The newest class of Cal Alumni Association (CAA) Alumni Scholars kicked off the fall semester at a welcome retreat in Pinecrest, California, at the Lair of the Golden Bear. CAA’s Alumni Scholars Program began a new annual tradition of inviting new student recipients from The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) and the Kruttschnitt Aspire Scholarship Program (KASP) to the Lair last fall, as part of the program’s work to increase the support provided to students throughout their journeys at Cal.
In 2017, the Alumni Scholars Program began expanding its student support system to include more opportunities to connect with scholars. Staff members realized that money was only part of the support these students needed, and are currently building more robust programming to support students in more areas. Through this additional programming, students are learning skills like being financially literate and acquiring public speaking skills, so they leave Cal feeling prepared to join the workforce.
Each year, CAA’s Alumni Scholars Program provides $2.6 million through more than 850 scholarships to support more than 850 students. More than 650 of these awards are merit-based, but 85 are specifically need-based.
Both TAAP and KASP are need-based awards that provide low-income students—for KASP, students also come from underrepresented-minority backgrounds—with financial aid, as well as guidance and resources necessary for students to succeed at Cal.
The weekend-long Lair retreat is one of the first opportunities Alumni Scholars Program staff have to deeply connect with the students, begin providing information about campus resources, and ground them in their commitments to the program. Commitments include participating in advising sessions with Alumni Scholars Program staff and volunteering within the larger Berkeley community.
At the retreat, Alumni Scholars also have the opportunity to form community amongst themselves and share in the Lair experience. Since 1949, camping at the Lair of the Golden Bear has been a beloved tradition for generations of Cal families. For many scholars who come from communities of color or low-income families, or are first-generation college students, the retreat provides a chance to experience the camp environment for the first time.
The scholars enjoy traditional Lair activities over the course of the weekend, like hiking around Pinecrest Lake, making tie-dye shirts, and practicing archery. Fela Thomas, director of the Alumni Scholars Program noticed, “There were some naturals who, once given the opportunity, hit the bullseye every time.”
For many scholars, the campfire gathering was the highlight of the evening. Two scholars ended up hopping on stage alongside Lair staffers to sing songs around the fire. While the remaining scholars didn’t necessarily join the performance, they all appreciated the space created for them to share their stories of challenge—the obstacles they overcame in their lives, or in the Cal admissions process—and of triumph.
“I really enjoyed the bonfire!” one scholar said after returning to Berkeley from the Lair. “It was definitely a great way to build community and have an opportunity to understand other scholars, as well as a good opportunity to meet others who have met with similar situations as us.”
Not all 85 incoming scholars were able to attend the retreat this year—a number remained at Berkeley to attend Friday afternoon classes. The Alumni Scholarships Welcome Retreat, however, is a tradition that will continue for future classes of scholars. “This retreat,” Thomas said, “is for the Alumni Scholars Program team to inform our scholars of the importance of not just dedicating themselves to the program, but also defining their why, exploring the purpose of their journey at Cal.”
The Alumni Scholars Program is able to provide this space for their students thanks to a current-use, unrestricted gift from UC Berkeley alum Martin “Marty” Blank ’63, J.D. ’66. “I love the Lair, and I wanted to share it with students,” Marty said. “This is why I made a gift in support of the Alumni Scholars Program, to provide them with the means of hosting this retreat for incoming students.”
“The weekend retreat at the Lair is a critical part of the scholars’ time at Cal because it shapes their intimate community and network of support,” Thomas explained. “It strengthens the foundation of our scholars’ Berkeley education, and allows them to begin preparing for the mental and emotional journeys awaiting them at Cal, and beyond, with a community.”