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In Pandemic Year, Alumni Find Virtual Spirit

The Cal alumni community found new ways to connect to each other and to the university in a year defined by physical and emotional isolation.

September 7, 2021
Man with young child holding Go Bears sign Alum and child // Catharyn Hayne - KLC Fotos

In a year marked by physical and often emotional isolation, the Cal alumni community found new ways to connect to each other and to the university. Robust virtual programs engaged more than 9,000 UC Berkeley alumni in activities that inspired our Cal spirit anew.

9,000+ virtually engaged alumni

Career development, job-search resources, and professional advising provided through the Cal Alumni Association’s Berkeley Network were among the most popular offerings for alumni during this uncertain year. Launched during shelter-in-place, the virtual Career Profiles in Resilience conversation series gave alumni a timely forum to connect around shared professional and personal experience. 

Volunteer-powered community

Volunteer-led Alumni Chapters provided vital community gatherings. The UC Berkeley Black Engineering and Science Alumni Club (BESAC) hosted COVID-19 Vaccines: Science and Facts. The annual Berkeley China Summit, where leaders discuss business, public health, technology, and culture in the US and China, was held virtually, allowing participants to meet across different time zones. Alumni volunteers from the Berkeley Chinese Alumni International Association established the Cal Startup Network, where alumni and students can support each other in their entrepreneurial journeys.

Despite pandemic constraints, alumni ensured that incoming students received no less warm a welcome to campus. During Golden Bear Orientation, where students receive support for a successful transition to Berkeley, new transfer students enjoyed an inside look at career paths at an alumni-hosted virtual mixer. “Networking and volunteering are key for students to land their first job after graduation,” explained one alum. To help with the transition, alumni and student volunteers filmed a warm welcome with advice for the 2020 cohort of undergraduate Alumni Scholars.

Reflection and resilience

As social issues stayed at the forefront of our minds, young alum Maria Smith ’19 helped us reflect by creating Who Are We Now?, a series of conversations that challenged us to think about how we’ve changed. Smith explained, “The narrative was so focused on all the things that had been lost and when we would be able to gain those things back. I felt that that wasn’t the question that you should be asking yourself. I just thought the discussion needed to be around what matters most.”

Many alumni were fueled by the strong desire to give back to their alma mater. Retired HR executive Deary Duffie MBA ’84 described it as a new way to achieve work-life balance: “I don’t like to say that I’m retired. I’m experiencing my renaissance.” Catch Duffie dispensing leadership advice at a recent workshop for Alumni Scholars on a widely relevant subject: Using Anxiety and Fear to Fuel Your Personal Power

Beyond the backyard 

Alumni also found ways to connect offline. Hundreds of alums donned Cal gear along with their running shoes for the first-ever virtual Berkelium 5K. The run/walk event drew participants from Canada, England, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, and Switzerland, collectively logging 830 miles in support of the Cal Alumni Association’s alumni and student programming.

Our award-winning California magazine took us inside a CRISPR lab and up close with the bones of the Campanile. Cal Discoveries Travel tapped a few beloved Berkeley professors to bring the world into our homes—we tasted Sicilian wine with Professor Alex Saragosa and chased eclipses with Professor Alex Filippenko.

The Lair of the Golden Bear got our attention with family-friendly programming straight from Pinecrest, California, including a weekly campfire broadcast and at-home activities, like this DIY tie-dye course led by Lair staffer Caro.

In a year like no other, Cal alumni reached beyond themselves to show what a vibrant, diverse community we have at UC Berkeley. To stay in the loop about alumni events, check out our calendar or subscribe to our monthly email digest.