Berkeley Connect may soon be defunded due to budget crisis

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Berkeley Connect, an academic mentoring program on campus, could be defunded and eliminated because of budget restrictions.

In the past, the program has been funded through donations made to the campus, according to Michele Rabkin, the associate director of Berkeley Connect. Starting next year, however, because of the campus’s current budget crisis, those funds will no longer be available. Rabkin said Berkeley Connect requires $1 million in funding to be sustained, the majority of which goes to sponsoring fellowships for graduate students working in the program as mentors.  

“There is a great urgency to raise new funds,” Rabkin said. “There isn’t a safety net.”

Catherine Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education, confirmed that the status of Berkeley Connect is under review because of budget constraints.

“The Berkeley Connect Program has been a highly successful mentoring program for undergraduate students,” Koshland said in an emailed statement. “In the current budget situation, its funding was reduced for this academic year although every effort was made to reach as many students as possible.”

Berkeley Connect was originally allotted a budget of $2 million per year in order to fund 10 departments, according to Rabkin. In the 2017-18 school year, Berkeley Connect’s total costs were dropped to about $1.4 million with smaller campus allocation, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

“Berkeley Connect found creative ways to run the program, though this did result in fewer fellowships and 200-300 fewer undergraduates able to participate,” Mogulof said in an email.

The program went from serving 1,500 students a semester and taking on 37 full-scholarship graduate fellowships to serving 1,200 students a semester and taking on 29 fellowships, Rabkin said.

Berkeley Connect offers courses taken on a pass/no pass basis and gives students the opportunity to build relationships with other students, professors and alumni in a smaller, personalized setting, according to its website. The program also includes weekly lectures from professors and group discussions about career opportunities and graduate school.

The program has reached over 10,000 students and serves 13 academic departments, according to Maura Nolan, the director of Berkeley Connect. Nolan added that Berkeley Connect is a program that brings people together and deserves a place on campus.

“I’m resolved to fight for the program, because I believe that Berkeley Connect transforms students’ experience of college life, making it not only a better social experience but a better learning endeavor,” Nolan said in an email “I believe that Berkeley Connect is the kind of program that can heal the divisions that exist on our campus.”

In its seven years of existence, the Berkeley Connect program has contributed to students’ academic success. Transfer students in the Berkeley Connect program have a higher average GPA than transfer students out of the program, according to the Berkeley Connect’s 2016-17 progress report.

Berkeley Connect has also united various divisions of the campus to create an enriching experience for students, according to campus English professor C.D. Blanton.

“It has integrated the two resources in which Berkeley is richest: the disciplinary depth and expertise of a research university and the range and diversity of talent of a public university,” Blanton said in an email.

Professors involved in Berkeley Connect, such as former English department chair Samuel Otter, emphasized the importance of the program and called its potential defunding a “significant loss.”

“Berkeley loses the opportunity to be a national leader as a model for large public universities. … It loses the attention that students get at much smaller universities,” Otter said.

Contact Mary Kelly Ford and Ananya Sreekanth at [email protected].

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  • Luke Terlaak Poot

    This is terrible news. Berkeley Connect is a program Berkeley should be expanding, not cutting. It makes Berkeley a better place for everyone, by providing a casual (read: low-stress) place to learn the ins and outs of academic disciplines. The opportunity to do this without the anxiety of assessment spurs real exploration, and when students are able to discuss the nitty-gritty of academic work without worrying about grades, they become better-equipped to actually do that work.

    BC also builds community within majors, because undergraduates begin forming relationships with graduate students, faculty, and each other that grow out of shared intellectual interests. The result is more integrated departments, in which people at very different career stages are invested in one another. As a result, it makes departments happier places to be.

    Finally, it helps students think about their academic work in relation to the wider world. BC starts conversations about life after graduation, about the relation between the work students do in the classroom and the work they pursue outside it. Rather than turning departments into job-training programs (essentially remaking the research institution in the image of the vocational school), BC gets departments to reflect on the ways the intellectual practices they hone relate to the lives students will live outside the academy.

    Don’t cut Berkeley Connect!

  • Catherine Cannizzo

    I was a BC mentor in math. One of the fundamental benefits of Berkeley Connect is the opportunity for students to make connections with each other and with the mentor. It builds a sense of community, especially for folks who may feel isolated, which is priceless and vital for academic success. The loss to cultivating potential without the program may be more than the 2 million required to fund it. As a mentor I had numerous students who showed marked improvement from the first one-on-one meeting to the second, and sometimes they said they felt an improvement in academic performance because of BC. I enjoyed being a mentor and numerous mentees said they also enjoyed the program and that they thought math was cool if they weren’t already majors.

  • Mark Jon Rosel Harris

    I really hope Berkeley Connect does not go away. I’m currently a first-year student, and so far, I’ve enjoyed talking to my graduate mentor and connecting with the other students. I also think that it is a really great opportunity to connect with other students in a place that can feel too big and massive sometimes.

    I really hope it doesn’t go.

  • Melinda Yang

    Berkeley Connect was an amazing privilege for me to participate in. Students constantly told me how much they loved the program and the support it gave them as they figured out their interests. They loved the career development opportunities, the chance to meet others with similar interests (especially as our program does not have an undergraduate major) and access to a mentor knowledgeable in the field and focused on them. Many felt adrift in such a large campus, and this provided them the support network to ground themselves and take advantage of all Berkeley has to offer.

    As their mentor, I developed skills in teaching and advising to far greater extent than in previous courses I had taught. As I apply now for faculty positions, Berkeley Connect is one of the examples I mention over and over as being formative to my development as a teacher. Thus, this program has benefited not only undergraduates, but also the graduate students who were fellows.UC Berkeley will lose an amazing resource for students if this is cut

  • Melissa Selena

    I was also a Berkeley Connect mentor in 2015-2016. I’m now tenure-track at an Ivy League university. Berkeley Connect is really great for the graduate students involved in the program. It’s useful as we visit smaller, teaching-oriented colleges to emphasize the experiences we had getting to know students one-on-one in the program.

    More importantly, of course, it is great for the students. Berkeley has a lot of transfers, older students, and students from underrepresented groups who really benefit from Berkeley Connect mentorship. Sometimes the most helpful conversations are academic and are about finding a home in a major. Sometimes they’re general questions about life and work inside and outside of the university. It’s a low-pressure, highly supportive place and it really comes together well. Fingers crossed that the program stays on and keeps thriving.

  • Kevin O’Neill

    I sincerely hope that Berkeley Connect will continue. I served as a mentor for the program myself during the 2015-2016 academic year, and during that time my students/mentees were able to learn what an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) was and how to apply, what kinds of careers one may find with a math major, how to better study for higher level courses, and much more.

    As a Berkeley Connect mentor, I met with each of my students individually multiple times to discuss their plans for their major and career, sharing insights I have gained by spending time in my field that no other counselor available to them has. I am currently serving as a GSI for my 8th class and while I do my best I have never found time to engage with students this way in the classroom. If we hope to provide Berkeley students with this basic level of counsel, then Berkeley Connect is the only way to go.

  • Squiddie

    Berkeley Connect is an invaluable campus resource, for both the mentors and mentored. Scores of students have passed through the program, and have stopped “surviving Berkeley” and have started “thriving in Berkeley.”

    It would be a shame to let it go.