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On the Golden Bears Blog, student volunteers post weekly updates about life at Berkeley.

For prospective undergrads, student-authored Golden Bears Blog could just be the X factor in choosing Cal

BERKELEY —

When Josh Ephraim applied to Berkeley, he wanted to see the campus through other students’ eyes. But “I didn’t know anyone here who could tell me what life at Cal was like,” says Ephraim, who relied instead on online collegiate guides.

Ephraim, a junior history major who transferred to Berkeley from Connecticut’s Trinity College last fall, is helping to address that information gap. He’s one of a dozen student-volunteers writing weekly posts about their lives at Berkeley for the new Golden Bears Blog launched by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions last month. Each new blog post adds to an increasingly multifaceted picture of undergraduate life at Berkeley.

Renee Bell, a freshman double-majoring in math and bioengineering, wrote about one gateway to finding new campus experiences: “Being bored and being at Berkeley are truly mutually exclusive. If you find yourself questioning this because you’ve somehow managed to find yourself with a free afternoon, just take a stroll through Sproul Plaza, a bustling center for student activity on campus.”

To prove her point, Bell mapped out a week of activities using flyers she collected on just such a stroll. Her list clues prospective students in to the kinds of offerings that await them should they come to Berkeley: an international food festival; two benefits for the victims of the Haiti earthquake; BareStage Productions’ spring one-act show; a screening of a film about poet Lorine Niedecker; jazz, hip-hop, and ballroom-dance classes; a sorority games night; Phi Beta Lambda’s poker tournament; and a spring formal.

Getting involved at Berkeley

Student activism is alive and well at Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. Diamond Alexander, a freshman rhetoric major, participated in the March 2 “Blackout,” during which African American students here blocked off Sather Gate to protest a controversial ghetto-themed party a UC San Diego fraternity hosted to mock Black History Month.

After the Blackout, Diamond wrote: “Since that day, many people, myself included, have been working towards rebuilding the Black community at Berkeley and creating organizations and structures that will allow us to become a more unified body.”

Yana Pavlova and Josh Ephraim
Yana Pavlova and Josh Ephraim are two of the students who post on the Golden Bears Blog.

Freshman Yana Pavlova blogged, “It was beautiful to watch. Not beautiful like pretty, but beautiful in a tragic way. The silence really spoke, and spoke louder than words. It was a simple protest, simple flyer, simple words, that had an immense impact on me.”

Two days later, Pavlova, a legal-studies major, attended the March 4 strike for public education in Sacramento and wrote: “The people that spoke up at Sacramento kept bringing up Mario Savio and the movements of the ’60s. … Whenever there’s an injustice or an infringement of rights, Berkeley takes a stand. Every time. I feel that Berkeley is the social justice capital of the U.S.”

“Cal is all about the student experience” says Rita Kasperek, an Admissions communications specialist who moderates the blog. “We wanted a way to convey that to prospective students, their families, and the larger community.”

The Golden Bears Blog grew out of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions’ ambassadors program. More than 100 undergraduate-admissions ambassadors recruit new students by visiting high schools, talking to visitors about Berkeley at Cal Day events, and phoning new admits to answer their questions about the campus. A subset of admissions ambassadors, Golden Bear Bloggers are motivated to communicate their impressions of Berkeley to the virtual world.

Berkeley isn’t the first to launch a student-authored admissions blog — MIT, Cornell, Yale, and the University of Connecticut all have gotten in the game.

“It’s hard to convey the breadth of opportunity at Berkeley in a personal way,” says Kasperek, adding that “the best way is to have the students do that.”

Kasperek works to motivate the bloggers to post new content regularly so that the blog stays fresh. Although she reads the posts and corrects grammatical errors, she exercises a light editorial touch. “I don’t want to filter the entries so much that the blog doesn’t have any personality in it,” she explains.

From selecting a school to choosing classes

The student bloggers have written about disparate subjects — waiting for admissions decisions, a residence-hall cake bakeoff, a Berkeley Bollywood dance competition, advice for new admits, co-op life, a reference to the campus in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, ASUC elections, and the challenges of balancing academic demands and extra-curricular interests.

Kasperek encourages multiple bloggers to take on topics such as how to choose a college, study tips, and advice for incoming students, so that the blog’s intended audience gets a variety of perspectives.

Trisha Remetir and Sara Cheng
Trisha Remetir and Sara Cheng

Jaclyn (Jax) Harris, a freshman majoring in psychology and English, recently described her college-selection process. During visits to schools, Harris “made a Venn diagram, a cost-benefit analysis, and a(n) SOV (scale of values)” to determine her decision. “I visited club meetings, sat in on classes, visited academic advising offices, participated in overnight programs… Like you, I wanted to make the best-informed decision humanly possible. … Unfortunately, everything started to blend together after a while. Every school seemed devoted to giving me a ‘well-rounded liberal arts education.’ Every student body was ‘motivated.’ Every professor was ‘easily accessible.’

“The students set Cal apart from the other schools in my eyes,” wrote Harris. “They were just so EAGER, so full of life. They were eager to help, eager to learn, eager to discuss…”

Harris’ entry continued: “There was no formula to my college decision. A academics plus B extra-curricular activities did not necessarily equal C decision. Although all of these things were taken into account, there was an X factor that I had not anticipated: the atmosphere created by the students. For this reason, I HIGHLY recommend visiting Cal before making your decision. There is truly nowhere else like this place for social, political, economic, academic, and artistic discourse.”

Selecting a college leads to another hurdle, adjusting to life away from home and family, an almost universal difficulty for first-year students no matter what campus they choose. In another post, Trisha Remetir, a sophomore majoring in English, described her experience:

“At first I thought the dorms were a bummer, because my roommates and I ended up on an all-girls’ floor. Think of a hallway of closed doors, and that was 6th floor Ida Sproul. Terrified that my social life would consist of Friday night homework and lonely movies, I tried really hard to make friends. Let me tell you that it was a month of awkward determination (Tip #3: Talking to people in the bathroom is a great and amusing way to make friends) but I kept it up and I ended up being really close with some of my dorm mates.”

And in the learn-from-my-friend’s-mistake category, Sara Cheng, a freshman physics major, wrote: “When you are signing up for classes be sure to check out exactly what you are signing up for, whether it be a lit class, math class, etc. I had a guy friend who signed up for a lit class that ended up being a feminine [sic] studies class (he ended up enjoying it, but it definitely was not what he expected).”

Those kinds of first-person accounts “put a face on the institution,” says Kasperek. She adds: They offer “a much more personalized view of Berkeley than a brochure.”

To become an admissions ambassador, contact Mecca Shakoor at mshakoor@berkeley.edu .