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IDEAL scholars praise program's support for learning, diversity

| 03 June 2005


Chancellor and Mary Catherine Birgeneau on the steps of University House with IDEAL scholars (from left) Ijeoma Okeigwe, Corrine Van Hook, and Alexandrea Creer. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
At a University House reception in their honor late last month, three graduating seniors who also are the first graduates of IDEAL, a unique diversity scholarship program on campus, gave tributes and thanks to the people behind their college success.

"Without this program, I would not be here," said Corrine Van Hook, one of the three grads, of the Initiative for Diversity in Education and Leadership. "IDEAL is not just a source of funding. They have allowed me to feel distinct and special, and inspired me to overcome doubt that I have faced."

At the reception, Chancellor Birgeneau praised the privately funded scholarship and leadership-development program for Bay Area African American, Latino, and Native American students. There are 32 IDEAL scholars currently at Berkeley, including the three graduating seniors. This fall, another eight students will join the program as freshmen.

"I've been very outspoken about how much damage Prop. 209 has done to the whole UC system and UC Berkeley in particular," said Birgeneau. "IDEAL is a way of addressing that. It's a workable solution in this post-209 world."

The IDEAL program is funded by the Level Playing Field Institute, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Berkeley alumna Freada Kapor Klein and her husband, Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp. Klein and three other Berkeley graduates created the IDEAL scholarship program, originally known as the Bay Area Scholarship Awards, in 2001.

IDEAL scholarships range from $2,000 to $8,500 for an academic year, replacing the loan and work/study portion of financial aid that the students receive. In addition, the scholars are mentored through a comprehensive support program, which includes a computer loan program, bi-monthly meetings with IDEAL staff and other scholars, tutors as needed, an annual leadership retreat, and summer-internship assistance.

At the reception, another of the three graduates, Ijeoma Okeigwe, emphasized the supportive nature of the IDEAL program.

"I really love this program, and I'm also appreciative of the sense of community it has," said Okeigwe, who grew up in Martinez, majored in molecular and cell biology at Berkeley, and plans to go to medical school. "It has helped me develop another dimension of my personality — my leadership potential. I've come to realize that IDEAL continues to challenge us to step up and be fearless."

Also at the ceremony — and visibly moved by the scholars' remarks — were Klein and Kapor.

"It's amazing. As we often say, all we do is open the door, and they blaze through it in all their glory," Klein said of the scholars, who came up to her at the reception for hugs and to say hello. "It's humbling and an honor to work with them."

Mark Richards, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences in L&S, thanked the graduating seniors and the other IDEAL scholars in the audience for deciding to attend Berkeley.

"We're very proud to have you here," he said. "You are very, very, important to us. Your lives are defined by the circumstances you find yourselves in, and the choices you make, and I promise you, you will not regret this choice."

Alexandrea Creer, an English major with plans to be a school superintendent, said she and the other IDEAL scholarship recipients now leaving Berkeley are poised to continue to make a difference in the world.

"This program means a lot — not only to the graduates," she said at the reception. "This program does a lot to put conscientious individuals out there to create a change. Thank you."