These 3 Young Alumni Are Giving Back to Their Alma Mater

Marco Ponce ’12

Being a volunteer for The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) hits close to home for Marco Ponce ’12. He was a former TAAP recipient, and he says it was a major reason why he decided to come to Cal. The conversations he had with alumni volunteers and staff from the Cal Alumni Association before committing to Cal were what sealed the deal.

At a reception event for scholarship recipients, Marco met the scholarship and outreach directors and other award recipients. It was there, he says, he was able to build a community that has stayed with him during and after being at Cal. Without those initial connections, Marco says, “I would have felt more isolated and challenged to find resources.” To this day, he is still counts the people he met in the program as friends.

He now works as a claims consultant for a large national insurance brokerage firm, but while he was a student, he was a student assistant for the Cal Alumni Association’s Alumni Scholars Program and supported in the early stages of developing more robust scholarship programming.

Because he is a former Alumni Scholar and previously worked with the Alumni Scholars Program, Marco has seen the application process in its different iterations. Marco says, at its core, the emotional rigor of the application and the interview process demands applicants to be open about their experiences. “You are asked to reflect on your own success, the challenges that you overcame and what perseverance level was necessary to be successful.”

Marco’s warm feelings for TAAP are palpable. When he talks about the program he can’t help but smile. The connection that he has with TAAP is what keeps him coming back. He travels to Berkeley from Los Angeles every year to interview students, have a reunion with fellow program members, and, as he says, “bring some Cal spirit back into my life.” He says the ability to volunteer is unmatched in the ways he can personally give back.

“My hope for the students who receive the scholarship is that they live up to the mission of the program, which is to maintain that status of achievement, go on to succeed beyond expectation here on campus,” Marco says. “This is a lifelong commitment.”

Liz Solorio ’12

UC Berkeley alumni have a love for their alma mater that could be described as unmatched in the minds of some. That pride is what drives them to keep up Cal’s legacy and maintain its reputation. Even recent graduates still establishing themselves in their careers, with fresh memories of their time on campus, have their own way of sharing with people why they are so proud to be a Golden Bear.

Liz Solorio ’12 says she’s not able to donate financially just yet, but giving a few hours of her day to help students be successful is right up her alley. The opportunity came when she got a call from a friend who works with the alumni association asking if she wanted to volunteer.

“Definitely! I myself was a first-generation college student and also received a scholarship similar to [The Achievement Award Program],” said Liz. “Without that support I would have had a really difficult time navigating through all of Berkeley.”

“We may think in our busy lives and schedules that we don’t have a few hours, but you can make room in your schedule to really make a big impact in someone’s life.”

Liz graduated with a degree in society and environment and works as a campus program manager at Food & Water Watch, an organization that helps communities organize and lobby for climate justice. She has been volunteering with the alumni association since 2015, and now she’s the Alumni Scholars Program District Chair for the city of Berkeley, a role she was excited to take on.

She works with full-time Alumni Scholars Program staff members at the Cal Alumni Association in shaping and molding the scholarship interview process to connect alumni volunteers more with the applicants. It’s the students’ stories, many of which are similar to hers, that keep her coming back year after year.

“For a lot these students, this scholarship means [not] taking another job or taking a loan,” says Liz. She says that “Berkeley was an incredible experience” for her and the time she spends volunteering is worth it to make an impact on someone’s success.

“We may think in our busy lives and schedules that we don’t have a few hours, but you can make room in your schedule to really make a big impact in someone’s life.”

Natalie Tyson ’12

Right after graduation, Natalie Tyson ’12 decided to join the Cal Alumni Association because of the perks. “I don’t remember why. I think they gave me a discount on car insurance or something and so you get added to the email list of certain events.”

Before joining she didn’t know about the volunteer opportunities available through the alumni association. As a student, she always volunteered. However, when she graduated she found that volunteer opportunities weren’t as readily apparent or she didn’t have the time for them. That was until she took a look at the list of events.

And right there on that list were opportunities to volunteer. Natalie started out by helping out with career panels. She later decided to also volunteer to interview scholarship applicants for The Achievement Award Program.

When she’s not interviewing students or helping out with other programs, Natalie works as a mental health therapist for Lincoln Families, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to children. She says her experience with TAAP keeps her coming back year after year. Every year she’s interviewed, she says she’s been impressed by the students’ openness to new experiences and their want to take full advantage of the scholarship. She’s struck by the students’ appreciation and eagerness to get on campus and continue the work they’ve been doing either at home, in organizations, or in their communities.

“Meeting the students and hearing all of the amazing things that they’re doing on campus is so fun and gets me excited about the future and the future of Cal. You get this little snapshot of them and you just know that they’re going to go on and do amazing things.”

The interviews, for Natalie, feel more like conversations where she shares her experiences and some tips for making it through Cal. “Meeting the students and hearing all of the amazing things that they’re doing on campus is so fun and gets me excited about the future and the future of Cal.”

Though Natalie would like to give a monetary donation, she feels good about volunteering in this way and meeting the next generation of students. “You get this little snapshot of them and you just know that they’re going to go on and do amazing things.”

Natalie says that volunteering with the alumni association has been the perfect way to give back and to get some of that Cal spirit back into her like. “I just appreciate that they make it easy for us to be able to come back and share the joy of doing this experience.”

Comments

It’s fantastic to see these stories of alumni giving back and I hope that it emboldens other Golden Bears to continue contributing to our university and adding to its exemplary legacy. Steve Franco ’04 www.francomunoz.com
Very nice and commendable young alumni to have the kind hearts of giving back to Cal community! Thank you all! James Jyan 1988

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