FRESNO, CA — Jorge Aguilar is working to create a brighter future for San Joaquin Valley students. His ultimate goal is for every one of those students to receive the academic preparation and support needed to qualify for admission to the University of California.
As Director for UC Merced's Center for Educational Partnerships, Aguilar oversees all K-12 student-centered and school-centered student development outreach for the campus. His primary objectives are reducing the educational achievement gap, ensuring access to higher education for disadvantaged student populations and assisting UC Merced in meeting its enrollment goals.
“UC Merced is fortunate to have someone with the tremendous talents and passion for education of Jorge Aguilar,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jane Lawrence. “In returning to the region where he grew up after graduating from UC Berkeley and law school, he brings a unique blend of understanding and experience to his role in creating educational opportunities for other Valley students.”
There is much to be accomplished, considering that the UC admission rate of San Joaquin Valley students traditionally has lagged behind the state average by 50 percent. UC Merced outreach efforts such as the UC Scholars Early Academic Outreach Program, however, have already yielded promising results. Schools participating in the UC Scholars EAOP posted a nearly 10 percent increase in UC admission rates in 2000-01, the first operational year of the program, and a 16 percent increase in 2001-02.
“Working together with K-12 schools, determining their needs and assisting them in meeting those needs, I truly believe we will continue to increase the number of Valley students eligible to attend UC,” Aguilar said. “Students in every region of California should have the option to attend any of the state's public systems of higher education - community college, California State University and UC - and private colleges and universities.”
In addition to UC Scholars EAOP, the Center for Educational Partnerships houses activities that include the Community Teaching Fellowships in Mathematics and Science Program and the School/University Partnerships Program. A Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement Program is pending as well.
Thanks to a five-year federal grant recently awarded to UC Merced and the Merced Union High School District, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) also has been added to the list of offerings. Designed to prepare students for higher education beginning in the seventh grade, the GEAR UP program in Merced County represents a collaboration of educational institutions from K-12 to all levels of higher education and the Merced County Chamber of Commerce.
“We've progressively increased the number of activities for students and schools and we're looking forward to serving them more comprehensively,” Aguilar said.
At the same time, Aguilar and his colleagues are seeking innovative methods to sustain outreach programs given the uncertainty of state funding in fiscal year 2003-04. Aguilar has already taken preliminary actions to continue his center's school-centered outreach activities in a client-centered, self-supporting environment through its data and evaluation unit.
Born in Delano, Aguilar was raised in Parlier and, for six years, in Tangancícuaro, Michocán, México. The beginning of his relationship with student outreach and the University of California came while he was attending Parlier High School, when Encarnación Ruíz - then a UC outreach officer and now UC Merced's Director of Admissions — paid a visit to the campus.
Although Aguilar had always intended to go to college, he credits his interaction with Ruíz and his participation in UC's Early Academic Outreach Program for his decision to apply to UC Berkeley. He graduated in 1994 with a double major in Latin American Studies and Spanish and Portuguese, then headed south to Los Angeles to continue his education at Loyola Law School and earn a Juris Doctor degree in 1998.
During his years as a law student, Aguilar helped support himself by teaching Spanish at L.A.'s South Gate High School and made an important discovery. His heart was in working with students, not practicing law.
He called his former mentor, Ruíz and, as luck would have it, a position was available within his department. Beginning his new career with a job as a student affairs officer at the UC Office of Relations with Schools in Fresno, Aguilar was promoted to the position of director of the UC Scholars Early Academic Outreach Program in 2000. He was appointed to his current position when the UC Merced Center for Educational Partnerships was created in April 2002.
UC Merced, the 10th campus of the University of California system, currently employs more than 120 educators and professionals and will welcome its first 1,000 students in fall 2004. The university will serve students in three ways that complement the changing needs of today's society: 1) a residential campus serving 25,000 students when complete; 2) educational centers throughout the San Joaquin Valley; and 3) cooperative agreements with the California Community College system.