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UC Berkeley Web Feature

IDEAL scholars praise program's support for learning, diversity

– Three graduating seniors from the University of California, Berkeley, who also are the first graduates of a unique diversity scholarship program on campus, gave moving tributes and heartfelt thanks last Friday to the people behind their college success.

Birgeneaus with IDEAL graduates
Chancellor Birgeneau and his wife, Mary Catherine, on the steps of University House with IDEAL scholars (from left) Ijeoma Okeigwe, Corrine Van Hook and Alexandrea Creer. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

The three women, who credited their achievements to Initiative for Diversity in Education and Leadership (IDEAL) scholarships, spoke at a reception held in their honor at the home of Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau.

"Without this program, I would not be here," said Corrine Van Hook, one of the three graduates, at the University House event. "IDEAL is not just a source of funding. They have allowed me to feel distinct and special . they have inspired me to overcome doubt that I have faced."

Van Hook, who was raised in Hayward and lives in Oakland, majored in political science and now plans to attend law school.

At the reception, Birgeneau praised the privately-funded scholarship and leadership development program for Bay Area African American, Latino and Native American students at UC Berkeley. There are 32 IDEAL scholars currently at UC 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," Birgeneau said. "IDEAL is a way of addressing that. It's a workable solution in this post-209 world."

Proposition 209, passed by state voters in 1996, made it illegal for public universities to consider sex or race as a factor in admissions or hiring. At UC Berkeley, there has been a significant drop in the number of underrepresented students admitted since 209 went into effect.

Birgeneau also said that, ultimately, Prop. 209 hurts the entire population of the state because of its impact on students. "One way or another, this has to be reversed," he said.

The IDEAL program is funded by the Level Playing Field Institute, a non-profit organization co-founded by UC Berkeley alumna Freada Kapor Klein and her husband, Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp. and the designer of the Lotus 1-2-3 software application. Klein and three other UC Berkeley graduates created the IDEAL scholarship program, originally known as the Bay Area Scholarship Awards, in 2001.

Klein said the idea for IDEAL presented itself at her first meeting as a member of the executive board of the College of Letters and Science at UC Berkeley, when statistics were announced showing a significant drop in underrepresented students as a result of Prop. 209. She and a few others at the meeting immediately got together to form what would become the IDEAL scholarship program.

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 at UC Berkeley in molecular and cell biology and plans to go to medical school. "It has helped me to 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 UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, thanked the graduating seniors and the other IDEAL scholars in the audience for deciding to attend UC Berkeley.

"We're very proud to have you here," he said, noting that the scholars had a 3.5 G.P.A. upon graduating. "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 UC 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."