Students inform Dirks about undergraduate experience in fireside chat

Somin Park/Staff
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks talks to students about their college experience in his first 'fireside chat' of the semester.

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In his first fireside chat of the semester Tuesday evening, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks advised students to diversify their college experiences in the face of career concerns.

Since taking office in June, one of Dirks’ three main agenda items has been to enhance undergraduate students’ college experiences, starting by listening to their suggestions for improvement. This is Dirks’ fifth fireside chat of the academic year, organized to allow students to inform him about important issues, from sustainability issues to challenges faced by the undocumented community.

“One of the things I have to know a lot more about, in order to engage in any kind of meaningful, productive and significant way, is to find out how your undergraduate experience is and to learn more about every part of what you go through here,” Dirks told attendees. “It’s very important that we are able to not only hear you but also engage with the kinds of questions you might have.”

Students from the Student Advisory Committee to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and the Student Advisory Council on Undergraduate Education addressed the need to expand advising and career services at the university, among other concerns.

Andy Qin, a UC Berkeley sophomore studying computer science, praised the advisers in his department and the attention that students are given but noted that the advising services at the College of Letters and Science were much less personalized.

Adam Tuetken, a UC Berkeley senior who applied to law school last semester, said he and other students would have benefited from better liaison between the professional schools and undergraduate students, suggesting a system similar to a program at Georgetown University that allows undergraduates to apply to the university law school and be notified of their admittance during their junior year.

Additionally, some students mentioned that the campus feels “divided” — despite the myriad of student organizations available, UC Berkeley junior Mark Iskarous said there were not enough opportunities for students of different majors to interact.

“The campus is physically divided, in terms of where the buildings are and where people tend to live,” Iskarous said. “In my classes, I don’t get daily interaction with people who have different interests than me.”

Tuetken suggested that a way to broaden students’ interactions inside the classroom would be to offer more minors. There is a significant number of minors available at UC Berkeley, but there are also many major subjects not offered as minors, such as economics or biology, Tuetken said.

Dirks agreed undergraduate students should be able to maintain interest in multiple areas, especially at a time when college graduates are expected to have multiple careers and graduate programs often look for students who have an academically broad background.

“It’s good preparation for the future to have a number of quivers ready for your bow and not to think about doing one thing,” Dirks said.

Somin Park is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_sominpark.