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Berkeley Connect: Students tout beloved program in their own words

Since its launch in 2010, the Berkeley Connect program has empowered 1,400 undergraduates each semester to expand their academic horizons by matching each one with a personal graduate student mentor who’s pursuing a Ph.D. in the undergrad’s major. The mentors provide individual attention and coach students on how to build productive relationships with their professors. Berkeley Connect also offers small group discussions where students discuss ideas and skills related to specific majors, special events for mingling with professors and alumni and field trips to explore more of what the campus offers.

There are no prerequisites, extra fees or homework assignments, quizzes or exams. All undergraduates are welcome, regardless of major or year. Ninety-three percent of those who took part in Berkeley Connect say they’d recommend it to a friend, 84 percent say it increased their confidence about succeeding at Berkeley and 82 percent say it upped their sense of belonging on campus.

Funded in part by gifts to the Cal Parents Fund, Berkeley Connect—now in 13 departments and growing—blends the university’s intellectual strength with a supportive community that students might find at a small liberal arts college.Sacademic lives of its students in surprising ways.

Sean Tseng, first-year student in music

The following two stories, written by undergrads as part of the program’s Student Voice Contest, illustrate how Berkeley Connect enhances the academic lives of its students in surprising ways.

Music fills the classroom, and a hush falls across the room. It’s as if all at once, we’ve leaned in to listen. I’ve never heard this song before, but somehow it feels familiar in my bones. As Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” pours out of the speakers, the strangers sitting around me are suddenly not so strange anymore.

This is my first Berkeley Connect music session, and I am enthralled. Despite joining late in the semester and missing several previous sessions, I feel more connected in this moment than in all the classes I attend regularly. In these four minutes of guitar riffs and haunting vocals, we all get to know each other more deeply than expected, in ways I never anticipated.

To me, this is the significance of Berkeley Connect. I walked out of that class energized, inspired and awed at the depth of a subject I’ve always loved.

Our class discussion only kick-started a broader conversation, and experiencing such ideas in quality company embodies Berkeley Connect’s spirit. To be given a constructive and supportive environment to ponder these ideas without pressure is one of the truest forms of education I have encountered in my time here at Berkeley.

Danny Hutto, fourth-year student in philosophy

Danny Hutto (left) and mentor Richard Lawrence

My favorite Berkeley Connect moment is not a singular moment so much as it is what the program—and my mentor, Richard Lawrence—as a whole as afforded me.

As a graduating senior, what Richard’s small group meetings offer is more than just a space to discuss topics related to the field of philosophy; they provide a dedicated time and space that reminds me: I am not alone. What I mean by that is, a lot of my academic experiences at Berkeley have been ones requiring isolation. Such is the life of an English major, I suppose.

For better or worse, the majority of work done outside the classroom in my field can be lonely, but Richard’s sections always reminded me that I’m not alone. Whether it’s a student giving advice to another student or just group suffering, I leave my Berkeley Connect section with a renewed sense of my place within the broader Berkeley community. In such a large, competitive academic environment as Berkeley, it is comforting knowing that there is one place I can go to escape the “noise” and just connect (no pun intended) with other people.

To learn more about Berkeley Connect, including how you can make a gift to support the program, visit