AAPI Student Engagement Model Offers Clues to Future Hybrid Successes

By Steve Chaplin

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal AAPI Nexus: Policy, Practice and Community, Aida Cuenza-Uvas and Demeturie Toso-Lafaele Gogue look back at a federally funded student engagement program for Asian American and Pacific Islander students to provide a prescient view forward on the necessity for campuses to create a culture of critical consciousness and empathy for this community. Equally important, the programs, tools, and methods they discuss are easily transferable to other student communities as well.

The necessity of investing to empower the AAPI student community is two-fold. First, the U.S. Asian American and Pacific Islander population grew by 81% between 2000 and 2019 and is projected to be the largest immigrant group in the United States by 2055. This currently includes 1.1 million college students identifying as AAPI. Also, as exacerbated by a reproduction of racist Asian stereotypes facilitated by the coronavirus, AAPI equity organizations have reported an unprecedented 11,500 incidents of anti-AAPI hate in the United States between March 2020 and March 2021. 

In “An Ethic of Care in Student Affairs: Humanizing Relationships and Asserting Cultural Values at an AANAPISI,” the two student affairs professionals share knowledge on the structure, implementation, and evolution of the holistic student engagement program Arise from pre- and post-COVID landscapes, and then propose how to sustain community building within this student community using in-person and hybrid strategies.

In the past 10 years, the Arise program at Mt. San Antonio College has received two Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution grants from the U.S Department of Education. Mt. San Antonio is in Southern California and over 22% of its 45,000 students identify as either Asian, Filipino, or Pacific Islander; the campus has an Associated Students student government organization that is funded by an optional student activities fee that generates approximately $600,000 annually.

Using Samuel D. Museus’ Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) model with its nine tenets for promoting a positive environment for the holistic engagement of students of color, the authors describe student affairs practitioners working in the Arise program as leveraging “their own cultural values to positively influence student engagement within the program. These values include collective responsibility, respect, love, and approaching their work with an ethic of care.”

Museus’ model focuses on the relational aspects of the interactions between campus professionals and students, requiring that critical questions are being asked about student well-being, whether systems are in place that ensure students’ needs and concerns are being heard, if affirming spaces are in place to validate belonging, and whether or not student strengths related to the social, navigational, and familial capital they bring are being identified. “These questions became even more relevant as we thought about how we would address them within a virtual setting given the impact of COVID-19 on college campuses,” the authors write.

With that stage set, Cuenza-Uvas, director of the Arise program, and Toso-Lafaele Gogue, a doctoral student at the University of California–Los Angeles, describe an array of tools that were implemented—some already in place prior to the pandemic and others initiated during the campus shutdowns—to not only drive engagement within the student community, but also to reflect on and assess the strategies in place and envisioned as necessary during the pandemic. These included an individualized Arise Student Action Plan, creation of an Arise Virtual Front Desk, an Arise program self-assessment based upon Nancy Schlossberg’s “4 S’s” Transition Theory, use of an Arise Canvas Hub, and an Arise Peer Mentors program. The authors also describe the program’s use of tools like Zoom, Canvas, and Padlet to take community talking circles from in-person to virtual, and then hybrid. And they note that the success of a Student Services Division-hosted collaborative event that marked the first in-person event after two years of virtual operations. Here’s a look at each of the key components put into action over the past two years.

Arise Student Action Plan! (ASAP!)

Created in 2017, six years after the Arise program was initially funded, the Arise Student Action Plan! provides a unique electronic report to AAPI students each semester that presents academic data by semester and cumulatively related to grade point average, percent of completion, and specific completion data related to English and math. “The ASAP! letter is a means for us to proactively engage with students by creating a ‘data selfie’ which allows us to check in, provide updates, and remind students that we are a resource for their navigation of the college experience,” the authors explained.

Arise Virtual Front Desk

Using Zoom as the delivery platform, the Arise Virtual Front Desk was implemented early during the pandemic to serve as a main portal for students to visit the Arise program, meet with counselors, receive tutoring, and meet with a financial aid and other student service representatives. Because students were off campus, scheduled time slots were offered when a member of Arise program staff would be available to greet students and coordinate virtual spaces for meetings. An Arise program staff member was always present during typical campus hours of operation “to provide a lifeline to students.”

4S Self-Assessment

The Arise team was initially focused on the concepts of continuity of care, normalcy, and community as members prepared to engage students virtually using Schlossberg’s transition theory that focused on the 4 S’s of situation, self, support, and strategies as a framework. “This led us through a self-assessment of what we were confronting (situation), our strengths and areas of growth (self), online tools we needed to access and learn (support), and actions to take (strategies), such as develop/increase social media activity, create a means for centralized communication, and establish a way to promote consistent access to the program. As we operationalized these strategies, we reassessed our approaches and made appropriate adjustments based on feedback from staff and students,” the authors wrote. 

Arise Canvas Hub

Instructors at Mt. San Antonio were already using the Canvas platform for course management and student communication, but it was a new platform for student services and the Arise staff. Looking to “mimic the experience students would generally have when they arrive at the Equity Center on campus,” Arise staff centralized information about services while also fostering community by using the hub for check-ins. The hub was also used for conducting student polls, providing COVID-19 information, making counselor appointments, and offering resources related to tutoring, transferring, and graduation. Using the Arise Canvas hub, staff were “able to challenge and broaden the ways in which they develop and sustain community both for the students as well as those outside of the Arise Program and institution.”

The Arise team also implemented the use of Padlet, a real-time collaborative virtual platform that offers resource sharing, messaging, a virtual bulletin board, and image and video sharing. Specifically, students and team members used Padlet to house resolutions and organizational statements from various anti-Asian hate sources, conduct virtual talking circles, and post videos that shared and celebrated cultural traditions during the annual Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month each May. Arise Peer Mentors also participated in weekly virtual student check-ins, “What’s Up Wednesdays,” where students were asked to suggest ideas for events, and the group hosted a career exploration series, “That’s Major,” that has continued as a hybrid event.

In conclusion, Cuenza-Uvas and Gogue focus on the opportunities created during the virtual Aspire program and recognize how the hybridization of programming can inspire creativity. “As we think about our role as AAPI higher education practitioners, it is imperative that we lean into our cultural values to guide our work and inform our approach to sustaining relationships both in person and beyond physical space. While the pandemic prompted campus closures for nearly two years, our values continued to inform our programs and services, thereby promoting an ethic of care for our students and the community at large,” the authors noted in closing. 


Cuenza-Uvas, A. & Gogue, D.T. (2022). An Ethic of Care in Student Affairs: Humanizing Relationships and Asserting Cultural Values at an AANAPISI. AAPI Nexus: Policy, Practice and Community, 19, 87-103.