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For board co-chairs, leadership is personal

Couple embracing and smiling at viewer

By Amy Cranch

When her daughter Annie was accepted into Berkeley, Beth Miller felt a shock to her system. “My other three children went to smaller schools closer to home in New York. Annie is the only one who got away from me,” she says with a subtle mixture of sadness and humor.

But Annie has had an “amazing experience,” inspiring Beth and her husband, Michael, to become ardent supporters of and volunteers with several areas across campus. This year they are co-chairing the Cal Parents Board, a dedicated group of parents and guardians who serve as ambassadors for the university and consider Berkeley a top philanthropic priority.

For Beth and Michael, becoming champions for Berkeley started from a personal place. Annie is double majoring in society and environment (part of the Rausser College of Natural Resources) and data science (part of Berkeley’s booming new Division of Computing, Data Science and Society, called CDSS). Beyond dipping their toes into Annie’s experience, the couple has dug in — meeting academic and administrative leaders in each area, engaging with faculty members to learn more about their impactful research, and getting to know student programs across a range of educational, experiential, or need-based support areas.

One result? Beth and Michael took advantage of a compelling matching gift opportunity to establish a Fiat Lux Scholarship, which provides monetary, community and academic support to underrepresented and first-generation students from California. The Millers chose to direct their scholarship to high-achieving students from either Rausser College or CDSS, the academic homes of Annie’s majors.

“Equity has always been important to us,” says Michael, a founder and managing director of Crewcial Partners, LLC, a New York-based firm that provides consulting services to nonprofit institutions. “We recognize the advantages we have received in life and how the world really works for others. We wanted to take that luck and pass the opportunity on.”

Last year, when COVID-19 turned the world upside down, the university’s focus immediately shifted toward students experiencing unforeseen difficulties with their housing, food, work, or health. “COVID drew a giant red circle around systemic inequities,” says Michael. Thus another touchpoint was added between Berkeley and the Millers — supporting students’ basic needs.

In addition to the couple’s gift to the Basic Needs Center, which provides emergency food, housing, life skills courses and other essential resources to help students thrive, Beth sits on its parent advisory council. When she is in town, she volunteers at the campus food pantry. Motivated and moved by the visionary leadership and justice-centered approach of the Basic Needs Center, she says, “It makes me hopeful for the future of our world.”

Beth and Michael hope to use their role as board co-chairs to help break Berkeley down and make it more personal for other parents. Says Michael, “The most important thing we can do is listen and help direct them to the right people or resources.”

“When you send your kids off to college, you’re flailing,” says Beth. “But just connecting to other parents eases the anxiety. You learn that housing will work out, that your kids will get the classes they need.”

Sensing that Berkeley is much more about purpose over profit, about leveling the playing field for all students and shaping society for the better, the Millers are driven to step up and help.

“Schools need to educate more, not less students,” says Beth. “We want to help Berkeley overcome its hurdles and keep its doors open. We can all be part of the solution.”

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