SOAR program at BYU changes lives

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Participants from a session of BYU's 2015 SOAR program form a human pyramid. (Courtesy BYU SOAR Photo)
Participants from a session of BYU’s SOAR program form a human pyramid. (Courtesy BYU SOAR Photo) (Courtesy BYU SOAR Photo)

Some students plan on attending BYU long before they graduate from high school. It might have been their childhood dream or their family tradition. But for others, BYU’s Summer of Academic Refinement program — or SOAR — is their reason for being here.

“I never thought about coming to BYU. But I got a good feel of the atmosphere during the SOAR program, and I thought this was a spiritual place, and I loved it,” said Michelle Baek, a junior in physiology & developmental biology who attended SOAR and is now a SOAR counselor. “The SOAR program has really changed my life.”

The SOAR program is a five-day event organized by the BYU Multicultural Student Services. BYU has hosted the program every year since 1998.

“We wanted to increase the support for students as they are getting ready to attend college,” said Nathan Ormsby, assistant director and adviser of the Multicultural Student Services. “It’s a college preparation course for multicultural students from all over the country, to let them know more about BYU.”

The program aims to help students become culturally, academically, spiritually and socially prepared for college life.

“The program helps students to be competitive applicants to BYU and to help them to find out what they want to do in the future,” Baek said.

During the program, students take the ACT preparation course in the mornings and attend devotionals every night. On the last day, students apply what they’ve learned and actually take the ACT as part of the program.

Each student is assigned a student counselor, and these counselors facilitate activities on campus for participants, help them to know about BYU and assist with the students’ development. Previous participants have been pleased with the experience their student counselors provided.

“The students counselors have done a good job,” said Cherri Chan. “They changed my impression towards BYU … I felt welcomed.”

Student counselors can also be examples to the participants.

“I wanted to be a counselor because my counselor helped me to bring the Spirit back into my life,” Baek said. “I want to do the same thing for the kids doing SOAR.”

BYU student Jasmine Li also found that SOAR helped her acclimate to BYU’s atmosphere.

“I learned to appreciate my Chinese heritage and to embrace my own culture — that I don’t need to blend in,” Li said. “The counselors helped me both academically and socially.”

Similar to Baek, SOAR increased Li’s desire to go to BYU. After attending SOAR, she wanted to attend BYU because she met people with similar cultural backgrounds.

Advisers from Multicultural Student Services interview each participant throughout the program.

“It’s a way for us to know about them personally,” Ormsby said. “So later on they will feel comfortable to come to us for help.”

According to Ormsby, more than 90 percent of the 320 students who come to SOAR apply to BYU. Of those students, many are accepted.

2014’s first SOAR session began June 23, at the beginning of summer term, and sessions are held through July.