UC Berkeley students form local mentoring organization

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Coming to UC Berkeley, junior Vrinda Agarwal knew she wanted to tackle the issue of women in education.

Last year, Agarwal and four of her friends entered Big Ideas @ Berkeley, an annual contest at UC Berkeley that provides funding for student-initiated proposals, with the goal of helping freshman and sophomore high school girls from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds through leadership training and community building. Their proposal won them third place in the competition under the global poverty alleviation category, securing the organization $5,000 in funding for their nonprofit group, “100 Strong.”

Agarwal said that while it was easy to find support with other students, she had to make sacrifices in other areas of her life.

“Starting 100 Strong was very time-consuming,” Agarwal said. “Much of my time in between classes and on weekends was spent working on 100 Strong, and I had to sacrifice being a part of other student organizations and academic teams that I had spent a lot of time on in freshman year.”

Madeeha Ghori, a fellow founder and a UC Berkeley junior, agreed.

“The only way to make 100 Strong a reality in the midst of each of our extremely busy Berkeley lives is by making it a top priority,” Ghori said.

When Agarwal and Ghori came together — along with UC Berkeley juniors Smriti Joneja and Ruhi Nath and senior Julie Brown — their initial idea was to create a two-week girls’ summer camp that would focus on leadership training. Big Ideas @ Berkeley allowed them to revise and refine their project proposal, and by the end, they had finalized plans for the current organization.

Jessica Naecker, a Big Ideas @ Berkeley student advisor, said in an email that the judges agreed that 100 Strong would clearly benefit the community as a whole, provide teenage girls with hands-on experience of leadership in action and be beneficial to UC Berkeley student mentors who worked with the girls.

“We’re hoping to create a ripple effect here,” Joneja said. “We’ll be mentoring UC Berkeley students who will further mentor high school students, who will in turn help their communities through whatever projects they choose to pursue.”

According to 100 Strong’s application, its founders partnered with the Ralph J. Bunche continuation high school in the Oakland School District. The school consists of 69 percent economically disadvantaged students and 99 percent minority students.

With the funds, the group has the ability  to provide each high school girl $50 in seed money to start up personal community projects.

“This year’s our pilot year, so we’re hoping to reach 15 to 30 high school girls and get 15 to 30 Berkeley mentors,” Nath said. “Our goal is to eventually reach 100 girls going through the program every year, hence the name ‘100 Strong.’”

According to Agarwal, if the program gets off to a good start, the organization may apply to the Big Ideas @ Berkeley’s “Scaling Up” category, which provides more funding for previous Big Idea winners that have proven successful.

“Where they landed is brilliant and makes a lot of sense,” said Cherine Badawi, an experiential educator and instructional designer who advised the group on their Big Ideas application. “Mentorship is a profound way to create change in a young person’s life. As more privileged young women, one of the greatest things they can do is to open doors and show the girls how possible it is.”

Ghori said she believes Berkeley’s very diverse and accepting culture helped fuel the group’s beginnings.

“Because of that diversity and that accepting culture, Berkeley has a lot of opportunities for people to get involved in various communities … it’s the perfect starting ground for 100 Strong,” Ghori said.

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected].

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