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Students and Faculty on the Phone To Boost Minority Enrollment at Berkeley
Volunteers Place Calls to More Than 1,500 Prospective Freshmen and Transfers

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted April 14, 1999

Photo: Jesus Ayala

Freshman Jesus Ayala of the Raza Recruitment and Retention Center. Noah Berger photo.

Jesus Ayala, a Berkeley freshman majoring in political science and mass communications, picked up the phone and called the next person on his list. After a couple of rings, he reached "Joe" (not his real name), a Latino high school senior recently admitted to Berkeley.

When asked if he was considering enrolling at Berkeley, Joe admitted he was leaning more toward Johns Hopkins or UC San Diego, where he had also been accepted.

But after 23 minutes on the phone with Ayala, Joe decided that Berkeley was the place for him.

"He was surprised that I was calling him," said the 19-year-old Ayala. "I think having a personal, one-on-one conversation with him really made a difference regarding his decision to come here."

Ayala and 155 other students of color have volunteered to call each of the 1,500 African Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Filipinos admitted to Berkeley for the 1999-2000 school year. The calls are part of an overall campus effort to boost minority enrollment at Berkeley.

"These recently admitted students are very high achievers, and the competition among other elite institutions, such as Harvard and Stanford, is fierce," said Roberto Rivera, recruitment coordinator in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. "Having current students talk to prospective students is one of the most effective means to get them to come to Berkeley."

The questions Joe asked Ayala were typical of most recent admits: What are the dorms like? What kind of financial aid can I get? What is the campus atmosphere like? What kind of jobs are available?

Ayala shared his knowledge of housing options, financial aid, the nuances of Berkeley's neighborhoods, how classes are structured and the campus' reputation as one of the top research universities in the world. He described Berkeley's open-minded and tolerant atmosphere, especially compared to Joe's native Orange County.

"I'm allowed to work in a campus office with my lip pierced," Jesus said proudly.

Joe also asked what it felt like to be a Latino at Berkeley. Ayala said it's sometimes hard, but the numerous campus support services for minorities, like the student-run Raza Recruitment and Retention Center, of which Ayala is a member, make it easier.

Ayala and his fellow volunteers also use the phone calls to invite recent admits to Cal Day Saturday, April 17, where they can learn more about Berkeley by attending recruitment receptions, lectures and workshops.

While the phone calls from student volunteers are very effective, not every admit is convinced he or she should come to Berkeley by the time the phone conversation ends. Those who are undecided, or say they've chosen another school, are matched with campus faculty in their area of academic interest. The professors then call these students, hoping to change their minds about Berkeley.

"The campus can seem like a cold place from afar. I think it is reassuring for them to hear from faculty," said Caroline Kane, a professor of molecular and cell biology. During her conversations with admits, she explains departmental requirements and coursework as well as scholarships and academic support services available to students.

Though the prospective students rarely ask her about a scarcity of minorities on campus, Kane said she can tell it's on their minds. "Even if we don't talk about it specifically, these phone calls send an important message to these kids: Berkeley is committed to diversity on campus."


April 14 - 20 (Volume 27, Number 30)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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