.

“This year is about 33 participants, as opposed to other years there have been about 50, 60, 70,” Brown said.

This economic downturn is one share in the broad spectrum of programs affected by budget cuts, said director of admissions Michael McCawley.

“Budget cuts have affected all of us,” McCawley said. It is part of the landscape that we’re all dealing with.”

Chancellor Blumenthal helps fund DHE — he meets each dollar raised for DHE with $1.25 — but DHE would like to see permanent funding granted, said Fithawi Kudus, coordinator for DHE and UCSC fourth-year. For now, McCawley said the key to sustaining SIO programs is learning to stretch the dollar in different ways and seeking alternative methods to deliver the same content.

Despite these funding limitations, for Kudus, the mission of the weekend could still be made a reality.

“The goal for me is a 100 percent yield rate. Every student that we bring up on this program can walk away saying, ‘There’s no way that I’m not going to UC Santa Cruz,’” Kudus said.

For Amari Williams, DHE intern and first-year, DHE was crucial in deciding which university to attend.

“If it wasn’t for that program or the program we’re doing here,” Amari Williams said, “I wouldn’t have come here.”

Throughout the program, the students also learned about key campus figures and organizations. Chancellor Blumenthal and director of Rainbow Theater Don Williams were key speakers at the opening and closing events. DHE students also had the opportunity to participate in breakout events, where they met with organizations such as the African Student Union and ethnic fraternities and sororities. DHE intern Shiku Muhire said part of these events’ purpose was to allow participants to engage with African-American and other communities DHE students can participate in if they choose to attend UCSC.

“[The groups give] students a little better perspective about what their own community will look like when they step foot on campus,” Muhire said.

Since its founding about 15 years ago by UCSC graduate Keith Curry, DHE has been committed to welcoming and encouraging voices that are often unheard on college campuses, Amari Williams said. Curry offers one of these DHE members a $2,000 scholarship following attendance of the program each year.

While DHE primarily focuses on black high school students, this year the program encouraged participation from a greater range of ethnic groups from underprivileged communities, Amari Williams said.

“It’s about not just thinking they’re stuck in this one program or one community,” she said. “We want to let them know everyone has their certain struggles, but at the end of the day we’re all the same.”

This year, ORALE, which focuses on Latino and Latina UCSC students, and ASF, which is geared toward new Filipino UCSC students, hosted their outreach programs April 11–13. These programs came together with DHE several times during the weekend to host collaborative events, said DHE coordinator Jabari Brown.

“The great thing about DHE is that it’s not a program alone in its mission to bring diversity to this campus,” said Fiwathi Kudus, DHE coordinator.

Continual support for students who decide to attend UCSC in the fall is crucial, Kudus said. Mentoring and tutoring are essential to easing first-years who haven’t traditionally had as much support as other students into the college environment.

“While this is an outreach program and we show them the vision here on the UCSC campus for the students,” Kudus said, “it’s also about having the retention programs and maintaining these programs, keeping them alive and going and spreading the knowledge.”

Amari Williams would like to see changes with the program in coming years, mainly concerning the degree of campus participation in DHE.

“I would like to see more people reaching out toward the program,” she said, “Not just us reaching out to them, but them trying to help us out because that’s actually what makes the students want to be here.”