UC Berkeley professors talk on their favorite summers in college

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Emily Bi/Staff

Editor’s note: These responses have edited lightly for clarity.

What do illegal camping, bilingual sailing lessons and Robert Kennedy have in common? They each could be your path to a future university professorship — or, at least, they each were part of a UC Berkeley faculty member’s road to success. Read on to learn more about campus faculty members’ favorite summer memories from college.

Dacher Keltner, department of psychology

The summer after my sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara, I had a choice: to work in the salmon canneries in Alaska or to sell books — an encyclopedia, kids’ reading books and a cookbook — door-to-door on the East Coast. I chose the latter and ended up selling books for four summers to pay my way through school (one of the delights of the UC). I worked in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It was naturally really humbling work — being shouted off doorsteps, bitten by dogs (four times) and chased out of town by cops. But it was incredible to get situated in small East Coast towns and, even more incredibly, to talk to 1,200 families a year. Such a lesson in the spectrum of humanity, the American family, and how good people tend to be.

Jeffrey A. Reimer, department of chemical and biomolecular engineering

My own experiences (a long time ago, I might add) were not all that exciting as I had to work every summer to pay for college. No exciting travels to exotic lands, alas.

After high school graduation, I got a job (through a parent of a friend) at Universal Studios as a janitor and all-around hand for their tours. I met a number of people who aspired to the world of entertainment, especially young college students working as tour guides and stage hands. The willingness to “do whatever it takes to get noticed” burns in my memories of those days, especially in light of the #MeToo movement. One particularly amusing memory is working behind the scenes at a Western gunfight show where, in response to blanks fired from the actor’s guns, I had to pull strings behind a wall that imitated the effects of bullets hitting buckets, walls, etc! Needless to say, timing and hand-eye coordination were severely tested. I went back to Universal the summer between my first and second year, where I worked as an usher and stagehand for their summer concert series. John Denver, Harry Belafonte, and War were concerts that I enjoyed seeing many times over. The pay was good, and I was a member of IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees! The remaining summers I found jobs on campus related to my major.

Jeroen Dewulf, department of German

My most memorable summer spent in college was certainly the summer I worked as a travel guide for Belgian and Dutch tourists in Brazil. Since I spoke Portuguese, I could communicate with locals and translate everything into Dutch for the tourists. We visited all major touristic spots in the country, from Salvador, the capital of Afro-Brazilian culture in the north, to the falls of Iguaçu in the south, and of course the beaches of Rio de Janeiro!

John Kihlstrom, department of psychology

My most memorable summer in college, I suppose, was summer 1968. Not the Summer of Love (that was 1967, and I missed it entirely) and not Woodstock (1969, and I missed that one, too, though I did watch the moon landing). In summer 1968, I was working the night shift in a cardboard-box factory to earn money to supplement my college scholarship. Many of the regular employees were local farmers working a second job to make ends meet, and working alongside those men (and they were all men) gave me some insight into some of the economic and social problems faced by blue-collar workers and their families. That was the summer of the Republican convention that nominated Richard Nixon and the Democratic convention that ended in a police riot against antiwar protesters (both immortalized in Norman Mailer’s “Miami and the Siege of Chicago”). I watched as much as I could of both on TV. It was also the summer of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, putting down the Prague Spring, and I remember sitting in my car eating lunch (which is what we called our big meal break), listening to the first news reports over the radio. It was quite a summer.

Mariane C. Ferme, department of anthropology

My most memorable summer holiday was spent teaching sailing in an Anglo-French bilingual program in County Cork, Ireland, on Bere Island. It was a volunteer position, no pay, so I made my way to Ireland from my hometown in Italy with a mixture of trains and hitchhiking.

Robert Reich, Goldman School of Public Policy

My most memorable summer break was the summer of 1967, when I was an intern in Bobby Kennedy’s Senate office. It wasn’t a glamorous job. I worked his signature machine. I didn’t even meet the senator until one day in mid-July. I was standing in the corridor waiting to take some boxes down to the basement, when Kennedy stepped out of the elevator. He was surrounded by his aides, and they were discussing something that sounded hugely important. But when Kennedy saw me, he stopped. He turned and looked directly at me. “How’s the summer going, Bob?” he asked. I was awestruck. He even knew my name. A small gesture, perhaps, but that such a man would care enough about a lowly summer intern to make it revealed more to me about his character than a thousand letters to his constituents. I stammered some sort of response, and he smiled and continued on down the hall. The following year, 50 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy was killed, and a bright light went out in America.

Alexander Givental, department of mathematics

My most memorable summer break in college was at the same time my least favorite, as it happened in the Soviet Union, where in the summer before my senior year — the same way as all boys in college — I had to complete my military training by spending five weeks in a real military unit. The goal of our instructors was to squeeze into those five weeks all the humiliation the regular soldiers are subject to during their two years of regular military service. My method of retaining sanity consisted of recalling from memory my favorite poetry pieces, writing them down and mailing them to my wife.

Bruce G. Baldwin, department of integrative biology

My most memorable summer break as an undergraduate was hitchhiking to Alaska in 1980, after spending much of the spring in California’s Mojave Desert studying the vegetation and flora of a couple of mountain ranges there. The transition from desert landscapes and heat to the far northern boreal forest was extreme but welcome, and the long days of summer, filled with music, love and adventure, were unforgettable. That experience ultimately resulted in my move to Alaska the following year, after graduating, and immersion in Alaskan plants, which eventually led me back to graduate school to do research in botany and ultimately to UC Berkeley as a botanical curator and professor.

Nicolai Reshetikhin, department of mathematics

It was the summer that I spent in a student camp in 1976, being a freshman at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. I had a very nice schedule. For two to three hours, every morning after breakfast, I was studying quantum mechanics. The rest of the day, I was swimming in the Black Sea and doing nothing.

Ben Manilla, Graduate School of Journalism

It was a Friday night in New York City. The phone rang. My friend called to ask if I wanted to drive to California. Maybe. When? We leave Monday. Before I knew it, I was on an adventure like no other. Many, many exciting and sometimes dangerous encounters. I remember falling asleep in the back seat as we left Yosemite. I awoke to see us speeding down the highway way above speed limit. I sat up. “What’s going on?” Dick turned and, with a wild look on his face, said, “We’re gonna see the sun rise on the Pacific Ocean.” We actually made it just in time only to learn the sun SETS on the Pacific and rises on the Atlantic. So much for the plans of a bunch of 20-year-olds.

Daniel J. Acland, Goldman School of Public Policy

In 1992, I rode my motorcycle from Berkeley to my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I had no plan and took whatever route I felt like on any given day, spending as much time as I wanted in any given location, with no expectations in advance. I spent three days staying with a man I met in Mariposa, rock climbing with his stepson in Yosemite Park. There I met a New Zealander, and together, we rode to Death Valley. Then I drove to the Grand Canyon and stayed with a family I met, and from there, Pilar, New Mexico, where I spent a week in a youth hostel, traveling around the Rio Grande plateau with a woman I met while helping to fix the roof of the hostel. From there, I drove through Oklahoma and Missouri and then spent a night camping illegally in Fort Defiance Park at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, hiding my motorcycle under a cover of pokeweed. I ran out of water and had to beg two cans of raspberry soda from a woman I met in the parking lot of an out-of-business roadside tavern. The trip took six weeks. They remain some of the best weeks of my life.

Larry M. Hyman, department of linguistics

If you mean a memorable summer at my university (I got all my degrees at UCLA), I would say the summer of 1968, when I took three classes: “Intensive Hausa” (a major language of Nigeria) from 9-12 every day, then in the afternoon, a course on African language classification and another on language change (“historical linguistics”). It was at this time that I was transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school, and my classmates became colleagues and friends. In the evenings, we would enjoy cooking meals together, talking about our courses and (as often happens) trying to figure out our futures.

If you mean any summer anywhere, then I would have to say that the summer of 1967 is really special: After spending the 1966-67 academic year in the Education Abroad Program in Bordeaux, I chose to do an intermediate intensive German course at the Goethe-Institut (one that used to be in Lüneburg, just south of Hamburg). I made international friends there, all of us there to learn German: In my class, there were one or more American, Scot, Norwegian, Finn, Spaniard, (French-speaking) Swiss and Egyptian. It was so much fun. Never would I have thought that I could improve a foreign language after school by playing chess in a beer hall! I made friends for life both in Bordeaux and in Lüneburg.

David Ackerly, department of integrative biology

I worked as a camp counselor in the Adirondacks for all four summers during college. Loved it!

Alex Filippenko, department of astronomy

I was an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara. During two half-summers, I was employed as a guide at UC’s Lick Observatory in the mountains east of San Jose, California. During the afternoons, I sold various items in the gift shop. I also conducted visitor tours, talking about astronomy and the history of the observatory, and showing people the 36-inch refracting telescope beneath which James Lick is buried. This experience revealed how much fun it is to tell people about science. At night, I was allowed to use a 12-inch refractor to conduct a research project of my own, and this eventually led to my first refereed publication. During meals at Lick, I met many famous astronomers and learned about their work. Though I didn’t get much sleep (just in the mornings) and had essentially no social life (Lick is an hour drive from San Jose, and I didn’t have a car), these two half-summers provided an amazing learning experience and helped launch my career as an astrophysicist.

Marla Feller, department of molecular and cell biology

I was a college student in Berkeley, and I remember the first summer (between my junior and senior year) when I didn’t go home but stayed in Berkeley. I worked many odd jobs, including being a waitress at (Larry Blake’s), a restaurant on Telegraph Avenue, and I was a reader for an undergraduate physics class. I felt quite independent.

Achilles Speliotopoulos, department of physics

I lived at home and did not do anything of interest over the summer. I did spend a month teaching myself differential and integral calculus using my sister’s old Math 1AB textbook during the summer between the 11th and 12th grades.

Michelle Douskey, department of chemistry

I had several summer jobs in the chemistry field, but before all that began, there is one summer job that sticks out that has nothing to do with science. I spent the summer in Oregon with my boyfriend and his family. His dad was a builder and got me hooked up with a job in a title company. Title offices have maps and deed information on properties. They work a lot with builders and realtors. My main jobs were sorting mail, filing, pulling documents off of microfiche, etc. It was a clerical job. This job stands out because I played a number of practical jokes on my poor co-workers. There was a realtor with a funny name who we often laughed about in the office. I wrote a fake letter from the realtor to my co-worker and ran it through the mail metering machine, delivering it with the stack of mail like everything else. Sadly, then I discovered my co-worker in tears telling her boss that she’d lost a client. They were relieved that it was just a joke, but no doubt pretty angry at me for it. I also arranged plastic ants in a trail on a co-worker’s desk who always has a huge mess of old food and Coke cans. Hopefully I livened up their summer, and they didn’t regret hiring me!

Ketki Samel is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ketkisamel.

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