English Department Announces Chernin Mentoring Program for Undergraduates

The English Department is pleased to announce the Peter and Megan Chernin Mentorship Program, a new initiative that will build stronger and more informal connections among undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.  Designed by professors and graduate students in the Department, the program is made possible by a generous gift from Peter and Megan Chernin, who expressed interest in improving the Berkeley experience for undergraduates.  Peter Chernin, who is a 1974 alumnus of the English Department, hopes that the Mentorship program will help undergraduate students maximize their time at Berkeley by offering a forum for advice and support that goes beyond what is currently available.

Indeed, the task of mentoring is distinct from the more traditional advising that students receive from the professional staff in both the College of Letters and Sciences and in the English Department itself.  These advisors provide important — indeed, indispensable —  information about institutional matters like course requirements and enrollment deadlines.  The Chernin program, however, seeks to provide a kind role-modeling that happens more regularly and is more anchored within the academic discipline where the student anticipates pursuing a degree.  Three faculty members and six graduate students will hold regular gatherings throughout the semester with small groups of undergraduate majors and undeclared students interested in the study of literature.

These meetings will provide opportunities for open and flexible discussions of a host of intellectual, institutional, and practical issues and questions.  The specific content of the discussions will be determined by the ideas and needs of particular students or groups of students.  For instance, some undergraduate students might be wondering whom they should approach to talk about American poetry, the Victorian novel, or Renaissance drama, while others might want to know what the difference is between a senior thesis and an honors thesis.  A graduating senior might be asking what makes people go to grad school, or law school, or med school, or what the job possibilities are for someone with a bachelor’s degree in English.  Some might have questions as simple (and as crucial) as what courses they should take the following semester or what other departments they should investigate, and others might want advice on balancing the pressures of a job and a course  study.  Faculty and graduate student mentors will also be available for one-on-one conversations outside of these groups meetings and will be able offer less exclusively academic advice.

In sum, the Chernin Mentorship Program aims to provide guidance for students new and old on taking advantage of the resources that the campus and the Bay Area have to offer.  The faculty and graduate students involved in the program seek to help undergraduate profit from the cultural opportunities of the Berkeley community – from on-campus lectures and events to off-campus concerts, films, theater performances, and so on.  Although this is not a traditional course, each participant will enroll in and earn one credit for an independent study (as English 98 or 198, on a Pass/NP basis).

Additionally, the department is now able to offer new funding opportunities to graduate students who participate in the program.  Graduate student support has been a perennial challenge, especially in this time of budget cuts.  The English Department ultimately hopes that the Chernin Mentoring Program might have the power to inspire fundamental change in the Berkeley undergraduate experience.