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The Legacy of Berkeley’s I-House

Meet five notable alumni who made waves in their fields

June 8, 2023
by Margie Cullen
Illustrations of the spotlighted members of I-House Patrick Welsh

Wendy Schmidt 

(I-House 1978–80)

Wendy Schmidt received her master’s degree in journalism from Berkeley in 1981. Today, she oversees more than $1 billion in philanthropic assets and has, with husband and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, M.S. ’79, Ph.D. ’82, founded several organizations focused on the health of the environment, including the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the 11th Hour Project, which works to restore a balanced relationship between people and planet. Schmidt is also a competitive sailor, having first taken up the sport at age 52. Last October, she won the world’s largest sailing race, becoming the first woman and American ever to do so.

Victor Santiago Pineda 

(I-House 1999–00)

Victor Santiago Pineda ’03, MCP ’06, was born in Venezuela, but moved to the United States when he was 7 years old because he was denied an education due to his disability. A wheelchair user, Pineda was just 12 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, and later came to appreciate the rights the law afforded him. While at Berkeley, he was elected senator for the ASUC student government, revived the Disabled Students’ Union, and established the Victor Pineda Foundation, which seeks to provide occupational skills to youth with disabilities. He is now a lecturer in Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, where he directs the Inclusive Cities Lab at the Institute for Urban and Regional Development. 

Sergio Alejo Rapu Haoa 

(I-House 2002–04)

Sergio Alejo Rapu Haoa was not the typical I-House resident. Arriving at age 53, he had already served as governor of Easter Island from 1984 to 1990—the first native islander to do so since Chile annexed the isolated territory in 1888. He came to Berkeley to find a way for Easter Islanders to protect their heritage in a modern world, hoping to preserve the island as a sort of open-air museum. “Development is about more than just preventing Easter Island from becoming a Waikiki-style resort,” Rapu said in 2002. “It’s about whether islanders have the chance to become doctors and lawyers rather than being fishermen all their lives, and can do that without forgetting our culture or how to talk to our relatives.” His struggle is partly the subject of a 2018 documentary by his son, also named Sergio Rapu, called Eating Up Easter.

Oona King 

(I-House 1988–89)

In 1997, Oona King became only the second woman of color and the 200th woman, period, to be elected to British Parliament. There, she founded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Genocide Prevention, which received a commendation from the UN Security Council. As Shadow Minister for Equalities in 2016, King introduced the amendment requiring companies in the United Kingdom to publish their gender pay gap—legislation that affected companies as far away as Silicon Valley. In 2019, King won the International House Alumna of the Year award for her 30 years of public service. “Admittedly, I don’t think I’m old enough to get an award like this,” wrote King, now age 55. “But it was still a great honour.”

Martin Brennan 

(I-House Executive Director, 2007–12)

Despite being fluent in French, Italian, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese, former I-House executive director Martin Brennan ’71 is about as local as they come. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he nevertheless has extensive international ties: After joining the Foreign Service in 1976, Brennan served in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Portugal, Rwanda, Taiwan, Thailand, and Uganda. He was the U.S. ambassador to Uganda in 1999 and Zambia in 2002. While serving in Africa, Brennan was actively involved in Angola and Mozambique peace processes and raised funds to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As executive director, Brennan initiated and taught a popular course in crisis diplomacy at I-House.

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