Discovery Initiative reimagines the student journey

UC Berkeley provides its undergraduates with an extraordinary education, along with ways to participate firsthand in research, creative expression, and other exceptional extracurricular experiences. Learning about such opportunities, and having access to and time to pursue them, can be a challenge for students.

That’s why the campus is investing in the Berkeley Discovery Initiative in order to make life-changing, out-of-class experiences widely available and equitable. By emphasizing endeavors that provide meaning, passion, and purpose, Berkeley Discovery aspires to make each undergraduate’s academic journey be about much more than a degree and a diploma.

The initiative conceives of the academic journey as an arc of discovery that encompasses three successive phases: connect, immerse, and culminate. The connect phase ensures that students become aware of potential resources and opportunities throughout their time on campus. Immersion occurs when students dive deeper into courses that fuel intellectual passion with active learning, and when they dedicate energy to a particular group or project. Finally, the arc culminates with a uniquely personal fusion of academic and personal interests — expressed perhaps through original research, artistic creation, community-engaged service, or by launching a business.

Here are the stories of three Cal students to illustrate potential paths for a discovery journey.

Connect: Kendall Archie ’22

As a transfer student and student parent, Kendall Archie ’22 had less time to discover his Berkeley experience. “It’s kind of like being on a blind date and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he recalls. Archie felt lost at first and unsure of where to turn. So, he set out to explore campus on his own, follow his curiosity, and ask lots of questions of peers, graduate student instructors, and faculty.

He also participated in Berkeley Connect, a campus program that places undergraduates in a small group of peers with a graduate student mentor. Archie’s cohort consisted of fellow nontraditional students with some common life experiences. Berkeley Connect elevated his level of comfort and confidence, and conversations with his cohort encouraged Archie to follow his curiosity about aquatic ecosystems and major in conservation and resource studies.

Taking Professor Bree Rosenblum’s course “Global Change Biology” opened Archie’s eyes to potential research opportunities in conservation and ecology. He applied to the Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research program (SPUR) and was selected to help graduate student researcher Rachael Ryan conduct video analysis of juvenile salmon foraging behavior. The following semester, Archie’s research experience was enhanced by being able to work with Ryan at her Lagunitas Creek field site, snorkeling among the fish he had previously seen onscreen.

Archie may next pursue a graduate degree in order to fulfill a dream of deep-ocean exploration or other opportunities in aquatic conservation. His advice to other students struggling to make a connection at Berkeley: “Although it feels daunting at first, there are possibilities that are out there that pertain to your specific passion.”

Immerse: Lekha Duvvoori ’23

Lekha Duvvoori ’23 arrived at Berkeley knowing that she would study mechanical engineering. She is completing an aerospace engineering concentration and earning a minor in linguistics. Duvvoori gravitated toward engineering after realizing in high school that she loved working with her hands and was fond of robotics. During a program for prospective Cal students hosted by the Society of Women Engineers, Duvvoori was drawn to the display of a student-built, solar-powered vehicle.

At that moment, Duvvoori decided to get involved with CalSol, the club that designs, builds, and races solar cars. In her first semester, she also joined Cal Origami and Cal Climbing, but her dedication to CalSol has been central to Duvvoori’s student journey. “Throwing myself into CalSol was an insane amount of time and work,” she says, “but I just learned so much more from it than I ever would have from just being in classes.”

Duvvoori spent most weekends and many evenings helping the team construct its first cruiser-class solar car, named Tachyon, relishing the skills she was learning in collaborative design and prototyping, as well as the chance to put her hands to work. After freshman year, Duvvoori also got to put her hands on the wheel and compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Tachyon finished in second place. “Getting to drive this car that dozens of Berkeley students had spent years designing and building….made me so proud to represent the team,” she says. She took off the fall 2019 semester and traveled to Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, where Duvvoori drove Tachyon in a road race across the continent.

“[W]hen I first came to Berkeley, I never thought I would have had any of these experiences,” says Duvvoori. Many peers in her major limited their Berkeley experience to intense classwork and study, but she believes that having a base of experiences outside of the classroom provides a firmer foundation as students venture into the real world and begin work.

Culminate: Vivian Bui ’22

Like Lekha Duvvoori, Vivian Bui ’22 made a point of seeking out her campus community. She attended every event during freshman Golden Bear Orientation and sampled several student clubs to see what might click. At a student fair, Bui learned about The Suitcase Clinic, a humanitarian student organization that provides free health and social services to Berkeley’s unsheltered and underserved populations.

Academically drawn in different directions — from social entrepreneurship to business administration to health care policy — Bui began to realize as she learned more about The Suitcase Clinic that it was possible to combine these varied interests into a fulfilling career. She decided on a double major in public health and molecular and cell biology, with a minor in global poverty and practice.

Since spring 2019, Bui has held a range of volunteer roles at The Suitcase Clinic with increasing responsibilities, eventually becoming a director for one of three clinics. When she had to focus on her coursework, Bui felt less present and engaged. While working at The Suitcase Clinic, she witnessed the real-world relevance of public health principles she discussed in class. “It’s been probably the most important thing I’ve done in college,” Bui says. The clinic work taught Bui how to think on her feet, be adaptable in uncomfortable situations, and build trust-based relationships with communities that our health care system has neglected.

“Reflecting back on my past four years, I’m really proud of myself…but I’m most proud of the things I got involved with outside of class.” By effectively integrating her intellectual work on campus with its application in clinical services, Bui culminated her undergraduate career. She’ll return to campus in the fall to begin an M.P.H. program in epidemiology and biostatistics, the next step on her journey toward a professional career as a physician-scientist.

Find more information on Berkeley Discovery on their website.

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