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A custodian, an IT guy - and a slew of advisers - earn students' praise as allies . . . and friends

| 09 November 2005

Introducing Berkeley's 'Everyday Heroes'
Some 200 Berkeley staff and faculty were called "heroes" by undergrad survey respondents. Who asked them -- and why?

• List of staff heroes

Asked to name people in their undergraduate experience who had gone "above and beyond" the call of duty, students most commonly chose staff who work as advisers. That makes sense, because advisers not only illuminate the straightest path through the tangle of campus bureaucracy but pick up the pieces when emotional crises hit, smooth the way with a smile, and reassure undergrads they have the stuff to succeed at Berkeley.

While characterizing heroic acts in broad strokes offers some insight into what brought these staff members to the attention of their student nominators, the details of their stories really tell the tale.

Extraordinary acts


It's a reward in and of itself to be in a position like this to help other people on a daily basis.
- Kristin Bedolla Student Affairs Officer, Sociology
When one student found herself stranded in Grenada, Spain - the airport representatives who informed her that she had missed her flight then wouldn't accept her credit cards to buy a replacement ticket - she frantically began dialing family and friends. "Desperate and in tears," the student wrote, she called Kristi Bedolla, a student-affairs officer in sociology, who readily booked her a flight. "She gave me all of her phone numbers and told me to call her at home if anything went wrong," wrote the student, who adds that Bedolla is "an incredible woman who has always been there for me."

Another survey respondent says that when he came to Berkeley as a freshman, he didn't own a computer and was unable to afford one. Alex Alday, a Student Life Advising Services academic counselor, built the student a PC and sold it to him at a discounted rate. What's more, wrote the student, Alday "has kept me on track to graduate on time and has always been there with letters of recommendation to ensure not only my success at Cal but outside of the institution as well."

Getting admitted is one thing...


I don't do this for the recognition, I do it because I love it and try to make a positive impact on people - that's its own reward.
- Fabrizio Mejia Academic Counselor Coordinator, SLAS
It's no secret that out-of-state tuition at Berkeley is a stretch for many students' finances. One student, frustrated in his attempts to secure resident status, was fortunate enough to have Nate Carroll, a Student Life Advising Services academic coordinator, as an advocate. Carroll accompanied him to the residency office where he'd met with frustration for two weeks running.

"I think that if it wasn't for Nate pushing me to track down the residency officers and reminding me to submit the petition, I still would be a 'non-resident' and paying those fees!" wrote the student. "I don't know
that I'd be in school without Nate's extraordinary helpfulness."

Many respondents wrote that their adviser helped them believe that they could succeed at Berkeley. Fabrizio Mejia, another Student Life Advising Services academic coordinator, provided "moral, spiritual, psychological, and mental support" to a student who was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school. "He has been the key that has allowed me to come this close to being the first in my family to even think of obtaining a college degree," wrote the student. "He has not only done this for me, but for a huge number of students who are fortunate to know him."


When I read the letter from Chancellor Birgeneau, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I was so humbled and honored by the students' recognition
- Teresita Gutierrez Student Affairs Officer, Financial Aid
Helping an undergrad clear a financial-aid hurdle made Teresita Gutierrez, a student advising officer in financial aid, a rock star in that student's book. "Because she speaks Spanish, she was able to get my parents to understand why I needed their tax forms," wrote the first-generation college student. Gutierrez also helped the young woman make good use of her awards and locate housing. "She has been like a second mother, there when I had no one else to cry to and encouraging me to continue my struggles at Cal. By helping me solve my financial worries, she has freed me up to focus on my education."

Burning the midnight oil

What does it mean to be a mentor? Kate Mattson, production manager for theater, dance, and performances studies, has defined one student's notion of that role. Mattson attends each show's technical rehearsals, sometimes staying as late as 1 a.m.; she'll come in on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure that opening night goes smoothly. "Kate has been my mentor during my four years at Cal, and has been kind enough to teach me everything I know about theater and stage management," wrote the student. "I would not be where I am or who I am today if it were not for her continual guidance, wisdom, and incredible generosity."


Theater is a practice. We have the advantage of being able to provide one-on-one interaction with students, which is really rewarding both for student and teacher.
- Kate Mattson Production Manager, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies
Ted Moore, acting director of UC Jazz Ensembles, also burns the midnight oil for students, staying late to make sure rehearsals are going well and that students and instructors are "both happy and satisfied." One young musician appreciates how far Moore's commitment extends beyond his defined duties as director:

"Ted gets to know everyone who walks through the UC Jazz doors. He knows everything about us - including our musical tastes and styles, our career aspirations, and our midterm woes. He puts in extra amounts of time and effort to ensure that each of us has a valuable musical experience, even taking on more teaching time to accommodate our schedules."

A guardian angel and a superhero

Having a disability adds an extra set of challenges to getting through college. One student in the Disabled Students' Program found her "guardian angel" in Connie Chiba, the coordinator of that office.

"Connie met with me at least once a month," she wrote, "often more, making sure that I knew all my professors, that my homework was done, and wanting to know all the details about my health and how I was doing. She walked me step by step through every loophole and bureaucratic process in the school related to academic standing, the Career Center, illness-related accommodations in my classes. I know from talking to others that Connie does this for every student she meets. She is not only a very trusted and wonderful adviser, but also my friend."

One student dubbed undergraduate social-welfare undergraduateassistant Sherman Boyson "a superhero in disguise," adding that "he even calls students on their birthdays." Wrote another: "I was ready to give up. I was homesick for my children and grandchildren, befuddled by the aggravation of financial aid, and overwhelmed by the prevailing superiority of many Cal students. Then I scheduled an appointment with Sherman Boyson. He polished my ego, assuring me I deserved to be where I was, and that I could do the work. I found my home at Cal, declared my major, and gained a lifelong friend. Sherman goes far above and beyond in pushing, prodding, assisting, and cajoling - he is the heartbeat for the social welfare program, and a mentor to so many."

Lifesavers


We do the work we do for the students - to see them succeed and thrive.
- Michele de Coteau Director, Multicultural Engineering Program
For one student whose first year was "like hell," Michele de Coteau, director of the Charles Tunstall Multicultural Engineering Program, made a critical difference. "Without her help, I might have killed myself," disclosed the student, who, in addition to suffering from an emotional illness, felt rejected by other students in his program. With de Coteau's help, the student is getting psychological assistance at the Tang Center. "Michele opened my eyes and gave me hope. I was ready to give up - not just on Berkeley but my whole life. Thanks so much to Michele, I am still alive. Berkeley is also for me."

A student who had become addicted to prescription medication and whose roommate in the dorms had an eating disorder found a lifesaver in Amy Utstein, an undergraduate adviser in the comparative literature department. "More than anything, Amy was concerned for my emotional state," wrote the student, who credits Utstein as the reason she didn't drop out of school. "She'd show her concern and ask me to come by even if it was just to talk."

Utstein kept tabs on the student by e-mail, sometimes calling her weekly - even after the student decided to major in another department. "She constantly pushed me to remember that, more than anything, 'I must protect my happiness.' As simple as the phrase seems, it was important to me because it forced me to remember that I was in school for me, and not to take care of my roommate or to please my parents, but to develop my passions to their fullest potential....Now I am on my way to graduation with a solid GPA."

Dealing with the 'endless muck'

All heroic acts are not writ large. One student who works for the ASUC Auxiliary wrote that David Fullmer, an analyst for ASUC's information-systems department, always takes the time to talk to and advise him and other undergrads. "David gives you real advice, instead of telling you what he thinks you want to hear. There isn't one single or major thing that David has done for me, but there are hundreds of little things....David makes me feel important when I am around him."

Another student recognized the quiet contribution of Gilberta Fortini, "an amazing human being granted far too little respect," who works as a custodian in Unit 4 for the Residential and Student Services Program. "'It is a crying shame that the custodial staff is so poorly treated and underappreciated," wrote the undergrad. "With her sparkling wit and quick-minded, genuine personality, Gilberta has made a great friend to many of us residents." The student bemoaned the limited number of vacation days afforded Fortini, who "deals each day with the endless muck and mire left lazily for her disposal, and longingly wishes to take a nice, long, relaxing trip to Florida. And still, each day she continues on, making life for my fellow students and me sanitary, bearable; without applause, without ado, without a gracious thanks at all."

Coming next: GSI heroes