Celebrating 50 years of public service at Berkeley

Les Hausrath, a 1969 UC Berkeley graduate and one of the founders of the Public Service Center, marks his story on a public service timeline at the center's 50th anniversary party on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Kelley L Cox - KLC)

Les Hausrath, a 1969 UC Berkeley graduate and one of the founders of the Public Service Center, marks his story on a public service timeline at the center’s 50th anniversary party on Sunday. (UC Berkeley photo by Kelley L Cox – KLC)

When Adena Ishii, 27, was a student volunteering at UC Berkeley’s Public Service Center, she started a program to help students transferring from community colleges adjust to life on Berkeley’s big campus. Three years after graduating, she’s still doing the same work.

“There aren’t many places where they let you start something on your own as a student, then give you full autonomy over a program,” she said Sunday at the Public Service Center‘s 50 th birthday party. “And I learned enough that I kept doing it after I graduated.”

Ishii, a 2014 graduate who majored in business administration, was one of dozens of Berkeley graduates who gathered to honor the university’s commitment to public service.

“I love that Cal is the epicenter of making change happen in this generation,” Chancellor Carol Christ told a crowd of alumni and students. “We’re about seeking knowledge, passionately pursuing solutions and dedicating ourselves to serving the greater good. And the Public Service Center exhibits how much can be accomplished when we empower people to make an indelible impact on each other’s lives.”

Started in 1967, the center serves as a hub to connect graduate and undergraduate students with public service opportunities at Berkeley. Students involved with the center have started reading programs for third graders, mentored middle-school students, interned in Washington, D.C., and spent their spring breaks studying public health issues in Los Angeles.

Natalie Ruiz, a graduate of the Public Service Center, speaks to guests during the center's 50th anniversary celebration on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Kelley L Cox - KLC)

Natalie Ruiz, a graduate of the Public Service Center, speaks to guests during the center’s 50th anniversary celebration on Sunday. (UC Berkeley photo by Kelley L Cox – KLC)

Since its founding, the center has been focused on giving students practical opportunities to learn, said Jonathan Schiesel, a 1969 graduate and one of the student founders of the center, which was then called the Community Projects Office.

“The classroom was totally abstract, we had no skill development,” Schiesel said. “So we started to mentor high school students in the community. We didn’t know we were doing it at the time, but that became the projects office.”

Schiesel, 72, went on to spend 23 years as a mental health worker in Orange County, and in retirement has designed and built an anger management app.

Ruben Lizardo, who heads UC Berkeley’s local government and community relations office, said public service is a key component of the Berkeley experience.

“It is like the other pillar of Cal,” he said. “You have teaching, research and service. To me this is like the third thing where Cal is on the cutting edge of making a difference in the world.”

Contact Will Kane at willkane@berkeley.edu