UC Berkeley is considering defunding valuable mentoring program. This is a mistake.

CAMPUS ISSUES: To stay afloat, Berkeley Connect would need an additional $1 million.

Kelly Baird/Staff

It’s easy to get lost on a campus as big as UC Berkeley, which is why programs like Berkeley Connect are so important. But now, the program, which provides academic mentoring from graduate students, is at risk of being cut because of the campus’s severe budget deficit. The campus should not burn this valuable program to balance the books.

The funding allocation dropped from $2 million to about $1.4 million just this year, and Berkeley Connect was forced to accommodate 200-300 fewer students as a result. For next year, campus allocations will shrink, and to stay afloat, the program would need an additional $1 million.

If the campus will foot the estimated $600,000 security bill for Ben Shapiro to spout unoriginal and unnuanced opinions in one of the biggest venues on campus, it should at least continue to fund, if not expand, Berkeley Connect.

For male-dominated STEM departments, the program can provide a supportive community for women and non-male-identifying individuals who are systematically isolated. It also offers much-needed support for transfer students — 40 percent of Berkeley Connect’s participants are transfers — who have to acclimate to the campus in two short years.

“Berkeley Connect is a way of giving students all the extra attention they might get at a liberal arts college, within a big university model,” said campus mathematics graduate student Kevin O’Neill, who is also a former Berkeley Connect mentor.

On one’s own, it is difficult to seek out these department-specific resources like how to secure undergraduate research positions or ask for letters of recommendation.

Weekly lectures from professors and exposure to career opportunities provides important guidance for students. For example, O’Neill taught his mentees how to write in formal MathSpeak, giving them a chance to learn a critical skill for a career in math that they wouldn’t formally learn in a class. In addition, students are able to talk to their mentors, who are fresh out of the process, about the field-specific application process for things like graduate school.

The program has proven itself to not only increase a student’s chance at a successful career in their field, but also improve a student’s academic record while still in school. According to Berkeley Connect’s 2016-17 progress report, transfer students in the program have a higher average GPA than transfer students not in the program.

UC Berkeley students have repeatedly expressed to the campus that they want more career services on campus; in the spring, they even approved an $18 per semester fee to expand the campus Career Center and the Public Service Center — a fee that will increase by $3 each year for the next five years.

Instead of paying for the publicity stunts of controversial talking heads, the campus should pay for programs like Berkeley Connect that matter.

And if campus won’t, somebody needs to. Donate to Berkeley Connect here.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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