Relocation of NERDS program still uncertain

The Professional Development Program has been in 230 Stephens Hall for over 30 years, and have had some of the walls decorated with murals.
Michael Tao/Staff
The Professional Development Program has been in 230 Stephens Hall for over 30 years, and have had some of the walls decorated with murals.

Almost four decades ago, the UC Berkeley Professional Development Program took over a room in Stephens Hall, armed with a mission of encouraging disadvantaged students to pursue academic degrees.

Nowadays, the program’s roughly 250 members come and go through the mural-adorned halls, glad to have found a home away from home — though they may soon be forced to leave the space and make room for the Institute for Integrative Social Sciences, a campus organization focused on cross-disciplinary research.

New Experiences for Research & Diversity in Science (NERDS) — a group encompassed by the development program that mentors science, technology, engineering and mathematics sophomores through seniors — is at the forefront of opposing the relocation.

According to junior Jessica Hernandez, a member of NERDS, the program was notified in November of relocation slated for this summer, but relocation has been put on hold as a result of the program’s opposition to the move. Four of the program’s representatives are to meet with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau on Feb. 27, she said.

Since 1974, the program and its participants have called 230B Stephens Hall home, even commissioning a famous Native American artist to paint the walls with encouraging murals, which are now estimated to be worth $40,000 to $50,000 each.

Senior Davis Tran said the 24-hour availability of the location is vital for studying and support purposes and that moving to other buildings would not allow the program members such accessibility.

However, the institute currently only exists virtually and is looking for space, said Catherine Koshland, campus vice provost for teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities.

Koshland — who is also the chair of the Space Assignment and Capital Improvements Committee, which makes recommendations to Birgeneau — said Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri and Dean of Social Sciences Carla Hesse submitted the relocation proposal to the committee two to three years ago.

“When we make a move, we’re trying to solve a problem … or accommodate changes in programs,” she said. “Just because you’ve historically been there for 20, 30 years, it’s not your space — the space belongs to the regents.”

Having the institute in Stephens Hall would be “synergistic,” considering its neighbors would be the three giants of social sciences research — the Institute for Governmental Studies, Institute for International Studies and the Townsend Center for Humanities, Koshland said.

“We have an amazing group of social sciences programs, and we’re looking at the needs and desires of faculty members,” she said. “That’s a huge driver in this — how do we accommodate that?”

At the end of last semester, the ASUC Senate passed a bill opposing the program’s relocation and called for the ASUC president to author a letter to Hesse and Dean of the College of Engineering Shankar Sastry.

Andrew Albright, CalSERVE senator and author of the bill, said that to his knowledge, the letters have not been written yet due to the confusion over whether or not the move is still happening.

“I think that the next steps do really depend on what is happening in the process,” Albright said in an email. “If the relocation is still planned to move forward, the ASUC will continue to support (them) as we voted to do so.”

Until there is a solution that meets the satisfaction of all parties, Koshland said there will be no plans to move the program out of its current location.

But for Celeste Langan, acting director of the Townsend Center, the program’s reluctance to move out is understandable.

“Obviously it would be nice to have a social science center that is the equivalent of the Townsend Center,” Langan said. “I don’t know how important the location in Stephens is … it seems useful to have it near, but on the other hand, the (Berkeley) buildings are so wonderfully eclectic — it’s a part of their charm.”

Weiru Fang covers Berkeley communities.