Berkeley Connect sees reduction in seats available because of budget cuts

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Because of budget cuts, the number of seats available to students in Berkeley Connect — a program that provides mentorship to UC Berkeley undergraduates — has been reduced since 2017.

Students who enroll in a one-unit Berkeley Connect course are paired with a graduate student, with whom they meet throughout the semester. The mentees are also placed in small groups with other undergraduate students who have similar academic interests.

Although Berkeley Connect hopes to expand in the coming years, it is currently offered in only 13 departments, ranging from African American studies to computational biology to music. Its main goal is to introduce undergraduate students, regardless of major or year, to the respective department.

“(The students) enjoy getting to know our mentors, who are PhD students in our department,” said architecture professor Margaret Crawford in an email. “Overall, it appears to be helpful and supportive in acclimating them to the department and the university.”

The program began in the English department and was funded by a gift from an alumnus. Because of the pilot program’s success, Berkeley Connect received additional campus funding and was expanded to 10 departments in 2014 and has since grown to 13.

In order to further expand the program to other departments and increase the number of mentees, additional funding is required.

According to an email from Associate Director of Berkeley Connect Michele Rabkin, the demand for Berkeley Connect has outpaced the number of available seats, especially since budgets cuts were made in 2017. She also said in the email that the reduction in seats available has caused most of the sections to fill up entirely and many to have waitlists.

In addition to having one-on-one meetings with their mentors, campus undergraduates also have the opportunity to attend special events with professors and go on field trips.

Each Berkeley Connect department is overseen by a faculty director who creates a content focus for the semester and plans activities for students. These faculty members work with the graduate students, who each mentor two groups of 20 students per semester.

Berkeley Connect Director Erica Bree Rosenblum said in an email that one of Berkeley Connect’s main goals is to reach out to students who are new to the campus community and help them get to know different opportunities UC Berkeley has to offer.

“The relationships they form with their mentors help increase their sense of belonging and confidence they can succeed at Berkeley,” Rabkin said in the email.

Rabkin added in the email that 90 percent of students who have taken Berkeley Connect would recommend it to a friend. According to Rosenblum, those who have participated in the program have also maintained higher GPAs and retention rates.

Many students have voiced a desire to take Berkeley Connect again, but the program “can’t accommodate” them, Rosenblum said. A large proportion of those who get involved with Berkeley Connect enroll in the program for just a single semester, and according to Crawford, the program encourages this in order to give as many students as possible exposure to the department.

“The single biggest way to improve the program is to support its expansion,” Rosenblum said in the email. “Lots of students and departments would like to participate – we have a wonderful model and we would like to roll it out more campus-wide.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.