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Cheryl Wright, president of the Cal Black Alumni Association Cheryl Wright ’83, president of the Cal Black Alumni Association / CJ Poloka
Alumni Chapters

Helping Students Rise in Community, Toward Purpose

Though there are many resources for those who pursue higher education, navigating the post-grad landscape is less clear, especially for students from underrepresented backgrounds.*

April 15, 2022

It’s common to doubt one’s qualifications, despite training and expertise. It’s especially easy for people of color to feel unqualified, says Maya Lefao ’15, a program director at RepresentED, a nonprofit organization that prepares marginalized students for leadership roles in the private and public sector. Institutional racism in higher education and the workforce constantly suggests that people of color haven’t earned their positions based on their own merits.“ The most dangerous thing is internalizing these messages,” Lefao warns. This is why it’s important for alumni of color to come together and guide students of color as they navigate their careers beyond Berkeley.

Kirk Tramble ’93 and other alumni connect with students through the Beyond Berkeley Career Series
Kirk Tramble ’93 (center left) and other alumni connect with students through the Beyond Berkeley Career Series / CJ Poloka

In partnership with the African American Student Development Office and the Cal Alumni Association’s Alumni Scholars Program, the Cal Black Alumni Association (BAA) created “Beyond Berkeley Career Series: Rising in Community Towards Your Purpose.” The series featured workshops, mock interviews, and a networking event supporting African American Initiative (AAI) and The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) Scholars in their professional growth. It was a robust introduction to entering the workforce and navigating the job-search process. 

While crafting a resume and mastering interview skills are important, the series started with self-reflection and quieting any internal self-doubt. In a workshop titled “Conquer Imposter Syndrome and Achieve Success” led by Lefao, students broke down what imposter syndrome is, why it happens, and how to reject it. “You are often your toughest critic,” says Lefao. “It’s really important for us to work from the inside out.”

Lefao compares imposter syndrome to individuals looking out of the same window, but focusing on different things. Building a strong mindset, speaking positively of one’s self, recognizing opportunities in everything, and moving with integrity are key strategies to combat self-doubt. “Yes, you do belong. Yes, you can do this. Yes, you are qualified. Yes, you know what you’re doing,” Lefao affirms.

After channeling the right mindset, students transitioned to Sunny Dae Earle’s ’14 workshop on personal branding, titled “Let’s Talk About Your Brand,” where Earle stressed the importance of building a stellar LinkedIn page and making every section count. Earle asked the students, “How do you want to introduce yourself to the world?” 

Between workshops, Scholars completed mini-exercises structured to inspire deeper investigation. One exercise, “Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan,” had participants research potential career paths, then consider if these fields were a good fit for them.

“If you’re committed to what you want to do and you’re prepared to go into that role, then say it with your chest!”


The workshops concluded with the most popular part about job searching: getting the job. Eniola Abioye ’15, a UX researcher and founder of UX Outloud, led “Who’s Hiring & What Are They Looking For?” Abioye gave Scholars tips and tricks for getting the next job—but beyond a great resume and interview skills, she focused on a recurring theme: confidence. “Confidence in one’s professional abilities is much more attractive than someone who is ‘aspiring’ to a role,” Abioye says. “If you’re committed to what you want to do and you’re prepared to go into that role, then say it with your chest!” 

Chelsea Ledezma ’22 left the series with one quote that stood out to her: “take yourself seriously or no one else will.” She continues, “This was helpful to me because it changed my perspective and really made me think about what it is I want to do and how I will work towards achieving those goals.”

Cheryl Wright ’83, president of the Cal Black Alumni Association, shares a personal story during the networking event between students and alumni. “I attended Cal in the early 80’s. This particular programming was not available for me during that time,” she said. When she was transitioning from Cal, she hadn’t established a network of alumni to help her post-grad. She emphasizes the value of the Cal alumni of color community. “I was amazing back then, but can you imagine how fierce I would have been by having the Cal Black Alumni community at my fingertips?”

Undergraduate students at a Beyond Berkeley Career Series event, themed "Rising in Community Towards Your Purpose."
Undergraduate students at a Beyond Berkeley Career Series event, themed “Rising in Community Towards Your Purpose” / CJ Poloka

“The most helpful thing I learned during the networking event is to not be afraid to approach people in different careers,” says Alina Chavarin ’22. “Through the networking event, I learned about career paths that I was previously unfamiliar with and now will be looking into further.” 

Rashida Hanif ’15, BAA’s mentorship program chair and CEO of RepresentED, also notes the palpable sense of joy and community. “There was just something very special about being in the room with alumni eager to support our student community! You felt this infectious energy that came from the students feeling seen, alumni being able to reconnect with their peers, and an overall sense of joy, connection, and community taking place!”

“I am feeling more confident in myself, grounded in my community, and equipped with tools to propel forward in my professional development as a queer, low-income, Latinx, and first-generation college student.”

Oscar Ramos ’22

* CAA has identified Black/African/African American, Chicanx/Latinx, Native American/Alaska Native, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander as underrepresented groups on campus.

Alumni: Learn how you can support The Achievement Award Program.

Students: If you would like to apply for The Achievement Award Program, visit the Cal Alumni Association Application Portal. Open only to prospective first years and junior transfers.

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