Berkeley Discover takes education personally

“What did you discover at Berkeley?”

With the launch of Berkeley Discover, an exciting new program supported by a generous gift of $5 million from Peter ’73 and Megan Chernin, that may soon be a more relevant question for Berkeley students and alumni than, “What was your major?”

Through Berkeley Discover and Berkeley Connect, another program launched with the Chernins’ support, Peter Chernin aims to ensure that every student has what they need to unleash their potential for creativity. Taken together, Connect and Discover provide a roadmap for a Berkeley journey that launches a lifetime of curiosity and exploration.

“This economy and the world we’re living in now are defined by creativity,” says Chernin, noting that his own experience as a Berkeley student radically shifted his worldview. “I want to get students thinking about education not as tests and papers, but to ask how they take the information they access here and begin to apply it in creative ways to the world around them.”

In this bold vision, the journey of discovery will begin the day students arrive on campus. All undergraduates would take advantage of Berkeley Connect, which helps students navigate the university’s tremendous academic resources while cultivating a sense of belonging and agency. Berkeley Discover will then build on Connect by supporting students as they explore their deeper interests and ultimately develop an immersive culminating project that reflects the questions that keep them up at night.

Peter Chernin is the CEO of the Chernin Group, a production company and investment firm focused on consumer brands and platforms. He has long been engaged with his alma mater, serving since 2007 on an advisory board supporting campus leadership. Peter and Megan are involved with efforts to reform public education in Los Angeles, particularly with regard to K-12 education. Megan is a co-chair of the LA Promise Fund, which provides educational support services and programming for middle and high school students. The Chernins’ approach to education is grounded in an ethos of openness and inclusion.

“At this critical moment, Berkeley Discover positions us to ensure that every student is supported to take risks and respond creatively to the challenges of our time,” says Bree Rosenblum, a professor of environmental science and faculty director of Berkeley Connect and Berkeley Discover. “The Chernins’ gift reflects not only financial generosity, but generosity of spirit and a bold approach to transforming higher education.”

In supporting Berkeley Discover, the Chernins are boosting the university’s efforts to build upon existing opportunities and develop new possibilities for students to pursue independent research, visionary artistic production, entrepreneurship, community engagement, and many other real-world projects.

Berkeley Discover will amplify the possibilities for undergraduates to find themselves in the work that they do. Students such as Drew Woodson, a theater major who, frustrated by a lack of substantive roles for Native Americans such as himself, wrote his own play; or Janaki Vivreka and Revekka Kostoeva, who created an app that allows hearing impaired people to experience music; or Jesus Rios, who is conducting research on medical isotopes implicated in cancer research; or Pablo Eduardo Paredes Burgos and Rosa Lee Enriquez, who brought their academic training to bear on the complex real-life problems faced by Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the recent hurricane. Their path to discovery will soon become a thoroughfare traveled by every Berkeley student.

“At this critical moment, Berkeley Discover positions us to ensure that every student is supported to take risks and respond creatively to the challenges of our time." — Bree Rosenblum, faculty director of Berkeley Connect and Berkeley Discover

“It’s so easy to be theoretical,” says Paredes Burgos, reflecting on the experience of being on the ground in Puerto Rico, developing material that ultimately became a student-led course exploring culture, history, and politics. “Here you’re going to be painting houses and planting trees and learning from elders about what they just lived through — and none of it is going to be abstract.”

Berkeley Discover is being launched as a pilot program, following the successful model of Berkeley Connect. The university has invited departments to submit proposals to participate in the initial phase of Discover, with the aim of identifying academic areas that reflect the extraordinary breadth of academic offerings at Berkeley.

“No public university of Berkeley’s size has attempted to scale up a program like this,” says Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research Sean Burns. Burns, who will soon take on a new role directing the Center for Undergraduate Discovery, is working with Rosenblum to implement the pilot phase of Berkeley Discover. In addition to making the Berkeley experience directly reflect the driving passions of its students, Rosenblum and Burns emphasize that the program will significantly leverage our university’s capacity to drive social mobility.

“Acts of discovery — self-initiated projects that create new knowledge — will be a focal point of undergraduate study,” says Chancellor Carol Christ, reflecting on the strategic goals she identified in 2018 and has reiterated as essential to the university’s current campaign. “Every Berkeley student must have the opportunity to engage with the world outside campus and to experience education as a manifestation of their authentic interests.”

Over the course of the next five years, during Berkeley Discover’s pilot phase, Burns and Rosenblum will work with faculty and staff across disciplines to expand, deploy, and assess initial discovery programming. Ultimately Berkeley Connect and Berkeley Discover will form a cohesive framework undergirding the undergraduate experience, positioning every student to step on the path that leads them toward maximum creativity and innovative power. The answers to the question “what did you discover” at Berkeley will be as wide-ranging as the interests of our students and will have significant implications for the vitality of the world we all share.

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