Campus launches Berkeley Discovery Initiative for undergraduates

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William Webster/Staff
Campus's goal in launching the Berkeley Discovery Initiative is to ensure every undergraduate has the opportunity to pursue creative, independent “discovery projects” that can serve as a career foundation.

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Campus launched the Berkeley Discovery Initiative in hopes of transforming the undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley.

The goal of the campuswide plan is to ensure every undergraduate has the opportunity to pursue creative, independent “discovery projects” that can serve as a career foundation.

“It aims to instill in students a life-long ethos of engaging with grand challenges, fostering creativity and journeying towards innovation,” said initiative director and assistant director Sean Burns and Leslie Harlson in a joint email.

They added that the initiative is a product of more than five years of “open forums, working groups … and dreaming.” The first official efforts to launch the initiative were in 2016, and in fall 2020, the project obtained a dedicated staff thanks to a $5 million gift.

According to Burns and Harlson, the primary goal of the initiative is to elevate discovery to become a “universal signature” of students’ experience at UC Berkeley.

The initiative will do so by streamlining access to co-curricular activities and connecting students to a network of discovery projects, as well as increasing access to mentorship, project collaborations and discovery grants. It also hopes to incorporate “inquiry-driven learning” into the curriculum, Burns and Harlson added.

“It’s one thing to offer opportunities to discover new interests or discover new areas for academic exploration,” said James Weichert, ASUC academic affairs vice president. “It’s entirely different to create a policy environment when it comes to students completing their degree that actively encourages students to seek out those pathways because it is hard to check all the boxes as a Berkeley student.”

Weichert added he is in support of students getting to discover more courses outside of their major department, which is an “overarching goal” he shares with the initiative. He also hopes students will have increased opportunities to take classes with a pass/no pass option in order to foster discovery and focus on having a “good learning experience.”

Burns and Harlson believe the initiative will help students feel a sense of belonging in their major and the larger campus community, as well as “inspired, challenged and excited” by an active, self-directed academic curriculum. In addition, they stated when the initiative has been infused into the undergraduate experience, all students will have the funding to pursue a personalized project.

According to data from the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, when students were asked about obstacles to learning opportunities, the most common responses were not finding out about opportunities until it was too late and inability to afford to do anything extra. The initiative seeks to “build equitable access” to discovery opportunities for all undergraduates, not just those with social or financial capital, according to Burns and Harlson.

Discovery opportunities are available across campus, and the Discovery Hub highlights the primary programs, such as research, service, data science, arts and entrepreneurship projects, added Burns and Harlson.

The next steps for the initiative are to “raise a lot of money” to help students find opportunities and showcase their projects, as well as to support more faculty in enriching their curricula with discovery learning, Burns and Harlson stated.

Lauren Good is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.