Our first episode of The Not So Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer is a welcome to the sixth season of the podcast and an introduction to Golden Bear Advising. Hear from the director of advising and policy, Sharon Mueller, and ESS adviser, Shareena Samson.
- After completing GBA make an appointment with your adviser
- Technical problems with the College’s portion of GBA, email for support
Suggestions for podcast topics? Send them to Laura Vogt, the podcast host.
Laura Vogt: Hello, and thank you for joining me and the Not So Secret Guide To Being a Berkeley Engineer. I’m your host, Laura Vogt, the associate director of marketing and communications in the College of Engineering. And I’m excited for the first episode of our sixth season. So a little introduction about our podcast. We started this six years ago to give students another way to have an in depth discussions and knowledge about campus and college resources. We want you to hear from students and peers about their experiences and give firsthand knowledge about class choice, registration tips, and building your peer group. If there’s a subject that you want to learn more about, you can email me at L Vogt, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And then just a little bit about me. I do a lot of the marketing for the engineering student services or ESS as you’ll hear it called a lot during the next 20 minutes, 30 minutes that we’re going to talk.
Laura Vogt: You’ll be hearing from me each week, whether it’s over the summer with emails and podcasts or during the fall and spring semesters with weekly newsletters. I also run the Berkeley Engineering and ESS social media channels. I design graphics for postcards and posters. I update the website. I occasionally take photos. So again, you can reach me at email@example.com, or you can message me on one of our social media channels. So enough about me. Let’s meet today’s guests, Sharon Mueller, the director of advising and policy in Engineering Student Services and Shareena Samson, an advisor with Engineering Student Services. So thank you both so much for being here today.
Sharon Mueller: Thank you for having us. We’re happy to be here.
Shareena Samson: We’re so excited.
Laura Vogt: And so today we’re going to talk about the start of GBA and what it means. But before we get into that, Sharon, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Sharon Mueller: Sure. So I am Sharon Mueller and I am the director of advising and policy in Engineering Student Services, and all students, all College of Engineering undergraduates have an ESS advisor. And so I manage the advising office in Engineering Student Services. I’m also a Cal alum. I was a transfer student to Berkeley and have been working here ever since pretty much. So 31 years at this point.
Laura Vogt: Thank you so much for being here today. And Shareena, your turn. Why don’t you tell us about yourself?
Shareena Samson: Yeah, so I work in ESS as well. I’m an advisor and I normally work with electrical engineering, computer sciences students, and bioengineering students. I also have a cohort of joint majors. And I am also an alumni of UC Berkeley. I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad, and I’ve worked for UC Berkeley for about 17 years now. So I love working with students and I’m really excited to get to know all of our new students.
Laura Vogt: If nothing else, the fact that you both went to school here and then decided to stay here and work with our students really shows how much you like the campus and what it brings to everyone.
Sharon Mueller: For sure. Yeah.
Laura Vogt: So again, thank you both for being here. So let’s start with the first task that all of our students are having to go through this summer. It’s Golden Bear Advising, which we’re going to say GBA when we refer to it, just to make it less of a mouthful. So what is Golden Bear Advising or GBA and why is it important?
Sharon Mueller: Okay. So Golden Bear Advising is an online orientation and really the goal of GBA is to help students choose their fall classes. So there are four modules in GBA. The first and second modules are the same for all new students coming to Berkeley, all new undergraduates. Then those modules kind of show students some of the tools and systems that they’re going to be using when they’re a student here, including the tools they’re going to be using for enrolling in July. And then in module three is the specific module for College of Engineering students and students actually have to click on a link in module three, and that will take them to what we call our online orientation portion of GBA. And that’s the part where we’re going to ask them a bunch of questions about previous exams or coursework that they’ve done.
Sharon Mueller: And at the end of GBA, or at least at the end of module three, they will have certain courses that have been recommended for them to enroll in in the fall, along with usually a list of backup courses that they could take in the fall if they wanted to, if they didn’t get into, or they chose not to take some of the courses we’re recommending. So when they finish module three, they’re actually going to tell us what they are planning to take and they’ll hit submit, and that will send a PDF with all of their answers to them and to their ESS advisor. And then their ESS advisor will review it and give them feedback by July 7th via email and at the very end of GBA is module four. And that really talks about all sorts of different resources and discovery opportunities for students on campus.
Laura Vogt: Thank you. Is there a benefit, because I know we give them a couple of weeks here to fill this out. Is there a benefit if they finish it earlier or later?
Shareena Samson: I would say that there’s no real benefit to doing it earlier. The main thing that we want them to get out of it is we want them to their time and learn all of our policies and kind of learn all of the acronyms on campus, all of their resources. We want them to take them time and really absorb some of that as they’re going through it. So no need to rush through it. And we just wanted to call out the deadlines for this. So for freshmen, you want to have GBA completed by June 21st. For transfer students, you should have it completed by June 28th and you should definitely have it completed by those deadlines so you can enroll on time, which happens in mid-July.
Laura Vogt: Thank you. And when the students are submitting their course plans, they’re not submitting their specific planned out schedule, right? I’m taking Math 1A on Tuesdays at 10. You’re not doing that granular?
Sharon Mueller: Right, right. We just want to know the course. So if they plan to say, take Math 1A, Chem 1A, Chem 1AL, that’s all we need to know. We don’t need to know what time you’re planning to take it or what lab time you’re planning to choose. We just need to know the overall courses that they’re planning to take.
Laura Vogt: And what’s the overall process that the students are going through to choose these classes along with their alternates?
Sharon Mueller: So as I mentioned earlier, when they’re going through module three of GBA, which is the College of Engineering portion, they’ll be answering some specific questions as they go through. So when they’re going through our module, they’ll be asked do they have any AP exams or A level exams or IB exams? They may or may not have their scores yet. If they don’t have their scores, we just kind of ask them to estimate what their scores might be. So all along during GBA, we’re going to be asking them questions just so we can gauge where they stand. And then they’re going to get to a point where they’re going to be choosing which math course they’re going to take. All of the majors, the first question is about math, because that really determines the courses they’re going to take along with math. So we ask them which math they’re going to take.
Sharon Mueller: And then we build out for them based upon how they answer the questions, courses that based upon their answers, we are saying, “Okay, yeah, you have the prerequisites for these courses. So we’re recommending these courses and here are some backup courses you have the prerequisites for.” If the courses are not recommended for them, it means they don’t have the prerequisites for them. So sometimes we’ll see students who will stray from the recommendations. And then we realize, well, we’ve got to have some back and forth by email, or we need to actually talk to you because it looks like you’re trying to take courses for which you don’t have the prerequisites.
Sharon Mueller: And I should probably explain what prerequisites are. This is actually covered as part of Golden Bear advising. But just as a little preview, prerequisites are knowledge or even specific courses that students are expected to have done before they take the course. And so they’re really geared to ensure student success in the course. If students take courses out of order or courses for which they don’t have the prerequisite or the prior knowledge, it’s very likely that they’ll struggle in that course. And so GBA has logic built in to only recommend courses for which the students have prerequisites. And that’s all going to be based upon how they’ve answered those questions along the way.
Laura Vogt: And that’s for first year and transfers both do it that way.
Sharon Mueller: Correct. Yes. They both do it that way. I should mention that at this very moment, we are taping this on June 1st. The freshman GBA is live, but the transfer GBA actually doesn’t go live until June 14th. And we don’t want transfer students to click on GBA for freshmen, because it’s actually quite different for transfer students. And we ask them very different questions. So they’re not going to get an accurate course plan if transfer students are trying to get into GBA before June 14th. So just asking the transfer students to please be patient and wait until June 14th so that they can make sure they’re actually doing the right module for transfer students.
Laura Vogt: And I know some of the students, it shows in their Cal Central account, what transcripts have come over and what classes are already set for them. So when will transfer students, especially, but I know first year students come in with some college classes, when are those going to show up in the system for them?
Shareena Samson: So anytime between now and December. The campus has thousands of transcripts to process. And the processing is quite complicated. So no worries if they’re not saying something that they’ve sent in. We are hoping that everything will be in by the end of December. And if they have questions about it after December, something that’s come over that they have a question about, or maybe a specific course that’s not fulfilling a requirement that they think it should, January, February, that’s a good time to ask their ESS advisor follow up questions and clarification.
Laura Vogt: And as students are going through the process, one of the things I know that we’ve noticed in past years is when they get to the College of Engineering part of GBA on the campus wide system, they’ll gloss over our section and just hit next. So how can they know for sure that they’ve actually finished all of GBA, including the college part of it?
Sharon Mueller: Right. Because it’s actually quite easy when you get to module, say three, there’s one little paragraph with a link. And sometimes students see the paragraph and click next and don’t click on the link. But the link is the critical part of module three. If you don’t click on the link, you have not completed GBA. So students will know that they have finished module three when they have submitted their schedule. And they’ll actually get an email PDF. And it’s basically going to say, “Congratulations, you’ve completed the College of Engineering online orientation.” Once they get that, they have completed GBA. Now they might have questions along the way. It might be that students feel somewhat uncertain about the classes that they’re picking. And maybe they’re feeling hesitant to hit submit, because it does sound like, oh my gosh, this is so final, hitting submit.
Sharon Mueller: But I just want to reassure students, we’re just asking them for their first go. Do the best you can. Hit submit. That’s just the start of the conversation. So they’re not locked into those courses. It’s not a guarantee that they’re going to get into those courses. This is just sharing information with your advisor so that we can make sure we are setting you up for success in the fall semester, that your schedule is within an appropriate unit load, that you are planning to take courses for which you are prepared, that you’re not taking things that for freshmen we wouldn’t recommend that they take upper division courses. So just do your best and hit submit. And don’t worry, because that just is the start of the conversation. Now, if students are having technical problems, we definitely want them to reach out to us. Or if there’s something else that’s not working within online orientation, they can email our ESS front desk and that’s ESS@berkeley.edu. And we can hopefully get that problem resolved for them. But it doesn’t have to be perfect in the first go round. Just do your best.
Laura Vogt: Yeah. Because if it’s not perfect, once it’s done, that’s when you actually get to contact your advisors. You’ll have the conversation. So what does that process look like? If they’re submitted their schedule and they want to have that appointment, should they be emailing? Are they calling? What do we want them to do?
Shareena Samson: Right. So once students have submitted their schedule and they’ve gotten feedback from their ESS advisor, that’s very key because you really want the advisor to have looked at what you submitted. Then you can definitely make an appointment to meet with an advisor. And that information’s actually on their confirmation email that they will receive when they’ve completed module three. So there’s a link on there that shows you how to get to the appointment system, and they can make an appointment from there, with their questions and ask whatever they need to at that time. But it’s really important to give the advisor just a chance to look at their schedule before they start asking questions.
Laura Vogt: That definitely makes sense. You need a little bit of time to know what you’re looking at before you try to talk them through it. So is GBA very different for the first year and transfer students?
Sharon Mueller: Yeah. I mean, there are parts of it that are definitely very similar. When we’re explaining how to find your requirements, what the general education requirement is called in Berkeley engineering. So there are parts of it that are the same, but the key parts that are different are the logic questions, because we know that transfer students are coming in with probably a lot more college coursework than the freshmen are coming in with. And so we recognize the transfer students are definitely going to be starting at a different place than the freshman will be. So the logic questions are totally different for the transfer students.
Laura Vogt: And how does GBA handle the guidance for students if they’ve taken AP tests for math or English or any of those other things?
Shareena Samson: Well, our guidance on math specifically is quite detailed. So in GBA, there’s a whole section on math and what we recommend given your score, what we recommend given the self testing that you can do through GPA. Basically you can take finals for different math courses and see how comfortable you are with the material. And that hopefully should give you some indication of where you will fall on the comfort zone in terms of which math you’re going to be taking in fall. In most cases, if you’ve gotten a four or five on AP BC, you’re probably going to be skipping out of Math 1A and Math 1B here in the fall. But that’s not a hundred percent the case if you are not feeling comfortable with the material. So definitely spend a lot of time on that particular section and definitely spend some time with those tests and determine from there what you will be taking.
Laura Vogt: And one of the questions that I seem to remember hearing a lot was about how Chemistry 1A and 1AL are actually two separate courses that you have to register for. Are there very many courses like that where the lab and the lecture aren’t combined?
Shareena Samson: There are a few, but not too many. So off the top of my head, I can think of some courses that might come up. Material science 45 and 45L, Chemistry 1A and 1AL Chemistry 3A and 3AL, and Biology, 1AL and 1A. In most cases, you’re going to be signing up for the lecture and any secondary sections like a lab or discussion at the same time. They’re kind of connected. But for these courses, it is a separate process. So they will have different course numbers and you will need to make an effort to enroll in both things. And the system won’t necessarily lead you to enroll in the secondary section like it would for another course.
Shareena Samson: But the interesting thing about these particular courses that are separated in this way is that you can actually separate the semesters in which you can take the lecture and the lab, although whether or not that’s a good idea in your case, that’s a question for your ESS advisor. But they are made that way so you could theoretically separate the lecture and the lab. You would probably, in most cases, take the lecture first and then the lab in the second semester, if you were to separate them. But just know that when you’re taking those courses or putting those on your schedule, we will probably follow up and say, “Just make sure you’re taking the lab too,” if it’s not listed on your schedule.
Laura Vogt: And one of the other questions that I seem to remember students asking is the order during your week of how you’re taking a lab section and a discussion section. So does it matter if your lecture is on Tuesdays, but your discussions are on Monday or?
Shareena Samson: Not really. It won’t make much of a difference as long as you are enrolled in both pieces.
Laura Vogt: And I know a lot of students, especially our first year students, since they’re just finishing up high school, are probably still at home over the summer with their parents or guardians and going through this entire GBA process with them. So if those parents or guardians want to get more information and send emails or contact advisors, what do we ask them to do? Or what’s our line there?
Sharon Mueller: So our line is that now is a good time to transition this to your student, to your child. So now that you’re going to college, and this is probably geared mostly towards the freshmen coming in. Hopefully the transfer students have separated a little more from their parents or guardians. But now that you’re a college student, we actually only communicate with students. We cannot communicate with parents due to FERPA, which is the Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act, which basically says once a student is in college, the parents have no right to any of their academic information.
Sharon Mueller: So we’re actually not allowed to talk to parents. Occasionally a student might want a parent to be in a meeting, but they would have to sign a waiver and we’d have to have really clear parameters and a clear understanding of what topics we’ll be covering with the parents. But if a parent emails us, we will not be conversing with parents. So I understand, parents might have questions. They really need to have the students ask us the questions. And then of course, whatever the students want to share with their parents is up to them, but we cannot share any information with parents. And so it’s a really good time to kind of cut those ties a little bit and trust your student to take the reins.
Laura Vogt: And one of the stories that we got when a student had done the entire GBA in 15 minutes I think it was, was that he said, “Oh, my brother did this a couple years ago and I already know what I need to know.” So why is it important for the students to take this on their own and not depend on what somebody else is telling them about it?
Shareena Samson: Well, for starters, a lot can happen in a couple of years and policies change. So it’s really important to get the latest information which we put into each year’s GBA. It actually changes a little bit every year. So it’s really important for the student to know what the current policies are, what the current curriculum is for their major. Also, the other problem with this is if your brother was in a different college, the policies from college to college are very, very different. So I would say, do take the time to review all the GBA materials, regardless if you have somebody in the college or not at the university or not, because you’re bound to learn stuff that is new material versus something that somebody has already told you about. That’s not to say that it’s not good to get advice from people. I think it’s really important to have a network on campus, friends and family, anybody you can get help from. But it is your responsibility to know the current policies of the College of Engineering. And we’re going to hold you to that. So always good to go through it yourself.
Laura Vogt: Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that either of you wanted to add today?
Sharon Mueller: Well, I just wanted to add that we’re really excited to meet the students in person this year. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had an in person Golden Bear orientation, which is the in person orientation in August. I know it’s confusing, because everything is Golden Bear. But what we were talking about today is Golden Bear Advising, which is happening now for freshmen, starts on June 14th for transfers. But everybody, we will see everybody in August at Golden Bear orientation. And we’re really excited to see students in person again and the college day for Golden Bear orientation is Monday, is it August 24th?
Laura Vogt: I can never remember.
Sharon Mueller: August 22nd. Monday, August 22nd is the college day. And that is the day we’re going to spend all day with them. And we’re working on planning that now. We’re planning some fun activities. They’ll be able to ask us any last minute questions. If they’re still on waiting lists at that point to get into certain courses, they might have questions for us. So we’re really excited to see them then. And I just wanted to reiterate Shareena’s point about taking your time when you go through Golden Bear Advising. It is a lot of information. We’ve tried to make it interactive. We’ve tried to make it as palatable as possible. We know it’s a lot of information, but it is information that students need to know. We wouldn’t put it in there unless we believed that they needed to know it. And so we really want them to take their time.
Sharon Mueller: They can use it as a reference. They can go back to it at any point and check again. If they forget, oh wait, how do I look up prerequisites again? That’s in GBA. They can find out. So we think it’s important information. And the reason we’re asking students to complete it and to wait until they get feedback from their advisor before they actually make an appointment with their advisor, is because advisors don’t really want to do GBA 115 times over for every one of their new students. We really are relying on students to look up information, to see if they can find the answer in GBA. And if they can’t, of course, we would love to talk to them about it.
Sharon Mueller: But as Shareena said, this is your education. It’s not your parents’ education. It’s not my education. It’s your education. And so it really is on the student to take responsibility, to learn as much as they can and not just in their classes, but with all of these different orientations too. There’s going to be a lot of information. And we just ask that they do their best to participate and stay engaged. And we’re really excited to be there with them in August.
Shareena Samson: Yeah. And I would just like to add, there’s this weird rumor that students can’t talk to their advisors and if they have questions, they can’t get ahold of people. Please let me reassure you that advisors are here to take your questions and to meet with you if needed. Anything that you might have questions about after you’ve gotten feedback from GBA, definitely, please, please feel free to reach out. We would love to help clarify things for you. We want to make you feel comfortable. We know that coming to a new school can be overwhelming and scary, but we want to take that journey with you and reassure you that we are here for you when you need us. So please, please, please use us as a re reference and use us as a resource. We’re probably your first line with any questions that you may have. So don’t hesitate to reach out.
Sharon Mueller: Yeah. And I’ll just add to that, Shareena, that we’re definitely not financial aid experts, but we know where to send you. So any question you have, we’re going to know where to send you. If we can’t answer it ourselves, if it’s about something that’s not within engineering, still ask us because we might know the answer, but if we don’t, we’re going to know who does know the answer. So like Shareena said, we are going to be the first advisors you’re meeting probably. And probably the last advisors you’ll be meeting with before graduation. And so we are here with you for the long haul and we are a resource for you.
Sharon Mueller: And in engineering, advising is very accessible to students. It’s easy to make an appointment, a remote appointment, an in-person appointment, or they could come to drop in hours. So we make ourselves very accessible. We love meeting with students and yeah, we really want to make sure that students know that we’re a resource for them and we really want to see them succeed. So we’ll do anything we can to support them.
Laura Vogt: Well, thank you both so much for being here today. I’m really excited about the start of this new year and having people back in person and GBA is just that sign that it’s starting.
Sharon Mueller: It definitely is. It’s funny because we’re in the process of graduating our students from the spring semester. And so it’s very cyclical. We kind of graduate the students who finished up in spring and here we are inviting a whole new group of almost 1100 new students into the College of Engineering this fall. So we’re very excited about it.
Laura Vogt: Well, thank you again, Sharon and Shareena for being here today. The rest of this summer, we actually have some really cool podcasts coming your way where we’re talking to the Engineering Student Services peer advisors about their registration tips. We have some students at our first generation talking about what it was like being a first generation student and what that meant to them and how they made sure that they were successful. We definitely have a financial aid podcast. That’s always one of our most popular ones to have someone from financial aid come in and talk. And we also have closer to the beginning of school, we’ll have the career center to talk about our career conferences and things that are coming up. Yeah. So there’s just a lot of stuff coming up. If you go to the website, it’s engineering.berkeley.edu/ESSpodcast. It has the, oh, what’s it called? The thing on the bottom that lists all the podcasts.
Sharon Mueller: The archive?
Laura Vogt: No. What’s coming up.
Sharon Mueller: I don’t know.
Shareena Samson: The schedule?
Laura Vogt: There you go. That’s the word we want. So you can visit our website engineering.berkeley.edu/ESSpodcast. And the summer schedule is going to be listed. So you can take a look at what you want to listen to, but you could also look at past seasons and see if there’s a show that you want to revisit, or there was a resource that you wanted to learn more about. We definitely try to bring in resources that are not just College of Engineering resources, but campus-wide resources. So please check it out. I look forward to talking with you next week. Thank you.