Dirks hosts fireside chat to discuss undergraduate education, student advising

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Sonia Brin/Staff

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On Tuesday evening at Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ fireside chat, students and top administrators met to discuss campus advising and undergraduate education.

Approximately 60 students and community members attended the chat, held at University House. Those who spoke expressed a desire for support among underrepresented groups, including student-athletes, international students and those looking to explore nontraditional major paths.

Students spoke in front of a panel featuring Dirks, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele, Dean of Undergraduate Studies in the College of Letters and Science Bob Jacobsen and Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland, in a conversation moderated by ASUC President Pavan Upadhyayula.

Students criticized advisers for discouraging them from pursuing nontraditional schedules, such as those of students attempting to triple major and study subjects across multiple disciplines. For example, Dree Kavoussi, an ASUC senator who is currently working with Jacobsen and the Career Center to bring more premed advising to UC Berkeley, said campus resources for premed advising are not sufficient.

“I see people who would get into fantastic med schools fall through the cracks,” Kavoussi said. “I was a humanities major who was premed, so there was no advising for me.”

Additionally, Cindy Tran, a fifth-year senior and student-athlete swimmer, expressed the need for support for student-athletes, who, she said, can feel isolated from the rest of the student body due to stigmas associated with the classes athletes take.

“We want to be challenged just as much (as other students),” Tran said. “We want mentors to bridge that gap.”

Students such as Ollie O’Donnell emphasized a need for better resources to support international students. O’Donnell, a second-year student from Australia, said he was frustrated by miscommunication with advisers about satisfying the reading and composition requirement as an international student.

“I felt like a year of my life is less valuable than 30 minutes of (their) time,” O’Donnell said.

But O’Donnell said he appreciated how the chancellor responded to his experience.

“He looked me straight in the eye,” O’Donnell, who studies computer science, said. “It was a validating experience, which you never get in L&S advising. Up there, many times the purpose (of their advice) seems to be to give up.”

Dirks said Jacobsen has been evaluating undergraduate advising in the College of Letters and Science over the past year.

“(The chat) is an opportunity to kickstart some of the things that he’s begun to do and connect them across other schools and colleges,” Dirks said. “Some of these issues we’ve heard before, and some of them are completely new.”

The event was the second fireside chat of the semester. The chancellor began these discussions last year in an effort to facilitate communication between the administration and students.

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.sue