Dozens honored for public service, in spirited ceremony

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Dozens of civic-minded members of the campus community were honored May 9 at an annual ceremony to bestow the Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service and take stock of UC Berkeley’s tradition of public service.

Calling public service “our goal, our mission and our identity,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said that Berkeley students “don’t wait until they’ve earned a degree to jump into action.” Each year, approximately 10,000 of them engage in off-campus projects and programs to improve the local and global community, he said.

Two such programs honored at the ceremony focus on financial literacy and economic justice. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) helps local low-income residents file their taxes. Students also provide financial education to their clients, helping them “understand how public dollars work, how their own dollars work,” noted Ruben Lizardo, director of local government and community relations.

A second program recently hosted, at Berkeley, the Financial Literacy and Economic Justice Conference — the “very first student-oriented, student-organized financial-literacy conference of its kind nationally,” said undergrad Alex Mabanta.

Students’ public-service efforts are supported and coordinated by the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, formerly known as Cal Corps, which is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. The center grew out of the activism of the ’60s, noted its director, Assistant Dean of Students Sandra Bass. “And in a lot of ways our program is still really grounded in student agency, community empowerment and social justice.”

Sociology student Natalie Ruiz accepted the Undergraduate Award for Civic Engagement, for tireless efforts to provide food security for student parents.

“I’m grateful that food insecurity is an issue that is finally coming to the table on this campus,” Ruiz told the spirited crowd at Alumni House.

Berkeley Law students Cindy Dinh and Paul Monge received the Graduate Student Award for Civic Engagement, for their pioneering efforts to remove barriers to student voter registration. As a result of their advocacy, the Student Voting Rights Act (AB2455) is currently working its way through the California legislature. If approved, it would automatically register students to vote when they enroll for classes in any public college or university in California, making California the first state in the nation to do so.

Dinh’s parents came to the U.S. from Vietnam as refugees 41 years ago, she told the audience. “My father said he came because of democracy” – hence her own passion to help “build a democracy that’s really inclusive of voices of young people.”

Four faculty members were honored – one for research in the public interest and three for community-engaged teaching. They were Jeffrey Vincent, Jason Coburn, Deborah Nolan and George Johnson. So were student recipients of five scholarships and fellowships that provide opportunities for public service.

Find details here on the awards and winners.