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 Berkeley Pledge Special:

Major and Career Exploration: Introduction to College

posted June 16, 1998

Helping those who are first in their families to attend college, the course “Major and Career Exploration” introduces new Berkeley students to life on campus.

Navigating the Cal bureaucracy can be a challenge for a campus bureaucrat, not to mention a freshman far from home.

So, to smooth the way for students who are the first in their families to attend college, there is a new semester-long seminar called “Major and Career Exploration.”

A little like the Thomas Guide to the academic and support offerings at UC Berkeley, the course helps students chart their way through four years on campus and beyond.

“We help students learn what is out there and effective methods of choosing a major,” says Suzanne Lowe, one of two instructors teaching the two-credit course. “We also talk about barriers confronting first-generation college students and how to develop strategies to overcome those barriers.”

The new course is part of the Berkeley Pledge’s campus retention efforts to lend extra support to students who may be the first in their families to attend college.

Gloria Burkhalter, coordinator of academic support and enrichment services for the Berkeley Pledge, says that they are working not only to provide new aid to students, but to make established services more accessible. To that end, the Pledge assembled all academic support programs and services into the Directory of Academic Support Programs – a thick, yellow paper-bound book filled with student programs and activities and instructions on how to access them.

The Pledge also hosted a student reception last fall for more than 200 low-income and first-generation college students to introduce them to a range of campus resources, from financial aid to education abroad.

Burkhalter says that a new 12-member committee has been meeting regularly to design new resources and better ways to deliver services to students.

“These roundtables have helped facilitate communication and collaboration among members of the Berkeley Pledge academic support and enrichment services component, and have heightened staff awareness about student needs and barriers,” says Burkhalter.

Lowe says the Majors and Careers course helps to remove some obstacles to students becoming part of the Berkeley campus community.

“In some ways, the most important thing the Majors and Careers course offers is a peer group,” says Lowe. “It gives them a chance to talk with other students in a more intimate setting.”

While there are no textbooks required for the course, students are “strongly encouraged” to participate. All course work must be completed with a passing grade and students cannot miss more than three classes to pass.

In addition to the more personal discussions about students’ values and goals, the course explores the nuts-and-bolts realities of campus life. In a recent course discussion, Hector Villasenor, an advisor from the College of Letters and Science, led students through the ins and outs of drop deadlines, repeating courses and how to get an appointment with an advisor.

The course also shows students how to use the Internet to search for jobs and careers.

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