Wednesday, August 21, 2013

STEPping into UC Davis

On a whirlwind trip to California last weekend, I delivered Ben to UC Davis. Leaving home Friday morning, I took a three-hop trip through Denver and Phoenix and arrived in Sacramento around 5:00 PM. and then headed to Valery's in my beautiful rented Chevrolet Traverse. I've been driving Japanese cars since 1981, but if I could afford a Traverse, I'd buy American again. That vehicle was amazingly comfortable and had so many convenient safety features. WANT! 

That evening, Colleen, Andy, and Robby brought us a great assortment of takeout food from Whole Foods (WANT Whole Foods nearby!) including some interesting vegan/vegetarian dishes for Ben. Robby is great at engaging with Ben and I love to watch and listen to them banter.

Saturday morning, Ben loaded the car and we struck out for Davis. We first went through a registration process where I had my first meltdown. The smiling person at the desk asked my name, and I fell apart. Great gulping sobs and rivers of tears -- the whole (water) works.

 Here's Ben's home away from home for the next four weeks. He's staying in a triple room, although there are only two of them occupying it for the STEP program.

Ben's roommate is from Atwater, California and seems to be a nice kid. I am hopeful that they will get along together.
I can't believe how tight the rooms are, they literally stack them in there -- note the bunk beds. There is a single bed behind Ben. Although Ben was the first to arrive, he graciously waited till Tyson showed up and allowed him to choose his bed first. Tyson opted for the single and Ben went for the lower bunk. Fortunately there is lots of open common space and lounge areas. This level of sharing is going to be a big change for Ben.

Campus food at Davis is nothing like the Army style grub I experienced in my college dining commons. Because Davis is an Agriculture school, a lot of the food served is grown right on campus. Ben is holding a bagel nearly as big as his face in the photo above and those bagels are part of the every day offerings in the platform-style dining commons.

Politically correct and delicious fair trade certified Starbuck's coffee is also part of the standard fare, along with a wide assortment of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free offerings. 
Eco-awareness is pervasive. You can't toss anything without considering the destination of the refuse. The trash buckets labeled "Landfill" are much smaller (and scarcer) than the various recycle bins around campus.

 And then there are the bicycles. On any given day during the school year, 20,000 bicycles are being pedalled around the nine-square mile campus.

Ben is participating in UC Davis's STEP (Special Transition Enrichment Program). This amazing program is designed for kids who may need extra attention in making the transition to college life. In many cases, these are kids who are aging out of foster care and they are most often of ethnic minorities. Ben was selected because of his status as an emancipated orphan. He is conspicuous in the group because of his red hair (the only red head among the 100+ kids) and his fair skin. Diversity is a bonus feature of the program for a kid who comes from very white community. In spite of his background, Ben seems to be culturally color-blind.

The four-week orientation includes mock college classes to prepare them for the real thing; priority registration, and loads of counselling. They remain identified as STEP kids throughout their undergrad years and everything is done to promote their academic success. Their grades are monitored and they are provided tutoring if necessary; they have access to an abundance of academic, financial, and psychological counselling services; and they continue to have access to priority registration throughout their time at Davis.

As part of the four week program, Ben is scheduled for one-on-one meetings with the chair of the Entomology department and with the head of the Bohart Entomology Museum. Ben has had contact with both of these people in the past, so these meetings should serve to clearly identify Ben to these people who will be important to him. Ben hopes to work at the museum and he wants to become part of a research team. Research-track  courses in the biological sciences are offered at UC Davis.

After spending a day on campus and learning much more about the program and the University, I am convinced Ben is in the right place.

I spent the night in a single room in a residence hall -- part of a four-room group sharing a  bathroom. Everything I needed was conveniently at hand. But, OMG, was it small! I could not shake the image of a prison cell and kept wondering what a life of incarceration would really be like. Just after falling into a deep sleep, the fire alarm sounded. Because it is still summer break on campus, the only occupants of the residence hall were half a dozen parental-type attendees of the STEP orientation. We all vacated our rooms and didn't know what to do. I finally called 911 (the calls go to the on-campus emergency services) and was told the fire department was responding. Of course, it turned out to be a false alarm, someone had "accidentally" leaned on the alarm button. Seems that I remember similar "accidents" occurring on a regular basis during my dormitory days. Some things never change.

(Sorry for the awkward formating of this post, blogger is being uncooperative this morning.)


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the Traverse but from two different people I know who have them, repairs are expensive. Nice size though.

  2. I won't have to worry about repairs because I will never spend that much money on a car! The rental fee for three days was scary enough!