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Golden Scholars: Improving graduation rates at the University of California, the Berkeley Global Campus, and UC Berkeley's Campanile celebrates its 100th

The University of California looks at ways to improve graduation rates, more on the Berkeley Global Campus, and UC Berkeley celebrates the 100th birthday of a treasured landmark and iconic icon.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quick links

Mari Knuth-Bouracee will be UC Berkeley's confidential advocate for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

It's gettin' hot in herre (i.e., the California forests), so note the drastically changing forest structure.
(Man, my topical references are on point.)
(That joke works way better when I can sing it, but even then it barely works)

We've discussed in the past some of the crazy activity all over Uranus, but Professor Imke de Pater believes this past year was the stormiest on record.

A look at the science and motivation behind Professor Jay Keasling's research into microbe-derived biofuels.

Two Berkeley scientists—Nicholas T. Ingolia and Elçin Ünal—have received the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, which includes a hefty financial grant to supplement their cancer research. In other NCAA news, the other four recipients are current Terrapins, Longhorns, Cardinal, and Huskies of the UW variety. That's rightUC Berkeley is the only school with multiple recipients!

UC Berkeley scientists have analyzed the relationship between energy and time to establish the "quantum speed limit."

A model generated by the Berkeley Lab shows that "existing and proposed policies" by the state of California will be effective in getting the state to meet our 2020 reduction goals. (Sorry, but that's not the kind of 20/20 that has Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs.)

Check out Professor Jennifer Doudna's interview about the future of genetic disease.

Astronomers from UC Berkeley helped discover three new planets in the Goldilocks zone, which means they could potentially house life.

Graduating undergraduates

We're gonna zoom out a little bit and focus less on UC Berkeley and more on the University of California system in general. About 100 UC staffers met a few weeks ago to discuss a number of graduation-related issues, particularly "increasing retention in demanding STEM subjects, improving graduation rates among underrepresented minorities and ensuring that students who want to finish quickly don't have logistical hurdles standing in their way."

Before this gets out of hand, let's clarify that the UC system boasts one of the highest graduation rates in the country and is far ahead of the national average when it comes to getting undergrads out in four years (Fig. 1).

UC graduation rates

Figure 1. Undergraduate graduation rates at the University of California compared to the national average.

The objective of this mission is to allow students to receive their degrees in as quickly as possible so graduates can achieve social mobility; however, UC administrators like President Janet Napolitano were quick to explain they aren't looking to kick students out if they need a little longer or to remove "important parts of the students' educational experiences" like internships or studying abroad.

One proposed strategypioneered by UC Los Angelesis a simple review of curriculum to prevent the "curriculum creep," i.e., the gradual addition of requirements for degree fulfillment that becomes unwieldy and unnecessary over time. Frankly, I'm disappointed this even needs to be discussed and degree requirements aren't routinely evaluated. Additionally, I'm concerned as this seems to be focused on upper-division requirements (perhaps because these are specialized, whereas lower-division classes can often to applied to different majors); as a science major, I think the vast majority of useful book knowledge that I gained from Berkeley came from my upper division classes. The lower division classes certainly provide foundational knowledge, but I found those classes to frequently focus on rote memorization and concepts I have never needed to revisit.

The UC is also looking to encourage effective use of summer, from taking summer-session classes to internships to studying abroad. Does anyone in college actually just sit around and do nothing for those months? The article mentions this as a way to "get ahead" in one's studies, but dammit I needed summer to stay afloat, really. Anyway, they believe the main deterrent is the added cost, but UC Berkeley has a potential solution this this problem.

UC Berkeley is working with low-income and transfer students to use carry-over financial aid to cover summer session courses, and has dedicated additional funding to help students who don't have such funds.

Developing new financial aid packages that cover the cost of summer session, educators said, could help more UC campuses and students take advantage of this underused resource. So, too, could promoting and expanding online offerings, a boon to students who spend the summer off campus.

Lastly, there are a few suggestions being tossed around that have less to do with academics and course work strictly, but more to do with them feelings. UC administrators believe that happy students who feel like they belong at that school are more likely to succeed and graduate. For students who are first in their family to attend college, this means having visible role models in the faculty who have done the same. They're also tinkering with the summer bridge program to aid in a smooth transition for students' first years.

Research has shown that it's not just academic factors, but also students' perceptions of whether or not they belong on campus that influences their ability to succeed. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to see failing a test or not making friends in their dorm as evidence that they don't have what it takes to finish college.

In recent years, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego have developed programs that enable freshmen of similar backgrounds or majors to live and take classes together. UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley and other campuses have significantly expanded summer bridge programs, which bring incoming freshmen to campus for a few weeks over the summer to acclimate to the campus and get a jump start on their first year.

Both approaches build students' confidence and resiliency and help ensure they have a peer network during their crucial first year. Even small efforts, educators said, can have a positive impact on student perception.

I believe these factors can be easily overlooked and have felt for a long time that a summer bridge programsimilar to the one we have for student-athletesfor any interested student would be immensely beneficial as the UC Berkeley way of academics can often be a rude awakening for poor freshmen. I think it's great that Berkeley and the rest of the UC system are looking to improve our education system for our struggling students.

University of... the World, Berkeley?

Chancellor Dirks has recently taken the opportunity to discuss at length the plans for UC Berkeley to open the Berkeley Global Campus right in Richmond. The mission of the Global Campus is to outfit graduate students with the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary to tackle global problems through education and curriculum that emphasizes "topics like governance, ethics, health, and sustainability."

Other schools are building branch campuses all over the world. The University of California did this similarly in the past, building our southern branch in Los Angeles! But nowadays, UC Berkeley has decided to invite the rest of the world into our own territory.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has proposed that the Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay will be "a new form of international hub" in which a group of leading foreign universities and technology companies will establish satellite locations on a 130-acre parcel of Berkeley-owned land located a mere 10 miles from the main campus. The plan is for foreign university partners to collaborate with Berkeley on research and the delivery of degree programs.

Dirks is all hush hush about which schools are getting invites. (And by invites, he really means folded up pieces of paper that ask "Do you like Golden Bears?" with the appropriate checkboxes.) However, he did drop a few hints that he's been travelling and visiting universities in Singapore, China, Japan, and Cambridge (England, not Masschusetts. But not necessarily not Massachusetts.). An additional novel approach that Dirks and UC Berkeley are taking is by having these foreign partners provide the capital to build this new campus, rather than being subsidized by the government or paying out of our own pocket. In fact, UC Berkeley has been approached in the past about building branch campuses and bringing some Berkeley flair to their countries and universities, but Berkeley has declined.

"We weren't inclined to move forward with the branch campus model," he said, citing, among other concerns, the issue of academic freedom. As other Western universities have developed branch campuses in places like Abu Dhabi, China and Singapore, they've faced persistent questions about whether they can uphold their commitments to academic freedom -- a predicament that's arguably complicated by the fact that the branch campuses tend to be financially beholden to their (in many cases authoritarian) government sponsors.

But don't hold your breath because such a massive and monumental mission will take time (decades) and money (hundreds of millions of dollars) according to development manager Terezia C. Nemeth. Plus, who knows how many trees are on this 130-acre piece of land? Can you even imagine how many tree-sitters we may be dealing with? Can anyone confirm what Dumpster Muffin and Zachary Running Wolf are doing right now?!

Now, we all know our chancellor is working hard on his bod so he can body-paint it up in the student section next season, but he did take the time to write a piece to discuss how universities should respond to growing globalization on our globe. (I bet he dictated the text to a stenographer or something while doing curls and squats on the treadmill.)

In recent years, globalization has led to unprecedented levels of change in areas from the economy to the environment, from the way we do business to the way we interact with media.

With the pace of globalization accelerating and its impact expanding, universities have begun to change as well, seeing increasing numbers of students flow from beyond national borders, coordinating if not standardizing degrees and calendars, and collaborating both in research and in teaching.


When planet-wide problems do not recognise (sic) either national borders or the boundaries that have traditionally separated academic disciplines, universities must adapt.

This piece is perfect because it gives us our administration's views on the need for and the objective of the Berkeley Global Campus (BGC).

Along with its research mission, the BGC will have a strong educational component, centred on a Global College for Advanced Study. The Global College curriculum will provide international and domestic graduate students with the tools to tackle global challenges through a curriculum centred on global governance, ethics, political economy, cultural and international relations.

A global campus situated here in the Bay Area has significant advantages compared to the overseas campus model. Not only can we provide a safe harbour by supporting academic freedom, transparency, different forms of advocacy and political engagement, and protection of intellectual property, we can globalize in a context that will provide immediate local impact as well. As we develop new teaching curricula, research questions and protocols for collaboration, we will be able to see how these innovations can unsettle and shift some of the basic structures of our own university that have proved highly resistant to change.

This is a lot of information across a lot of different resources, but I suggest you take a look at them to get a better idea of the future of UC Berkeley. I can't imagine this won't be big news one day.


Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, Campanile!
Happy birthday to you!

You're 100! That's hella old!

To commemorate the occasion, UC Berkeley has a shiny new website chock full of Campanile facts and information. I can't imagine you can call yourself a Cal fan and need much prodding from my end to get you to learn more about one of the most recognizable symbols of our university. Hopefully you'll be exploring it yourself, but if you want a little bit of navigatorial help, there's a historical timeline (Did you know Emile Bénard's original design included either six small towers or one large outlier accompanied by four small towers?); a collection of recent news stories about the Campanile; and an archive of images from wayback when, recent pics, and fancy social-media friendly logos for its 100th. Those lucky kids in the Class of 2015 can even buy Campanile lapel pins!

For those of you who are more inclined to prose and text, you can read this article from UC Berkeley about the history of Sather Tower and some of its modern roles. Chancellor Dirks said the following about our iconic structure:

"The Campanile was designed to be much more than a landmark; it was meant to be a symbol of the University of California's grand vision and steadfast commitment to higher education, as well to as the state and public our university was designed to serve," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks. "The tower's 100th birthday is the perfect time to share this beloved building's unique story, which is inextricably entwined with the history of the university itself."

If you'd like to celebrate #campanile100, then there's a calendar that will contain the birthday celebrations for the whole year. Check out Campanile memories from other members of the Cal family at this link and share yours in the comment section below! You didn't ask, but I know you're wonderingmy Campanile story is a story of not having stories. I didn't go up the Campanile a single time as a student at Berkeley. I first went up the Campanile was going to be with my then-girlfriend as soon-to-be graduates between our final finals and commencement... but the Campanile was closed. When we finally did get the chance to go up (years later), I can confirm that the views were amazing.

Campanile view of Memorial

Figure 2. Hey, that looks like it could be a stadium one day!

Oh, Campanile, hopefully we can celebrate your birthday with a proper Lego toy!