When Jim Burk ’62 retired as the Cal Alumni Association’s executive director in 2001 after seven years at the helm, his friends honored him and his wife, Anne ’62, by creating a scholarship for The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) in their names.
Along with this honor came an even greater reward: the opportunity to mentor the student who received the scholarship, Fabiola Larios ’05. “She’s a second daughter to us,” says Anne. “She’s the first in her family to go to college, and now she’s in law school at UC Davis. She has such a passion for helping others who are struggling to find their way in life.”
“I was this 18-year-old kid, scared out of my mind,” says Fabiola. “I didn’t know anything about the world, but they are incredibly loving and caring people who took me under their wing. They took me everywhere: TAAP events, San Francisco—even The Nutcracker at Christmastime. It was the first time I’d ever been to a ballet.”
Jim and Anne have gone on to mentor four more TAAP recipients, including their current scholar, Yaneth Calzada ’13. “Last spring I was really having a hard time,” Yaneth says. “I wasn’t getting enough sleep, working 20 hours a week at my job, getting Cs in my courses, and feeling overwhelmed. Anne was sympathetic; but more importantly, she put me in touch with Fabiola.” Fabiola didn’t mince words: “As a first-generation college student, your primary responsibility to your community is to succeed,” Yaneth recalls her saying. “You can’t help anyone if you don’t.”
CAA’s tradition of offering merit-based financial aid to students dates back to 1934, when CAA executive director Robert Sibley founded the Alumni Scholarship. The first award paid for one-half the room and board for 13 men at Berkeley and 13 women on the “Los Angeles campus.” A photograph of 11 of the scholarship recipients hangs in the lobby of Alumni House, but their names have been lost to history.
In the meantime, CAA has expanded its efforts to help exceptional students attend Cal. In 1999, “Leadership” was added to the name of the Alumni Scholarship (it’s now The Leadership Award). That same year, under Jim’s watch, TAAP was founded to support diversity after the passage of Proposition 209, which prohibits state institutions such as Cal from considering race, sex, or ethnicity as a basis for admission.
“Since CAA is independent of the University we weren’t legally bound by Prop. 209,” says Cindy Leung, CAA’s chief program officer. “But we realized that we could accomplish the same goal by basing the scholarships on financial need instead of race.”
In 2009, CAA created The Equity Scholarship specifically to support Cal’s mission to increase campus diversity, by providing financial aid to high-caliber underrepresented minority students.
Today, the Equity Scholarship is a four-year scholarship that funds five new students each year with $5,000 annually. The Leadership Award is a one-year scholarship that grants $2,000 every year to about 650 students who have demonstrated strong leadership skills and accomplishments. TAAP awards go to 25 incoming freshmen and transfers, who receive $6,000 per year, and there are currently 89 TAAP scholars on campus.
Whatever the amount, the scholarships often have a profound effect on their recipients. “It was the difference between going to school and not going to school,” says Jesse Ante ’68. “My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to thank my donors. There was no mentorship program back then.”
“It meant I could pay for my books every semester, which was wonderful!” says Arlene Willits ’63.
“It helped me get acclimated to the University,” says Vanna Truong ’05. “As a first-generation college student I had no idea what college life is all about, and stepping on a large campus like Cal can be intimidating. But even before I arrived, I already had a connection. TAAP became my family. We were very, very close, both the program coordinators and the cohort members.”
In addition to financial aid, scholars go on a retreat, get mentoring and tutoring, and find support throughout the year and beyond. “You’re pretty much there for life,” says TAAP scholar Vishaal Pegany ’08.
And CAA scholarship recipients like Ante, Willits, Truong, Pegany, and countless others are often the first in line to pay it forward. “I wanted to do my part to help a program that helped me tremendously,” says Vishaal. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. It’s good to give back. You can remove that barrier for the next person in line who wants to achieve their dreams.”
To donate to the CAA Scholarships, call Joani Carpenter, director of stewardship, at 510.643.3919 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To volunteer—either to mentor scholars or to interview applicants—please visit alumni.berkeley.edu/services/scholarships.