A Look Back at the Creation of The Achievement Award Program

In 1996 California voters approved Proposition 209, which prohibited the consideration of race, ethnicity, or sex in the admission process at public universities. Immediately, the percentage of students at the University of California, Berkeley from low-income, minority communities decreased dramatically. As a result, the Cal Alumni Association (CAA), encouraged by Chancellor Robert Berdahl, formed a task force to develop a program to support Cal students from these underrepresented communities.

Michael Trevino ’89 was a member of this task force. Trevino, who grew up in a low-income farming community in Gilroy, intimately understood the challenges underrepresented students, African American and Latinx in particular, faced at a prestigious university like UC Berkeley.

Here Trevino shares his memories of the events that led up to the formation of The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) in 1999.

CAA: Why was TAAP created?

Michael Trevino: Two events precipitated the eventual creation of TAAP. First in 1995, the University Board of Regents approved SP1 [which outlawed the consideration of gender, race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring, and contracts]. Then a year later the voters approved Proposition 209 [which amended the state constitution to prohibit public institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in admissions or hiring].

So in 1997 and 1998 there was a lot of discussion on campus about what could be done to help keep Cal diverse and accessible to all students.

During this period of time, Chancellor Berdahl was hired [1997]. He had been the President of the University of Texas at Austin. He came to a California Alumni Association Board of Directors meeting. He explained how the UT Austin Alumni Association, which was independent like ours, had just created a new scholarship program to help the university recruit Hispanic students that had been admitted. He talked about how important it was to maintain—and increase—diversity at Cal, and how he needed our alumni association to see what it could do to help. He was heartfelt and powerful.

CAA: Given that Proposition 209 prohibited the university from considering race or ethnicity in admissions, what could the alumni association do that the university could not?

MT: Before Proposition 209, whether it was admissions, recruitment, or outreach, the university could consider race, ethnicity, or gender. Now, it no longer could. But the alumni association, as an independent 501(c)(3), is not subject to Proposition 209.

CAA: When Chancellor Berdahl initially approached you in December 1997, did he give you a timetable to come up with a plan?

MT: He asked if we could develop a plan to roll out for the next admissions cycle. The Chancellor wanted whatever we created to be in place that fall of 1998 [so high school seniors could apply to be in the first cohort of TAAP scholars enrolling in 1999]. Because the task force did not get started until the summer, it gave us only about six weeks (meeting multiple times a week) to develop a program that we could then present to the board to provide time for review and then approval—which is an incredibly short timeframe.

CAA: Why was Chancellor Berdahl in such a hurry? What was the urgency?

MT: Because at the time, it felt like the sky was falling. The African American and Latino populations at UC Berkeley were plummeting. With the passage of 209, there was tremendous fear and anxiety. When you see the numbers of African Americans and Latinos students plummet the way that they did, it’s noticeable. Students would share with us, “I’m the only one that looks like me in this classroom, and that doesn’t feel good.”

This is why the Chancellor deserves so much credit. He listened and he acted. He was determined that we must change the trajectory and bounce back from this rapid decline in the enrollment of minorities, and encourage talented diverse students from diverse backgrounds to apply, enroll, and succeed at Cal.

CAA: What was the alumni association’s first step in response to Berdahl’s request?

MT: In the spring of 1998, Irene Miura, the President of CAA, appointed Vice President Alfredo Terrazas to chair a task force. He asked me to join, along with six or eight others. Several of us had legal backgrounds.

CAA: What was the mission that gave rise to the creation of TAAP?

MT: We did not know before we began exactly what we were going to develop, though knew because of CAA’s independence, we were not restricted and we could consider all possible options (and did). We were determined to gather the best expertise and data to develop something that was going to work.

The Chancellor had made it clear our work was a priority, and we had access to anyone or information we needed. We started pulling in people from all over campus and getting any data or information that we could devour. Now, granted, we knew we didn’t control admissions. While we didn’t determine campus financial aid, our knowledge of how it was awarded became key in determining how best to leverage the financial aid component of TAAP to make a difference. So our quest became, what and how can we most strategically influence to make a difference?

CAA: Where did your research and talking tour of campus lead?

MT: At the time, the state was expanding [educational] outreach programs, as part of the commitment the Regents made when they approved SP-1. They said, “This does not take away at all our commitment to diversity. It only limits how diversity is considered in the admission process.”

Therefore, the UC Regents decided that they would put a lot more resources into outreach and academic preparation programs, and try to reach more students in diverse communities.

So we began looking to see where the existing UC Berkeley outreach and academic prep programs were operating. We could leverage that. The [decision on where to operate] these programs were geographic. Now, granted, these programs might be in a community that’s overwhelmingly African American or Latino. So if you were a student in a UC Berkeley-sponsored academic preparation and outreach programs, that’s going to be a plus factor in our [recruitment and] selection process for who would get the TAAP scholarship.

We then decided to design this program—whatever it would be named, we didn’t know yet—to try to move the needle and change the outcomes on these high-achieving students through scholarships and other forms of direct support.

CAA: How did the task force come up with the name The Achievement Award Program (TAAP)?

MT: A lot of the names that were being suggested felt to me like these students were victims. They described the difficulty of where they were from, not what they accomplished.

The name came to me one morning—in the shower, believe it or not. The Achievement Award Program. My argument to the task force focused on coming up with a name that reflected that what these students achieved was remarkable.

CAA: Now that TAAP was created, what was the source of funding for the scholarships?

MT: A large portion of our initial fund was directed there by the Chancellor.

CAA: Looking back 20 years later, what do you find most remarkable about the creation of TAAP?

MT: I would say how fast we created TAAP. I have spent my whole career working in higher education, and it is not normal to go from zero to a program in that short of a time period. It took a tremendous amount of creativity and courage and the right people, the right leadership among the Chancellor, [CAA President] Irene Miura, and Alfredo Terrazas to create TAAP so quickly.

CAA: What do you think is next for The Achievement Award Program?

MT: I think that we need more of TAAP. We’ve made a huge impact, but we need more endowments. We need more scholarships so we can support more TAAP scholars. This is where alumni can have a huge impact.