Some say that there are two UC Berkeley’s. The first is composed of 9,934 graduate students working towards their graduate and professional degrees in a world of small seminars, specific research, and close work with faculty; the second of 22,880 undergraduates (2004 enrollment data) with larger classes and a different social and academic environment. Interaction between graduate students and undergraduates is an essential part of the instruction at Berkeley; the many graduate students that work as Graduate Student Instructors provide a quality educational experience to undergrads as they themselves acquire valuable experience as teachers.
Outside of the classroom, however, these two worlds rarely intersect. In order to encourage a more constructive and informal interaction between graduate students and undergrads, the ASUC Academic Affairs Office sponsors a Graduate-Undergraduate Mentorship Program. The goals are simple: first, to recruit and match undergraduates with graduate students based on field of study or interest; second, to provide undergraduates with information that will enhance their university experience and broaden their post-university possibilities, such as graduate programs and internships; and finally, the program aims to facilitate mentoring by organizing activities, while at the same time avoiding any extra burden to the students’ workload.
The mentoring program was part of an idea proposed by Rocky Gade, a former vice president of the Office of Academic Affairs, as part of a larger goal to address the need for more mentorship on campus. “It seems very easy for undergrads to get lost at Berkeley,” Gade comments.
“There have been a lot of other attempts to match faculty with undergrads, but we felt that matching graduate students with undergrads was a way undergrads could develop a relationship with their mentor over their four years at Cal, from which both sides could benefit.”
Since its proposal, Amanda Lynne Garrett, a former director of mentorship of the Academic Affairs Office, initially had the responsibility of publicizing and organizing the program as well as refining its objectives. As director, she observed that the relationships formed between participants can add much to the campus community. The benefit to the undergraduates is fairly clear, she explains. When an undergraduate gets a chance to speak with a graduate student from the same field of study, it can be instrumental in obtaining information about graduate school o job and internship opportunities that are specific to that field, and also in helping to better plan coursework or even deciding which professors to work with and what research projects are available. She notes, however, that the perceived personal benefits might not be as clear to individual graduate students. The problem with recruiting graduate students, she says, is that there is probably no clear incentive to participate in this program, and they rely heavily on the altruism of our participants. However, for students with specific interests in teaching or working closely with undergraduates, the program certainly tries to give them the framework within which they might establish such a working relationship.
Mentoring in itself, however, is an essential part of the university experience and its educational goals. As mentors, numerous graduate students have not only reaped the satisfaction of guiding undergraduates, but have also gained practical experience that could be important in their later academic and professional careers. Rebekah Ahrendt, a graduate student in Musicology, decided to participate in the program partly because of the positive mentoring experience she had as an undergrad and partly because she saw mentoring as an important part of her professional development. As a graduate student who hopes to someday become a professor, she says, “I need to acquire the advising and mentoring skills that will ensure my future students’ success.” Rebekah believes that programs such as this are especially important to the large under-grad student body. “On such a populous campus,” she notes, “it is often difficult for undergrads to get the attention they need in order to succeed. A program such as this one lets undergrads know that they are not alone, and demonstrates the commitment of the Berkeley community to its members.”
Hopefully, the ASUC Graduate-Undergraduate Mentorship program and others on campus with similar goals will continue to receive the support of the campus community as a whole, as their growth is essential to improving the world-class academic experience for which Berkeley is known.
Want to learn more or get involved? Visit the ASUC Mentoring website.
Written by Jonathan Banda and Matt Hoberg.
Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of The Berkeley Graduate’s new graduate student orientation edition.