Ribbon cuttingRibbon cutting for Berkeley Engineering's new welcome center. From left to right: Kara Nelson, Lisa Pruitt, Tsu-Jae Liu (Dean), Cody Yanna, Oski, Niraj Ganesh, Anvita Nigam and Connie Mi. (Photo by Adam Lau, Berkeley Engineering)

ESS turns 10, Bechtel becomes a welcome center

New center will help visitors and students learn what the college has to offer

October 7, 2019 by Linda Vu

Prep studentsPREP students present their design project. (Photo by Laura Vogt, Berkeley Engineering)The heart of Berkeley Engineering for students is expanding. On the 10th anniversary of Engineering Student Services (ESS), the Bechtel Engineering Center will also become the site of Berkeley Engineering’s Welcome Center, a place where visitors and prospective students can come to learn about everything the college has to offer.

Bechtel’s renovated spaces – including high-definition monitors, new flooring, a fresh coat of paint and more seating – will be unveiled at a community celebration on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

“By fostering a more welcoming and supportive environment for learning and discovery, we can unlock the full potential of our students – and our collective potential as a community of scholars,” said Tsu-Jae King Liu, dean and Roy W. Carlson professor of engineering at Berkeley.

ESS was created a decade ago to provide a more cohesive, comprehensive support system for all Berkeley Engineering students. For the first time, academic advising and student programs were brought under the same roof, essentially creating a one-stop shop where students could get information about classes, tutoring and advice from their peers. Students can also make appointments to meet with psychologists from University Health Services and counselors from the campus Career Center at ESS.

“I think the fewer barriers that we place in front of students, the more likely they’ll be to take advantage of support services, the more connected to the services they’ll be, and the more likely they will be to succeed,” said Sharon Mueller, ESS director of advising and policy. “Having advising, tutoring, career counseling and mental health professionals all in the same place means that I can walk these students down a hall and introduce them to these resources, rather than suggest to them to go across campus to access these things and not know whether they actually follow through.”

In the past decade, ESS programs have expanded significantly. In addition to peer advising and tutoring, there is now a lending program where students can borrow textbooks and laptops for class, as well as suits for job interviews. There is a first-generation mentorship program for students who are the first in their families to attend university. Summer bridge programs, called PREP and T-PREP, prepare students with nontraditional backgrounds to tackle the academic rigors of Berkeley Engineering and to successfully navigate the job recruiting process.

Additionally, programs like Engineering Scholars as Engaged Scholars give incoming freshman and transfer students an opportunity to do research that combines their engineering interests with social justice issues. And, engineering excellence workshops offer students advice about how make the most of their time at Berkeley Engineering.

“What we try to instill in our students is the four Cs: community among peers; collaboration to learn together and to teach and support each other; cultural capital to navigate Berkeley as a whole as well as the professional world; and confidence to achieve their goals and realize their potential,” said Marvin Lopez, ESS director of student programs. “I’ve seen the difference in the core students that we serve, those that may not have had the same resources and preparation as their peers coming to Berkeley. After taking advantage of our resources, they’re studying abroad, doing research and getting summer internships.”

In the past academic year, approximately 80% of the undergraduate student population utilized ESS services, and students visited the center more than 19,000 times. ESS is currently developing a new website that will be launched in 2020 to make it easier for students to learn about and access the many resources available to them. The college is also funding the hiring of additional staff for ESS, including a learning specialist and psychological counselors.

“When ESS was created, we wanted to make it possible for all our students, not just those who come from an educationally privileged background, to succeed in the College of Engineering. We wanted to provide services that would make our engineering program easier to navigate so that students could succeed, so that they would graduate well prepared to pursue advanced degrees or go on to successful careers,” said Fiona Doyle, who was the executive associate dean of engineering at the founding of ESS.

“Ten years later, the ESS program has grown in its support of students thanks to many staff members along the way, including former student adviser Mary Howell, former associate dean for student affairs Oscar Dubón and former engineering dean Shankar Sastry, who had the vision for what this could be – the student heart of Berkeley Engineering,” said Doyle.