Wednesday, May 18 is UCI Giving Day 2022. On this day, we invite you to support UCI Student Success Initiatives (SSI). SSI supports traditionally underrepresented student populations at UCI with some of the best student programs in the nation. This Giving Day, all gifts to SSI will go towards empowering the personal growth, academic development, and future success of deserving UCI students. Supporting SSI this Giving Day means supporting exceptional students like Wiley George Wilson Jr. with specialized programming such as the Umoja Program. Read on to learn more about Wiley and how SSI’s Umoja Program creates a welcoming community for students of color.

For sociology major and psychology minor Wiley George Wilson Jr., transferring to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) was the start of a years-long journey that would culminate in the creation of a new program that offers support for students just like him.

UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program represents a campus partnership with the Umoja Community Education Foundation, a community and resource dedicated to promoting “student success and improved lifetime outcomes for all students through a curriculum that is responsive to the legacy of the African and African American diasporas.” Overseen by UCI Student Success Initiatives and the Transfer Student Center, UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program is designed to help transfer students of African descent transition to university life. 

While UCI’s Umoja Pilot Program is awaiting official designation from the Umoja Community Education Foundation, program Counselor/Coordinator Adeeva Meyers reported that in Fall 2021 they received several applications from incoming transfer students who identified as Black or African American. She also shared her belief that the program will have a hugely positive impact on these students’ lives:

“We couldn’t be more excited to launch the Umoja Pilot Program! This program will allow transfer students across the African diaspora to build community, receive academic support, and gain resources for success. We aim to cultivate a sense of belonging by uplifting the unique and diverse experiences of our students so that they maximize their experience at UCI and leave with knowledge and tools to attain their goals and achieve success.”

While the Umoja Pilot Program launched in 2021, back in 2019 when Wiley transferred to UCI, the program was still just an idea for the campus. However, Wiley was already familiar with and passionate about the Umoja Community thanks to his participation in El Camino College’s Umoja affiliate program, Project Success. His dedication to the program led to an invitation to become an Umoja Lead Ambassador and work towards getting UCI’s fledgling program off the ground. 

As an Umoja Lead Ambassador, Wiley traveled to different community colleges across California to promote UCI’s program and talked about the many resources that students could utilize on campus, including free textbook loans, laptop and hotspot loans, tutoring scholarships, and priority consideration for housing at Arroyo Vista (particularly for the George Washington Carver House, Rosa Parks House, and Academic Excellence Black Scholars House). Wiley also worked with incoming students to assist with their transition to life at UCI and helped them build communities of support. 

For Wiley, establishing supportive relationships with peers is very important. This is why he, and other Umojians, decided to found the Umoja Club, a student-run extension of the Umoja Pilot Program that offers opportunities for students to meet and develop deeper connections. As President and Chief Executive Officer of the Umoja Club, Wiley organized special themes to focus club activities. For Fall 2021, the theme was “Umoja as a Power Base.” 

“I like to think of our incoming transfer students as family members going from one home to a new one where they may know of us, but don’t necessarily know us on a personal level,” he explained. “So our focus for this quarter was introducing ourselves and making sure students knew who we were and that we were there for them.”

Winter Quarter 2021’s theme was “Financial Freedom.” Wiley said that this quarter would focus on helping students develop “financial literacy and economic empathy and understanding.” Through educational workshops covering topics such as credit scores and investing in stocks, the goal was to share financial knowledge that empowers students and lets them know that they have various financial opportunities and pathways available to them.

Finally, the Umoja Club’s theme for Spring Quarter 2022 was “It Takes a Village.” According to Wiley, this theme was based on the idea of ubuntu, which roughly translates to “I am because we are.” He explained:

“It takes a village to physically, mentally, and spiritually develop anyone. We focused on developing our students in a positive way and making sure they became leaders at UC Irvine and outside of UC Irvine by getting them ready and prepared for the real world.”

Looking forward to the future, Wiley had big plans for the Umoja Pilot Program, the Umoja Club, and himself. “In regards to the Umoja Pilot Program, the hope is that we will become the official Umoja affiliate program at UCI by the end of the academic year,” he said. “We also want to keep creating courses that we can offer incoming and current Umoja students to help them become more campus-savvy.” Wiley’s goal for the Umoja Club is to help it grow and become a well-known and well-loved campus organization.

Finally, with his expected graduation date in 2022, Wiley plans to pursue a master’s degree program that focuses on administrative policy law and administrative learning. He hopes to use his experience to become an administrator who enacts policies and laws that can lead to systemic change for students.

When asked if he had any advice for UCI students, Wiley offered a message for UCI’s Black student body:

“There are a number of discrepancies that we go through on this campus, and there will be people who cannot understand what it means when I say that I identify as a Black man. Being the only Black man or Black person in the entire classroom can be very painful. It can feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to that truly understands you—people who can really just say ‘I see you.’ So please, utilize the Center for Black Cultures, the Black Student Union, the staff at the Black Alumni Association, and other campus organizations. You can also apply for housing at Black-theme houses that are all about each other. I want you to know that we are a family here and that we really do love and care for each other, so please utilize the resources around you.”

This UCI Giving Day, giving a gift to SSI facilitates the creation and continuation of programs like Umoja. If you would like to support traditionally underrepresented students, such as first-generation students, transfer students, low-income students, and students of color, then on Wednesday, May 18, give your gift by clicking here