Berkeley’s nearly 11,000 graduate students come from 92 countries and all 50 states. They look to the Graduate Division to oversee admissions, fellowships, policy issues, and granting degrees. Less well known, however, is the fact that the Graduate Division works to help students thrive academically — as well as to prepare them for careers in academia and beyond.

Naniette and Pauline
SMART mentor Naniette H. Coleman (left) with mentee Pauline Duprat.

Naniette H. Coleman was hardly a novice graduate student in 2014 when she came to Berkeley to pursue her doctorate in sociology. She already had a master’s of public administration from Harvard, a master’s in economics from the University at Buffalo, and experience as a college career counselor. She had even worked for the White House.

But the path to doctoral success still seemed daunting and, during her first year at Berkeley, Coleman jumped at the chance to take a Graduate Division-sponsored writing workshop. That experience led her to enroll in a two-unit Graduate Division course that guided students through the process of article preparation, writing an abstract, creating a bibliography, applying for funding, submitting entire drafts of a semester’s worth of unpublished work, and more. Her resulting research paper focused on tech-savvy whistleblowers in the mass media.

The Power of One Generation Mentoring the Next

After taking advantage of the Graduate Writing Center, Coleman applied to the Student Mentoring and Research Teams (SMART) program. Graduate students — selected to participate on the basis of their proposed research projects — are trained in mentoring techniques before choosing a mentee for a ten-week summer research period during which they and the undergraduate receive stipend support. The summer concludes with a presentation of SMART research at a gathering of participants, faculty sponsors, staff, and donors.

“Sharing my passion for research with [my mentee] Pauline Duprat reminded me of why I wanted to do this work in the first place,” Coleman says. “Mentoring renewed my confidence as a student and a researcher, which will prepare me to be a better academic. To step back and watch Pauline confidently present our collaborative research was powerful.”

From the mentee perspective, Duprat says, “SMART has reinforced my passion for sociology, given me a new perspective on the ways in which society and technology intersect, and exposed me to the challenges of conducting research at the graduate level.”

Helping Graduate Students to Thrive and Succeed

In addition to professional development programs, the Graduate Division helps graduate students access resources that nurture their well-being. This begins each August with the multi-faceted New Graduate Student Orientation and GradFest, a student organization and resource fair. A monthly e-newsletter, GradNews, highlights funding opportunities, professional development programs, events, and campus resources that promote health education and wellness. Recent examples include workshops on understanding the Student Health Insurance Plan, finding affordable housing, and ways to ensure food security.

A former SMART mentor, Sarah Macdonald received her MA and PhD in sociology from Berkeley and is now employed by the Graduate Division as an NSF-funded post-doctoral fellow conducting research on the SMART program. “It’s gratifying to witness some of the great new programs the Graduate Division has created to help students and their families,” she says. “I have a sixteen-month-old baby at home, and was able to use the back-up childcare and childcare reimbursement programs as I completed my degree. Both the professional and personal supports to improve the graduate student experience are enriching the Berkeley campus and helping its graduate students to flourish.”


Categories: Headlines, November 2016
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About Kirsten Mickelwait

A proud third-generation Cal alumna, Kirsten is a Bay Area-based writer who regularly produces content for colleges and departments across the Berkeley campus. Particular passions are higher education, health care, climate change, and the arts. She fondly remembers her days in Wheeler Hall as an English major.