$3.5 million from Osher Foundation endows Incentive Awards Program at UC Berkeley

by Jose Rodriguez

Berkeley -- In a move that will open doors for generations of disadvantaged teenagers, the Bernard Osher Foundation is giving $3.5 million to the University of California at Berkeley, to endow an innovative program for academically talented students.

The gift is for the Incentive Awards Program, one of UC Berkeley's most highly regarded outreach programs. It targets students who show exceptional academic promise and leadership potential in the face of great social and economic hardship.

Under the program, one UC-eligible student from each of San Francisco's 13 academic public high schools is admitted to UC Berkeley with a four-year, $24,000 scholarship and additional funding to fully support need. The gift brings the program to within $500,000 of being endowed in perpetuity. It also helps free the university to pursue resources to expand the model effort to the East Bay and potentially other locations.

For many of the incoming freshmen in next year's program, going to college is a milestone of near-miraculous proportions, given their family and personal tribulations.

Rosa Castaneda grew up in a hard-working immigrant household in which higher education is considered a luxury‹her father has labored as a farmworker and her mother is a maid. The Mission High School senior, who tutors at one of the city's housing projects, works three days a week, and earns excellent grades, would like to use a UC Berkeley education to help others: "I would like to be a teacher so I can show kids that their faraway dreams are within reach through hard work."

Other examples of academic success against steep odds abound. Mariko Blake, from Wallenberg High School, was raised by a single parent in a biracial family struggling to make ends meet. Laura Leung, of George Washington High School, lost her father when she was 10 and has excelled academically while being active in school, volunteering and holding down jobs.

Since 1992, the program has promoted access to UC Berkeley to eligible students, regardless of race or gender, who are disadvantaged. Once on campus, the students serve as mentors and visit their former high schools to encourage other teenagers to pursue higher education.

The outreach efforts have had a big impact on UC Berkeley's application rates, with freshmen enrollments from San Francisco public high schools surging 67 percent since 1990, when outreach efforts began. The program is credited with bolstering the rate, since many of the new enrollees have also been Incentive Award applicants and finalists.

The program is a key part of Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien's innovative "Berkeley Pledge," which aims to improve outreach to the state's schoolchildren. As such, it also honors the spirit of policies of the UC Board of Regents to eliminate race and gender as factors in admission, while focusing on improving outreach to the K­12 schools.

In honor of the $3.5 million gift, the University will name the model program in San Francisco the Osher Foundation Incentive Awards Program. The gift is on top of another donation of $260,000 last year to fund entirely the 13 students enrolled in the current freshman class.

The Bernard Osher Foundation was created in 1978, with a focus on funding education. The foundation was formed by San Francisco businessman Bernard Osher; his wife, Barbro Osher, is its president.

The first class of Incentive Award students is graduating from UC Berkeley this spring, just as another class of 13 students prepares for enrollment to the university. A gala dinner honoring the newest Incentive Award recipients‹and the naming of the program for the Osher Foundation‹will be held Saturday, June 8 in San Francisco's Sheraton Palace Hotel.

Chancellor Tien, honorary chair of the program, will host the event, featuring Dr. Alvin Poussaint as keynote speaker. Poussaint is a Harvard psychiatrist and one of the nation's foremost authorities on the influences affecting inner-city youth.

The Incentive Awards program is one of UC Berkeley's highest priorities in its upcoming capital campaign, set to be launched this fall.

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