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Students bring Cal to Sacramento for UC Day

– Whose voices do legislators really hear? Hundreds of people flood the state capitol daily to lobby officials; legislators have thousands of opinions to choose from - but which ones make it to the top of the list?

Over the past two days, UC Berkeley students joined the chorus at the state capitol. Accompanied by alumni, staff and faculty of the 10 University of California campuses, students congregated in Sacramento to participate in the annual UC Day, hosted by the Alumni Association of the University of California and the Office of Government Affairs. The purpose of the conference is to strengthen relations and communication lines between UC and the state government.

 John Garamendi and Scott Tercero
California Insurance Commissioner (and former Cal football player) John Garamendi shares a laugh with a current member of the Berkeley team, senior Scott Tercero. (Puneet Kakkar photos)
 

In light of the ongoing budget crisis, the conference provided an opportunity for campus representatives to discuss important issues facing the University. More importantly, it brought the essence of Berkeley - its students - to Sacramento. "Students are by far our best ambassadors as we fight to maintain support for the University," said Laura Capps, UC Berkeley's Director of Government Affairs.

While the event was intended to present the UC system as a united front, there were parts that were just for the Berkeley contingent - more than 40 delegates from around the state, plus students and campus administrators. On Monday evening, Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl spoke at a dinner of Berkeley students and alumni, along with more than a dozen state officials, and discussed UC Berkeley's impact on the state of California. State Insurance Commissioner (and 1966 Cal alum) John Garamendi expressed his hopes that UC efforts in Sacramento would focus on students and the future. "The budget crisis is not just about today," Garamendi said, "but how we are going to set California as the state leader for future generations."

In the interest of keeping students at the forefront in Sacramento, the office of Government Affairs focused the Berkeley agenda on student participation and involvement. Setting the tone was UC Berkeley student Timoteo Rodriguez, a community college transfer. He inspired the Berkeley team with his story of how - through UC outreach, community college programs and research opportunities - Berkeley has helped him succeed, despite challenges at home. He then wished that all students could help represent UC to the state, because "It's the students that really know the realities of life." Rodriguez is a McNair and Haas Scholar, and has received a Chancellor's Fellowship to pursue a PhD in anthropology at Berkeley.

Chancellor Berdahl at UC Day
Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl (left) chats with UC Irvine student Tammy Vui and state Sen. Tom Torlakson at UC Day.
 

Students also were key members of the lobbying teams that met with state legislators on Tuesday to share their experiences at UC Berkeley and discuss how budget cuts have affected them. Assemblymember Carol Liu, a Cal alum and member of the UC Berkeley Board of Trustees, said that "for these students, it is a beginning step for their lifetimes here, and I encourage them to continue." Because of Liu's consistent support of the University, she was recognized by UC President Richard Atkinson as one of three UC Legislators of the Year.

Homero Magaņa, a third-year Berkeley student majoring in psychology, met with legislators to defend programs that have shaped his undergraduate experience. He said his aim was to give legislators an accurate understanding of how the decisions made in Sacramento affect students, to "make sure they understand."

Legislators welcomed the student involvement. Sen. Jim Battin spent an extra hour with UC Berkeley student delegate Sofia Diaz - one of his constituents - to discuss her views on outreach as well as her plans for the future. Other legislators took the time to give a tour of the Capitol Assembly and Senate floors.

To conclude the event, University officials presented top undergraduate researchers, who were commended by Gov. Gray Davis for their contributions to the University and to the welfare of California.

The Berkeley team's efforts registered with their Sacramento hosts. After talking with Berkeley students, Sen. Tom Torlakson, a Cal alum and Cal parent, remarked, "It's inspiring to see students involved; they inspire me. The power of strong ideas is a way to a brighter future."