In 2021, Chancellor Carol Christ wrote:
“For over a decade, Berkeley Connect has provided thousands of undergraduates with a sense of belonging and a unique, intimate community. This program is transforming the undergraduate experience by providing students with mentorship, professional development resources, and enrichment activities, while granting graduate students unparalleled mentoring opportunities and invaluable fellowship support.”
Making Community and Connection Possible
Berkeley Connect was inspired and made possible by donor support. In 2010, alum Peter Chernin seeded a three-year community-building pilot initiative in the English department to provide undergraduates with an experience that combined the intimacy of a small college with the resources of a large research university. The new endeavor flourished, and in 2014 Berkeley Connect became an official campus program. Today, Berkeley Connect partners with 15 departments and is open to all majors, serving 1,200 or more students each semester.
For over a decade, Berkeley Connect has provided undergraduates with personalized mentoring and an inclusive intellectual community, while simultaneously supporting graduate students with valuable mentoring experience, mentorship from faculty, and fellowships. Since its inception, over 16,000 undergraduates and 300 graduate students have benefitted from this program.
Generating a Sense of Belonging and Success for All
UC Berkeley is a large campus that can be difficult for new students to navigate. Berkeley Connect creates a nurturing, tightly-knit community where students develop a greater sense of belonging and begin to envision new possibilities for their educational journey. Undergraduates are matched with a graduate student who serves as their personal mentor, advising them on academics, offering guidance on future career goals, and coaching them on how to build productive relationships with professors. Facilitated by their mentors, participants meet regularly with peers for informal small group discussions related to their fields of study, building valuable relationships outside of the classroom. Field trips to sites such as the Berkeley Art Museum and the Bancroft Library expose students to the wealth of campus resources available to them, and special events are designed to help students network with faculty and alumni.
For Berkeley Connect alum Giovanni Torres, ’16, the program was a time of discovery, presenting him with opportunities and resources that made a significant impact on his university experience and future goals:
“One of the most challenging parts of my undergraduate career at Cal was negotiating my new academic environment as a first-generation, Mexican-American transfer student. What introduced me to other students who were experiencing similar challenges was my participation in Berkeley Connect. I not only learned how to navigate college, but I also learned about research opportunities, and have met graduate students and mentors who made a significant impact on my academic trajectory, especially now that I am preparing to enter a PhD program.”
Berkeley Connect also provides invaluable mentorship and research opportunities for our graduate students. Kristen Nelson, a Berkeley Connect Fellow in Sociology, says:
“Participating in Berkeley Connect was the most heartening and supportive experience that I have had. It makes the University more accessible to undergraduates, and gives graduate students essential skills in community building, as well as time to move their research forward.”
Berkeley Connect Fellows are selected from a competitive applicant pool of graduate students who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and research. In addition to mentoring undergraduates individually, Fellows facilitate interactive, small group discussions related to their field of study with their mentees. They accompany students on field trips and to special events, including career and graduate school panels, as well as informal talks by professors. During their fellowship year, Fellows meet regularly with a faculty member who provides guidance on mentoring strategies, helps advance their scholarly research, and prepares them for the job market.
A Community of Access and Excellence
Berkeley Connect is a supportive intellectual community that makes the university more accessible and encourages our distinguished students from all backgrounds to succeed. Institutional data illustrates that compared to non-participants, Berkeley Connect students perform better academically, have higher retention rates, and feel a greater sense of belonging at Berkeley. Almost 50% of participants are transfer students, and approximately 30% are under-represented minorities (URM). Many are first-generation college students, attended under-resourced high schools, and represent the lowest family income bracket. Each year, Berkeley Connect transfer and URM participants have consistently earned higher GPAs compared to their counterparts in the total undergraduate population. Berkeley Connect helps students from a wide range of backgrounds to discover their sense of place and flourish to their fullest potential at Berkeley. (Read more about the impact of Berkeley Connect.)
Looking Ahead to a Bright Future
Berkeley Connect has been successfully enhancing the undergraduate experience at UC Berkeley for over a decade. Every semester, over 90% of participating students report that Berkeley Connect increases their sense of belonging and confidence they can succeed. Berkeley Connect encourages students to discover their academic passions, build their communities, and envision their future possibilities.
Expanding the capacity of Berkeley Connect in order to benefit more undergraduate and graduate students is a key priority of the university’s Light the Way campaign. Berkeley Connect is a donor-funded program; we invite you to give to Berkeley Connect and “light the way” for incoming classes of Berkeley students.