LT Rease-Miles

La'Tonya Rease Miles 
Director, First Year Experience

La’Tonya Rease Miles is the new Director of the First-Year Experience Program that is based in the Student Development area. She has been in this position for just over three months, but she is no newcomer to UCLA. She says, “This a return home for me. I earned my Ph.D. here and then I worked for six years as Associate Director of our Academic Advancement Program.” She also served as adjunct faculty in World Arts and Cultures (“Which I loved,” she recalls), and was Faculty In Residence on The Hill. And, in a nice instance of foreshadowing, she was also asked to serve on a work group that was just beginning to explore the creation of a First-Year Experience Program. However, she left the campus shortly before the program was launched.

 

La’Tonya left UCLA in 2009 to take a position at Loyola Marymount as Director of their Academic Resource Center, a position which she held for six years. She says, “I’m thrilled to be back at UCLA. But I think it was good for me to go away. I learned a lot about myself, and I feel I became a stronger professional because of it.” Her return to Westwood came as the result of a conversation over breakfast with Assistant Vice Chancellor Suzanne Seplow. She recalls, “I had followed the growth of the First-Year Experience Program, and I saw an announcement that the woman who’d been the Director had left UCLA. I still had a passion for the whole concept, so I called Suzanne and told her I’d like to get together and discuss some ideas I had about the program. By the time we’d finished our breakfast, she encouraged me to apply for the position.”

 

La’Tonya says, “I am so excited to have this chance to come back and work with the program. During the time I was away, I still found myself thinking about how it might work. I had a lot of ideas that I think were very organic to UCLA. One big issue was always that I felt like we tend to assume we have such outstanding students that they don’t need too much support. But I think we can do a better job of supporting them in a lot of areas.” One area which she finds very exciting involves crafting a “first-year identity.” She says, “I think each new freshman class should be given support to create a ‘class identity,’ like, ‘Hey, we’re the class of 2020.’ We don’t really do that, and that is part of the job I want to do.”

What does a typical day in your shoes look like?

La’Tonya’s days are filled with meetings. She says, “I’m in a steady line-up of meetings up here on The Hill and down on campus because I see myself as the main advocate for first-year students. Obviously, there are many parts of the campus that interact with freshmen, and these meetings are my efforts to make sure all the connections are set.” A typical day might include a meeting with AAP, and then to the Dean of Students Office, followed by a meeting with a representative from College Academic Counseling. She says, “The whole idea is make sure colleagues across the campus know that there’s one person who is dedicated to making connections with resources that can help first-year students. It’s been a very interesting first few months. Even though I had several years in the administration before I left, there are a number of new people in key positions and even some new programs, and it’s taking a lot of effort to relearn the campus geography.”


What are some Projects/events you are most proud of in your work?

When asked about projects or events that make her especially proud, La’Tonya immediately holds up a card that reads, “First To Go.” She tells us, “I’ve just started a program called ‘First To Go’ that’s for new students who are the first in their families to attend a four-year institution. We’ve found that over 30% of our freshmen are first-generation students. It may not sound like a lot, but considering the caliber of our students and how selective UCLA is in admissions, that is a very significant number.” By way of comparison, she observes that, at other highly selective public universities such as the University of Virginia or the University of North Carolina, their numbers for first-generation students are in the ‘teens. “The idea of this program,” she says, “is to welcome these ‘first gen’ students, to identify faculty and staff who are also ‘first gen,’ and then we’ll have the first-ever First To Go welcome event. We also have a tailgate planned just for the ‘first gen’ freshmen that’s being held in partnership with Alumni Relations.”


How does your work impact UCLA and its community?

 

La’Tonya’s answer to this question is delivered with excitement. “My goal is a lofty goal. It’s really to change the campus culture around first-year students, creating a first-year identity like we see at some other top schools. We’re a great institution, but we can always be better.” She continues, “I also think that, even though we are on the Student Affairs side of the house, there are great possibilities for collaboration with academic affairs. Bridge building is critical. For example, the Common Book program has great potential. It’s a book that all incoming students read and discuss. I think it would be great to have our academic partners more involved with this program. That’s why I’m running around campus all the time, trying to make sure other areas know what we’re doing and to make sure I’m current with what they’re doing.” She concludes, “I think I have the best job on campus.”


What other organizations at UCLA you are involved with?

The answer to this question is typical La’Tonya. “Right now, my plate is pretty full. I haven’t really had a chance to branch out yet. But give me a couple of months. I’ll be in with both feet.”

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