Cal Opportunity Scholarship Fall 2015 Newsletter

Cal Opportunity Scholarship
FALL 2015
Letter from the Chair, Sam Mchombo 
Sam Mchombo Professor of African American Studies  Chair, Cal Opportunity Scholarship  The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate Committee on Undergraduate Scholarships, Honors and Financial Aid

This is my first year working with the Cal Opportunity (CalOp) Scholarship, and I couldn't be more thrilled at the chance to connect and engage with these fantastic scholars. Founded in 2000, the goal of the Cal Opportunity Scholarship is to provide access to exemplary students with financial need who come from underserved schools in the Bay Area. With 175 current scholars on campus contributing significantly to the intellectual and cultural diversity of UC Berkeley, I'd say it's been a great success! In fact, we just celebrated 15 years of the CalOp program. Proud alumni, faculty, program supporters, and current scholars were united by conversation, inspiring stories, and a shared passion for the mission of making UC Berkeley an attainable dream for any hard-working student.

A unique aspect of the CalOp program is the outreach of current scholars to prospective students at the high schools from which they themselves graduated. I believe this peer-to-peer mentorship is an important and powerful way to express the importance and the promise of applying not just to UC Berkeley, but to college in general. As a faculty mentor, I have the privilege of supporting these same students once they arrive at Cal, and providing guidance as they continue to learn and grow is truly an honor. As we move into the season of recruitment and interviews for the Cal Opportunity Scholarship program, I look forward to meeting our next cohort of bright, enthusiastic young scholars.

Sam Mchombo
Professor of African American Studies 
Chair, Cal Opportunity Scholarship 
The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate Committee on Undergraduate Scholarships, Honors, and Financial Aid

A Gesture of Thanks

TINA DIEP Class of 2017, Major in Public Health Cal Opportunity Scholars Association President Association

Tina Diep, Class of 2017

I have been involved with the Cal Opportunity Scholars Association (COSA) since my freshman year, an experience that has helped me to become a better student and prospective employee through developing my public speaking, organizational, and interpersonal skills. I worked my way up from outreach intern to academic chair, and now, to president, a position I never imagined I would hold. As president of COSA I have the opportunity to grow my leadership, planning, time-management, and communication skills. But most importantly, each year the officers and interns become one big family. On a campus as big as UC Berkeley, it’s extremely comforting to know that I have a community here to support me!

I am beyond thankful for my Cal Opportunity Scholarship and for the kind people who provided funding. The scholarship allows me to fully immerse myself in college and not worry about finding a job to cover tuition and fees. I can commit more time to my studies and still be involved with extracurricular activities, like COSA. Beyond the financial and academic support, I appreciate meeting other scholars who understand me because we share a similar background: we all come from underprivileged, low-income schools in the Bay Area. 

COSA strengthens the CalOp program through academic support to its scholars with activities like study groups, Tele-BEARS advising, and care packages during finals. COSA offers social interaction between students, staff, and faculty, and helps recruit new scholars through high school outreach activities. Being part of COSA is one way to give back to the CalOp program; it is a gesture of thanks, for making college financially affordable, and a reality. 

Of all the events that COSA hosts, my favorite is assisting prospective scholars during their interview process, and then welcoming new scholars! The enthusiasm, curiosity, and eagerness in new scholars is a yearly reminder of how fortunate I am to be at Cal, and why I treasure every moment here.

Class of 2017, Major in Public Health
Cal Opportunity Scholars Association President

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Worthwhile Challenges

YANCIE DAVIS Class of 2006, B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies  Admissions Counselor at Stanford University

Yancie Davis, Class of 2006

During my student experience at UC Berkeley, I learned how I think about the world and how my past experiences brought me to and through college, shaping who I am today. Thanks to a Cal Opportunity Scholarship, I could focus on my development (instead of how to pay for classes), and I found a community of other scholars with whom I could grow. My involvement with CalOp showed me that sometimes students just need to be given a chance in order to reach their potential. Since graduation, I’ve gone from initially working in advertising to working in the college access field, helping Oakland high school students apply for college and financial aid. 

I now work in higher education in admissions, and I’m pursuing a master’s in educational leadership. Creating opportunities for youth, especially youth of color, is important to me. I learned that college is one of the major factors in changing the trajectory of families and communities of color, and that has influenced me greatly.

College was definitely a challenge for me because where I was a strong student in the context of my high school, I had adjustments to make when I arrived at Berkeley. It was also very beneficial and gave me firsthand knowledge of the obstacles some students deal with related to accessing college. If high school students better understand the obstacles ahead, they can more adequately prepare themselves. All of this is to say, the networks, friends, education, and experience are worth facing the challenges.

My Cal Opportunity Scholarship made Berkeley possible for me financially, but more than that, the community introduced me to scholars who shared my background; it made me feel like I belonged. Thanks to my scholarship, I got a college education, I met my wife, I discovered myself, and my skills and my passions. My Berkeley experience changed my life.

Class of 2006, B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies 
Admissions Counselor at Stanford University

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Nidya Baez-Arredondo, Class of 2007

My Cal Opportunity Scholarship helped me through school, and inspired me to help other young people, especially first-generation students like myself. I served for two years as the vice president of outreach for the Cal Opportunity Scholarship. My responsibilities included shaping a program that allowed other CalOp recipients to give back to Bay Area high schools by hosting college and financial aid workshops. I was inspired after realizing how few of my peers applied for and attended college. Lack of information, primarily fear of not being able to afford college, was a common obstacle. My dream was always to come back to Oakland to help other students not just go to college, but to make healthy choices about their future. Supporting the CalOp program now is part of fulfilling that dream. 

Class of 2007, B.A. in Latin American Studies 

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Think Bigger on November 19

Big Give

Berkeley’s imagination reaches beyond the campus, the state, and the nation. We look out for each other, so we can look out for the world. On Thursday, November 19, you can ensure the  Cal Opportunity Scholarship continues to grow during Big Give, our 24-hour day-of-giving blitz. Join thousands of alumni, students, parents, and friends in showing your passion for Berkeley and support for students.

Help us think bigger on November 19 by making a gift that makes a difference. Use #berkeleystudentsfirst to follow activity on social media.

Give Now button

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Save the Date!
April 13, 2016
Celebrate with scholarship recipients at the Northern California Scholarship Reception. Invitations and event details forthcoming by mail in the new year.


15 Years of Excellence for the Cal Opportunity Scholarship Program 

Scholarship recipients pose with a faculty mentor and a staff member at the CalOp 15-Year Anniversary Reception. Pictured left to right is David Leung, Yesenia Mendoza Muller (staff), Ilan Roth (faculty mentor), Nguyet Duong, Henry Kwan.
Scholarship recipients pose with a faculty mentor and a staff member at the CalOp 15-Year Anniversary Reception. Pictured left to right is David Leung, Yesenia Mendoza Muller (staff), Ilan Roth (faculty mentor), Nguyet Duong, Henry Kwan.

Fifteen years ago, Professor Neil Henry, Professor Leon Litwack, and Professor Donald Dahlsten possessed the vision and courage to set the foundation for the Cal Opportunity Scholarship, one of the most innovative and impactful scholarship programs at UC Berkeley. Since then, over 700 scholarship recipients have realized the dream of a Berkeley education. 

On October 21, 2015, nearly 100 CalOp alumni, scholars, supporters, and Berkeley faculty joined Vice Chancellor Harry Le Grande at Pauley Ballroom in the newly renovated Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union to honor the anniversary of the CalOp Scholarship program. Keynote speaker, Professor Jill Duerr Berrick, Zellerbach Family Foundation Professor at the School of Social Welfare and co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy, shared the history of the program and why programs like CalOp are critical to Berkeley’s academic community. CalOp alum Daishar Young shared his challenges leading up to college, his experiences making “this big and beautiful place feel small by participating in campus activities and giving back,” and his gratitude for being able to focus on academics instead of struggling to make ends meet. As Daishar said in his speech, “To the many alumni, faculty, and donors who continue to support the Cal Opportunity Scholarship I thank you, because I know first-hand that a scholarship and a supportive community make a life-changing difference.”

CalOp scholars exhibit outstanding academics, leadership, and fortitude and come from some of the most underserved Bay Area high schools. They are making a difference in their hometowns and in the world, where they make contributions as healthcare providers, educators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and much, much more.

Introducing a New Scholarship Programs Adviser 

Yesenia Mendoza Muller
Yesenia Mendoza Muller

This fall, the Undergraduate Scholarships, Prizes, and Honors office welcomed Yesenia Mendoza Muller as a scholarship programs adviser for the Cal Opportunity Scholarship Program. Yesenia joined Berkeley from Riverland Community College in Austin, Minnesota, where she was an Enrollment Adviser for Underrepresented Student Relations, and previously, the Multicultural School Programs Coordinator. In addition, she developed, promoted, and coordinated high-profile college access, opportunity, and leadership programs for at-risk and underserved student populations. Yesenia’s experience providing scholarship program and financial aid advising to students with an advising focus on underrepresented students, is an ideal match for her role supporting CalOp.

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Representing First-Generation Success
About 95% of Cal Opportunity Scholars are first-generation college students, compared to only 26% of the campus overall. Cal Opportunity alumni continue on to successful careers, that include professors, physicians, engineers, founding partners in technology companies, and research consultants.