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Featured, Aera At Work, Ventura Apr 13, 2022

A helping hand for success in college

Aera Energy supports California State University Channel Islands’ (CSUCI) emergency assistance, peer mentoring and undergraduate research programs

(CSUCI photo) Alviana Johnson, a senior at California State University Channel Islands, received assistance from the university’s Basic Needs and Emergency Intervention program

As California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) students crammed for upcoming midterms, Alviana Johnson was trying to figure out where her next meal was coming from. The communications major slept in her car and would sit in class tired and hungry, after losing her apartment and job.

“I didn’t want anyone to see me struggling,” said Johnson, who was a freshman at the time. “I felt devalued as a person. I couldn’t focus on school. I was ready to quit.”

Her professor Jacob Jenkins noticed something was off and talked to her. He referred her to CSUCI’s Basic Needs and Emergency Intervention program which offers assistance to students experiencing food and housing insecurity. The program gave Johnson a temporary place to sleep and an emergency grant to get back on her feet.

Supporting student success

CSUCI’s President’s Circle was founded in 1999 to augment state support, meet the needs of a rapidly growing university, and provide emergency assistance to students. It provides essential funding for the university’s various emergency undergraduate research and peer-mentor programs, including the Basic Needs and Emergency Intervention program.

It supports the university’s Ekho Your Heart fund, providing temporary support to students experiencing financial hardships due to crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or natural disasters. Nearly 150 students received assistance from the program from June 2020 to October 2021.

The President’s Circle supports the university’s undergraduate-research program, giving students and faculty opportunities to engage in strong campus-community partnerships and solve real-world problems.

The program also supports the university’s Peer Mentor Ambassadors (PMA) program which enables student mentors to assist peers as they learn to navigate college life. The PMA program funds a stipend of up to $7,000 per to cover fees and tuition for student mentors. So far 20 student mentors support 200 students a year. The university hopes to double the number of student mentors, to assist up to 400 students each year.

A community effort

The university’s President’s Circle is funded through donations from individuals, local organizations, and businesses such as Aera Energy. Aera is now in its 12th year of supporting the program, the last five years at the highest level – President’s Partner. 

“Aera’s values of helping people live better lives is evident in the support they provide to help better the lives of CSUCI’s students for a better future,” said Richard LeRoy, interim vice president for university advancement at CSUCI. “Thank you, Aera for your support.”

A continued need

(CSUCI photo) About 20 student mentors support peers through CSUCI’s Peer Mentor Ambassadors (PMA) program

According to the university, of the more than 7,000 students who attend CSUCI, 62% are first-generation, and 53% are low-income and underrepresented. The majority of students are from Ventura and Los Angeles counties. CSUCI found that student peer mentors are some of the most effective resources the university has in removing barriers to graduation, increasing student retention, and preparing students with the foundation they need to thrive upon graduation.

Many students struggle with basic needs such as food and housing. Estimates show 34% of the students at the university experience food scarcity, one in 10 CSU students experiences homelessness, and four in 10 encounter hunger. Numerous studies have shown how food and housing insecurity can have a negative impact on students’ academic, mental and physical wellbeing, and ability to graduate.

Returning the favor

Today, Johnson shares her story to help others as CSUCI’s student government director of external affairs. Johnson works alongside administrators and peers as an advocate for students who may be silently struggling and helps them connect to university resources.

“It could happen to anybody at any time. Your favorite student could be suffering right now. If I can help keep someone from living in fear of not having their needs met, I will do everything I can,” she said.

DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy is a three-time recipient of the Forbes America’s Midsize Employer List, placing ninth in the 2022 ranking and securing its spot in the top ten midsize companies to work for in the United States.

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