I’m a Berkeleyan: Althea Grannum-Cummings

Althea Grannum-Cummings

Althea Grannum-Cummings has been advising Berkeley students for three decades and is still going strong. (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

“I’ve been working at UC Berkeley for 30 years, with most of my tenure being in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies as undergraduate adviser. About four years ago, I also became adviser for the African American Studies undergraduate program.

I used to work part time at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where I grew up. One summer, a position in the academic dean’s office became available — admissions counselor for the Master of Divinity program — and the supervisor said she wanted me to apply. I enjoyed the work. When I moved here to Berkeley, I knew I wanted to be an adviser because of what I had done at Union.

So, you could say I started out as adviser to get people into school. Now, I’m an adviser to help keep students in school.

First and foremost, I’m here to help the students I work with be successful in their careers at Cal. I’m here to help the student with classes, scheduling, work load or whatever’s needed.

But the students’ personal lives do bleed into the equation.

If I see a student really disheveled, I try to do the best I can. I ask what’s going on — that is, if it’s not finals week, when they are all disheveled, period.

There has been incident upon incident where students’ personal lives have caused them not to function and be able to do their academic work. There are students who are homeless, or whose parents have passed away. Some have stressed suicide, so I’ve had to intervene, close the door, start to talk, get some answers and then take action. I walk them to the Tang Center, and I keep a connection with them.

The faculty also helps. A lot of faculty members will alert us (advisers) to situations. They will come and say, ‘Something is happening with this student, you should check into it.’

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. So, if I’ve done what is in my power to do, and I’ve placed students in some kind of care, then I feel really proud that I identified the problem, had the courage to act and was able to help.

And I keep track. I can’t call the doctor to ask how a student is doing, but I can call the student, and most students are happy that I call.

It’s wonderful to see their progress. You see them come back, you see their grades go up, you see them come in and say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being there for me.’ It is really rewarding.

I also advise students about internships, because people send me information about internships and job postings, and I’ve gotten students jobs, yes, I have.

I had a really good counselor when I went to LaGuardia Community College (in New York). She was able to get me an internship at a law firm, because I was interested in becoming a lawyer. I loved working at the law firm, but I also realized it wasn’t for me.

A lot of what I do starts with email. I tell my students and interns, ‘Email is like the Bible. You never know what will be in there. So. if you see it, open it. Do not click past it or delete it. You open that email, and you will be surprised at the different things that will come home.’

When I moved to Berkeley, I wanted to work with students as an adviser. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now, and I feel I’ve been blessed. And I hope the students I’ve worked with have shared that.”