SOAR program helps multicultural students find a home at BYU

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A group of 2022 SOAR participants gather in front of the Maeser Building on BYU campus. The students participated in a week long experience which helps them connect with other multicultural students from around the world and prepare for college life. (@kay.holli via Instagram)

Members of the Summer of Academic Refinement or SOAR program are on campus this week to connect with other multicultural students and to learn about how they can thrive at BYU.

SOAR is a week-long program made up of high school juniors who come to campus to learn how to be successful spiritually, academically, socially and culturally at BYU.

The competitive program, which BYU has hosted each year since 1998, helps multicultural students learn about ways they can share and connect with their culture if accepted to BYU. This year, more than 500 students applied and about less than half were accepted.

“This is a time when they can get to know the campus, they can utilize the resources here and get a feel for the campus with a multicultural perspective,” SOAR counselor Kamaile Lani Grace said.

During the week-long experience, attendees are exposed to resources which can help them have a successful college experience such as academic advisors, the Research and Writing Center, Counseling & Psychological Services, University Accessibility Center, Multicultural Student Services, Enrollment Services, Campus Life, Career Services and more.

“I like being able to gain a little bit of college experience to see what our future is potentially going to look like,” participant Dayanara Aceituno said. “I’ve enjoyed the classes we’ve taken and the devotionals we’ve had. We get a little bit of educational and spiritual study.”

A group of 2022 SOAR participants. SOAR gives multicultural high school students a week long experience to help prepare them for academic, spiritual, social and cultural success in college. (@Taylor_jane04 via Instagram)

Students participate in ACT prep classes, BYU resource tours, devotionals, presentations from various groups on campus and receive help with applying to BYU.

Although the program is open to all applicants, priority is given to students who are “historically disadvantaged and underrepresented” and those who do not have access to the same educational resources, experiences and opportunities as others.

SOAR also gives students an opportunity to share with other participants about their cultures and learn about others different from their own. During one night of the week, the students are encouraged to participate in a “cultural program” where they are exposed to different cultures of those in their groups and also share about their own. They participate in crucial conversations regarding how they feel about their own cultural identities and how to navigate difficult conversations in college.

The program is put on by Multicultural Student Services, who helps multicultural BYU students in their development during their college years. The Multicultural Student Services office has five goals in helping multicultural students:

  • Advisement in academic, cultural, financial, social, and personal needs
  • Foster leadership development and opportunities
  • Provide cultural events which educate and include all students
  • Track academic progress of students
  • Sponsor college preparation programs

The office uses the SOAR program to make these resources available to students before they are even accepted at BYU.

“I like that it’s an open space where we have other multicultural students because sometimes in Utah you don’t get that many opportunities to see people like you and with similar experiences as you,” SOAR participant Raquel Ordaz said.

For Chelsea Jorgensen, SOAR gives her more opportunities to connect with other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as she is the only member at her high school in New Jersey.

“I love being around people of the same religion,” Jorgensen said. “In New Jersey it’s quite hard to make friends that don’t do the things that we don’t do.”

A group of SOAR students pose for a photo. The group takes classes that give them skills for having a successful experience at BYU. (@Taylor_jane04 on Instagram)

Jorgensen says SOAR opens doors to connect with people her same age who share her beliefs and have had similar experiences.

“I love how we’re all connected in a way because we’re all multicultural and we’re all living the same life almost and we all come from different states,” Jorgensen said.

Students are also connected to counselors throughout the week whose main goal is to help them and guide them. Counselors undergo an application process and are assigned to a group of high schoolers to provide mentorship and guidance during their SOAR experience.

“They teach me a lot and I am grateful for their example,” Grace said. “They’re all going through a hard time so I get to take a step back and try to put myself in their shoes and help them where they’re at.”

Grace said her role as a counselor has helped her feel like a mom to the kids she is in charge of, and has helped her remember her own reasons for being at BYU.

“Right now I have 10 girls and I feel like I’m constantly on my toes,” she said. “I can help them realize that I went through the same thing and that we can get through it and survive here and come to BYU and have a really incredible experience.”

Along with information and resources, the program also gives students social opportunities to connect with their peers during activities like bowling, dances, games and more.

“We have a really fun time getting to know the kids and building connections,” Grace said. “A lot of them haven’t had the best experiences because they are minority groups and are coming from all over the world, but when they come to BYU with this program they realize, ‘Hey this can be a place for me too, I can find a home here.'”

The program also provides financial pathways for students to find scholarships and other financial resources to help them apply to BYU and have the necessary resources during their college years, including participating in a presentation on how to pay for college.

Students are invited to apply early in the year and are required to submit essay questions, high school transcripts and documentation citing a financial need.

This year, SOAR hosted three week-long sessions: one at the end of June, one from June 27 to July 1 and a final session from July 11 to 15.

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