“The Light the Way campaign brings philanthropy to the service of Berkeley’s public mission,” says Chancellor Carol T. Christ, reflecting on the university’s storied commitment to advancing the collective good and increasing access to opportunity. “That is why it is particularly thrilling to celebrate reaching our audacious fundraising goal of $6 billion with a gift that deepens and broadens participation in our democracy.”
The $1 million investment by an anonymous donor makes it possible for students from diverse backgrounds to gain direct experience in the workings of government and to begin building careers in public service. Moved by the legacy of California Congressman Robert Matsui ’63, the donor chose to enhance the Matsui Center’s offerings with a new program that provides funding and training for Berkeley students who complete a 10-week summer internship in Washington D.C.
Born in Sacramento in 1941, just six months before Pearl Harbor, Robert Matsui and his family were sent to Tule Lake incarceration camp. After graduating from Berkeley, he went on to serve on the Sacramento City Council and then 14 terms in Congress, beginning in 1979. Rather than rejecting the system that restricted his family’s choices, Matsui dedicated his life to public service.
“We want the daughter of a farm worker to serve in government alongside the daughter of a pediatrician. Just imagine what students from California’s Central Valley can bring to national discussions of agricultural policy or climate change.” — Professor Cristina Mora
At a time when our country is facing a moment of reckoning regarding the meaning and expression of democracy, encouraging participation in the systems of government is of the utmost importance. The Matsui Washington D.C. Scholars Program, which involves a partnership with the Public Service Center’s Cal in the Capital program, includes an introductory course, funding for travel and living expenses, a summer research project, mentoring by graduate students and Berkeley alums, and networking opportunities, so that students can take full advantage of their summer public service internships in the nation’s capital.
“Gifts like this make Berkeley’s public mission real,” says Cristina Mora, a professor of sociology and co-director of the Institute for Governmental Studies (IGS), reflecting on the impact of the gift and the new program. She emphasizes that the Matsui Scholars Program removes barriers to accessing political power and upends assumptions about belonging. “IGS’s goal is to make public service accessible to all Berkeley students. We want the daughter of a farm worker to serve in government alongside the daughter of a pediatrician. Just imagine what students from California’s Central Valley can bring to national discussions of agricultural policy or climate change.”
For Eric Schickler, a professor of political science and Mora’s co-director at IGS, the program, which is open to students in all majors, advances the institute’s efforts to draw students from diverse academic and social backgrounds. By providing an introductory course and wraparound support, the Matsui Scholars Program encourages undergraduates to see themselves as participants in building a more inclusive and equitable society.
“The holistic support that the Matsui Scholars Program provides enhances the university’s existing D.C.-based internship programs. Students take a course beforehand, learn how politics work, and gain multiple perspectives,” says Schickler, noting that the program connects undergraduates to graduate student instructors who help them pursue research related to their internship experience and communicate their findings to a broad audience.
The new program builds on the success of the Matsui Center’s existing Democracy Camps, which bring students to Sacramento and to Washington D.C. for a week-long exploration of the workings of state and federal politics. For students such as Jennifer Ramirez ’23, Democracy Camp was an eye-opener.
A daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Hayward, Ramirez is the first in her family to attend college. After she participated in the Sacramento camp, an unexpected opportunity to serve as student director of the D.C. camp led her to the nation’s capital, where she toured Congress and the White House and networked with Berkeley alums who are working in government and public service. Inspired by what she learned, Ramirez is currently participating in UCDC, a UC-wide, semester-long program that enables students to focus on internships in public service while taking two classes, rather than a full course load. She is pursuing an internship at the Urban Libraries Council, building her knowledge of education policy and critical issues such as digital literacy.
“The Matsui Center’s programs helped me to see why a voice like mine is so important in spaces like this, and how I could make change at the federal level.” — Jennifer Ramirez ’23
“I have learned that if you know how to read, write, and think critically about issues you can really situate yourself in any aspect of public service,” says Ramirez, an economics major and public policy minor whose current plans include pursuing a career as an analyst focused on equity in education and immigration. “The Matsui Center’s programs helped me to see why a voice like mine is so important in spaces like this, and how I could make change at the federal level. Now I’m ready to obtain the skills I need to go into the workplace and start changing things.”
Ramirez sums up her work as a project of becoming her best self so that she can help others. She might be describing the essence of the Light the Way campaign — together with our community, we are aiming to bring forth the best of Berkeley, so that people from all backgrounds can shine.