Awards, People, Campus & community, Campus news

Berkeley celebrates contributions to the public good from staff, students and faculty

By John Hickey

Sagehen Forest Project
Members of the Sagehen Forest Project were honored with the Campus-Community Partnership Award Monday. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)
Sagehen Forest Project

Members of the Sagehen Forest Project were honored with the Campus-Community Partnership Award Monday. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

The UC Berkeley experiences of Brianna Rogers, Erin Creel and Harris Mojadedi couldn’t be more different.

Rogers is a Berkeley native and mother who went back to school in her 30s and will graduate in May.

Creel grew up in Alabama and is in the final days of her pursuit of a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Mojadedi grew up in Union City and works at Berkeley as a project analyst for Student Affairs Business Operations.

Brianna Rogers

Brianna Rogers was honored with the Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Underrepresented Students Monday (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

What they have in common brought them to the Sibley Auditorium stage at the Bechtel Engineering Center Monday as Chancellor Carol Christ handed out this year’s Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service. All three have spent much of their time outside of the classroom, giving back to their communities.

Rogers was honored with the Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Underrepresented Students. She and her daughter Daija Breland, a senior at Berkeley High,who is waitlisted for entry to Berkeley in the fall, co-founded Black Girls Rise at the high school. The goal is to empower black girls to make the most of their high school and college experiences.

“I’ve dreamed of winning this because I had two friends who have won public service awards,” Rogers says, naming current Ph.D. candidate Derrika Hunt and Elias Hinit, who graduated last year. “I’ve found out that there is a real need for programs like Black Girls Rise.

“The idea of the program is to deal with issues including mental health, education, community service and sisterhood. It was just at Berkeley this year, but other schools in the Bay Area have heard about it and are interested, and we’d like to expand it.”

That will be tough as mid-May will find Rogers across the country. She’ll spend 15 months at Georgetown earning a master’s in policy management with the hope “of building the next generation of public service leaders.”

Erin Creel

Erin Creel was honored with the Graduate Student: Civic Engagement Award Monday (UC Berkeley Photo by Keegan Houser)

Creel has divided her time in Berkeley between getting her doctorate and teaching science to underserved populations through Bay Area Scientists in Schools (BASIS) with an emphasis on encouraging girls’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies.

“My mom, who is a mathematician, had a favorite quote of John Wesley, which is `Do all the good you can,’” says Creel, who received the Graduate Student: Civic Engagement Award. “When I discovered that science was my passion and I loved it, I wanted to do outreach. And I’ve seen all the benefits that come to the kids when they are exposed to it.

“The ceremony Monday was very emotional. All the speakers made everyone cry. It was really impressive to see all the different outreach work that everyone is doing.”

The son of immigrants, Mojadedi spends his free time advocating for housing rights, for which he received the Staff: Civic Engagement Award. He’s the chairman of the Union City Planning commission, the chairman of the Alameda County Human Relations Commission and a member of the Union City General Plan Advisory Committee.

“This is such a huge honor,” Mojadedi says. “But housing rights is a huge part of my story. There’s a housing crisis in the Bay Area, we all know that. I was born and raised here, and as I get older (he’s 29), I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing.

Harris Mojadedi

Housing advocate Harris Mojadedi was honored with the Staff: Civic Engagement Award Monday (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

“I know the struggle. And that’s the guiding light I want to advocate for. It doesn’t come quickly. I measure success in moving the needle forward a little at a time. It’s the small wins. Having lived the experience, I can make a difference on my city’s planning board. I can articulate why tenant protection is important and why we need to help the homeless.”

Christ gave out awards to eight individuals and two groups who have been singled out for their public service thanks to the recommendations of their peers.

Working under the coordinating efforts of the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, more than 5,000 students volunteer directly with 250 community partners each year. They spend hundreds of hours tutoring children in local schools, working with nonprofits to boost self-sufficiency in low-income neighborhoods, and helping local governmental agencies best serve their constituencies.

“The 5,000 number is just the people working out of the Public Service Center,” says Sandra Bass, associate dean of students. “The actual number of students, staff and faculty who serve the community in one way or another is much greater.”

Berkeley has a storied history of working for the common good dating from 1868 when, as the founders sketched out the school’s future, public service joined research and teaching as the tripod of tenets on which the campus would operate. The university generates more Peace Corps volunteers than any other school and is one of the top producers of teachers in the Teach For America and Teach for All programs.

“This ceremony gives us a chance to celebrate the very activity of public service itself,” Christ says, “something that is fundamentally tied to our university’s purpose and something that thousands of students, staff, faculty, and alumni of this university engage in every year.”

Carol Christ with 2019 winners of Chancellor's Public Service Awards

The winners of the 2019 Chancellor’s Public Service Awards gather with UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ Monday. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

The winners are chosen by committees among the faculty, staff and students. Nominations can come from anyone in the Berkeley community. There were more than 100 nominations this year.

“The basic criteria is that we’re looking for people who are doing something outside of the context of their regular classes or regular jobs,” Bass says. “The students and the staff typically go so far beyond what you might expect.

“The is a chance for the chancellor to lift up and recognize all this fine work.”

Monday’s honorees included:

Kris Odonez, undergraduate student, public health – Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Undocumented Students

Brianna Rogers, undergraduate student, rhetoric – Birgeneau Recognition Award for Service to Underrepresented Students

Kathryn Abrams, Herma Hill Kay Distinguished Professor of Law – Community Engaged Teaching Award

Joshua Blumenstock, Assistant Professor, School of Information – Faculty: Research in the Public Interest Award

Erin Creel, PhD candidate, chemistry – Graduate Student: Civic Engagement Award

Harris Mojadedi, Project and Policy Analyst, Student Affairs Business Operations – Staff: Civic Engagement Award

The Sagehen Forest Project – Campus-Community Partnership Award

Cynthia Solis Ramirez, BUILD Director, Raices Recruitment and Retention Center Executive Director – Undergraduate Student: Civic Engagement Award (Mather Award)

Hoa Luong, Haas Leader, Linguistics and Psychology – Undergraduate Student: Civic Engagement Award (Mather Award)

The Students of Color Environmental Collective – Student Group: Civic Engagement Award