‘Sitting in the middle of all this richness’
Anne Repp’s ‘long, different life’ has taken her to Pakistan and Namibia (as well as Pasadena and Chapel Hill). Now she’s in Berkeley, helping students compete for prizes, and feeling quite at home
| 17 November 2004
(Wendy Edelstein photo)
There’s no typical day in her job but a kind of annual, cyclical rhythm largely determined by the deadlines for 26 prizes and four University Awards she oversees. “I get to work with the cream of the cream,” says Repp.
The name of the office in which Repp works is a slight misnomer, because many of the prizes it manages are open to undergraduates and graduates alike. The prizes range from ones with relatively modest $50 cash awards to others that dangle up to $5,000 in enticements.
Likewise, the office doesn’t manage each and every prize and honor a student may go after. Most academic departments on campus sponsor competitions for which only their own majors are eligible. The prizes Repp coordinates are those for which students in any major can apply. (For example, any willing student can tackle the Herculean task confronting competitors for the Marianne McDonald Greek Composition Prize, which entails translating a passage of 500 words of “formal English prose” into “an appropriate classical Greek style.” )
The majority of the prize deadlines cluster at the end of January and early February. It’s part of Repp’s job to recruit judges for each of the competitions, most of whom are from the faculty. Sometimes a faculty member will agree to judge a prize two years in a row, because, says Repp, “they love seeing all the entries.”
At the same time of year, Repp’s office, the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, becomes “bathed in creativity — musical scores, CDs, photographs, poems, Greek and Latin translations. It’s incredible,” she says. “I just feel like I’m sitting in the middle of all this richness.” She can’t hold onto it, though: All of the winning entries eventually become part of the Bancroft Library’s archives. Repp returns the supporting materials to those students who didn’t win a prize.
Repp also oversees several writing contests for students who excel in poetry, prose, and nonfiction. Every May she hosts an event in the Morrison Library at which students give two-minute readings of their prizewinning work to family and friends.
“The event is more wonderful than it sounds,” says Repp, “because a lot of these students have not gotten recognition for their writing before.” In fact, the father of one writing contest winner told her last year that his son had majored in math because, as Repp recalls the exchange, “he was good at it and didn’t know what else to major in. Getting this prize expanded his horizons and helped him realize he could do other things.”
Repp also coordinates the University Awards, four honors that recognize undergraduate students for their academic achievement or outstanding service.
The University Medal, the best known of the University Awards, is conferred upon the campus’s most distinguished graduating senior after he or she goes through an intensive screening process.
That process begins early in September, when the Registrar’s Office identifies seniors who have met the preliminary requirements for the award, including a GPA of at least 3.96 and a meaningful number of units completed on the Berkeley campus. Repp, as the official representative of the Committee on Prizes, then contacts the students to inform them of their eligibility and confirm that they will be graduating in the spring. During February the Committee on Prizes, a cross-disciplinary group of seven faculty members and two students, reviews the applications, transcripts, and essays of the students who have chosen to compete. Finally, in April, the interview process begins.
“Part of the pleasure of my job is getting to know the candidates for the University Medal,” says Repp, who keeps time during each tightly scheduled interview, then exits 15 minutes before its planned ending to greet the next candidate outside the conference room.
The interviews themselves are “thrilling,” she says, because the committee is very familiar with each candidate’s curriculum vitae, and the conversations are like “a really high-level dialogue. You know that all of the finalists — no matter whether they win or not — are going to go out and do great things with their lives,” she says.
From L.A. to Berkeley, and exotic points between
Anne Repp has done a few great things, too, with what she calls her “long, different life.” Born in Hollywood, she grew up mainly in Santa Barbara and Pasadena. Her educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of Utah and, years later, a master’s degree in creative writing from John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill.
Her former husband worked as a diplomat for the United Nations. When his work took the family to Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1979, Repp became involved as a consultant to the U.N.’s High Commission on Refugees. The American community in Islamabad came under attack during their stay, after a rumor circulated that the CIA had desecrated Holy Qaaba, a sacred shrine in Mecca. Repp and her family fled in the middle of the night to New York, where she was hired soon thereafter by UNICEF to investigate outdated policies that no longer addressed the problems of staff living in what she describes as “impossibly primitive conditions” in the developing world.
That UNICEF project led to consulting on a variety of social issues for the United Nations off and on for a decade. During that period Repp also worked for U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman and as a special assistant to Ethel Kennedy.
“My life hasn’t been about a career trajectory,” explains Repp, “with one job preparing me for the next career. My primary goal was to provide some stability for my daughters while earning a living along the way.”
Her work for the U.N. took her to many countries between 1979 and 1990, including India, Pakistan, Colombia, Mexico, and Kenya. During her final assignment for the U.N. she was stationed in Namibia, where she was charged by UNICEF with creating an infrastructure for their programs there. “It was really an exciting time” to be in Namibia, says Repp, because the country was transitioning to independence after 75 years of British rule.
When she returned to the States from Namibia, Repp, who had broken her leg while on assignment, moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., where it was her plan to recuperate with a friend until her cast was removed. Once she was walking again without the aid of crutches, she figured, it would be time to secure another U.N. assignment.
But eight months passed, and by the end of that time Repp had decided that she “no longer wanted to be a nomad.” Through a series of fortuitous events she became the special-events coordinator for the University of North Carolina’s bicentennial celebration. Three years of planning went into the nine-month celebration, by the end of which, Repp says, the university “felt like my playground, because I got to know almost everybody on campus.”
Several years ago, one of Repp’s two daughters, both of whom live in Berkeley, had a baby. With that, she quit her job and moved here to be a hands-on grandmother. In need of a job, Repp applied for, and secured, her current position.
Repp says that her own rich experiences have given her a real appreciation for the students she meets at Berkeley. “They’re the next wave,” says Repp, “and they’re already doing very remarkable things.”