Luis Castillo, student development manager for Engineering Student Services and Connie Mi, rising junior and president of the Engineering Student Council are our guests on this week’s (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer.
We discussed the benefits of joining student organizations and competition teams, how to learn about the organizations that are available, and how to choose the team that is right fit for you. Plus we get into the details of application processes, what is the time commitment and if there are additional costs.
- College of Engineering teams and organizations
- Engineering Student Council
- LEAD Center
- Email Luis Castillo
Laura Vogt: Hello and welcome to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. My name is Laura Vogt, I’m the associate director for marketing and communications for the College of Engineering and I’m excited to be your podcast host. One of the best ways to meet students and build a community at UC Berkeley is through student organizations or competition teams. This week I’ve invited Luis Castillo, ESS’s student development manager and Connie Mi, the president of the Engineering Student Council. Welcome to the podcast!
LUIS CASTILLO: Hello, thank you for having us.
CONNIE MI: Hi, thank you for having me.
LV: Let’s start with Luis, can you please tell us a little bit more about yourself and your role in ESS.
LC: Definitely, as Laura already mentioned, I’m the student development manager at ESS. But what that includes is that I oversee leadership, academic and the overall development of students. Within the leadership we put on a program called LeaderShape, in which we encourage students to build their leadership skills and how to be an ethical engineer in the world. I also offer student organization support and I work closely with Connie and her team in the ESC in making sure that all student orgs are equitable and accessible to students. The academic realm, I deal with the Center for Access to Engineering Excellence, the CAEE, which I oversee and there we offer tutoring and other academic support and all sorts of different resources for students. Once we are back on campus please definitely come and check us out, we are in Bechtel 227. In the meantime, please do keep in mind that we have moved our tutoring services to online versions. You are able to access support from a tutor online via Google meetings. And then finally student development is just various workshops that I put on for the College of Engineering and ESS. With that comes different workshops and programs to develop your academic skills, your time management, and also your professional development.
LV: Excellent. Thank you so much. I always forget just how much you do for us until you have to start trying to list it all out. Connie your turn, why don’t you tell us about yourself and more about the Engineering Student Council and the role that you have in it.
CM: Thank you so much for the introductions, Laura. As you mentioned, I’m president of the Education Student Council. So a little bit more about us. We are the official student government at Berkeley Engineering and we actually represent about 50 clubs on campus. That includes academic, professional organizations, honor societies, fraternities, sororities, and a lot of the competition teams. So really our goal is to ultimately support the engineering community here at Cal and to drive successful collaboration between the student body, student orgs, and the College of Engineering. One of the biggest roles we play is we provide a lot of resources for engineering organizations to succeed and two ways we really do this is through funding and providing facilities. As a president of the ESC, my goal for the next year is to really continue to expand upon the ways in which we support clubs. And I really want to focus on creating more equitable and inclusive club environments.
LV: Thank you so much. I’m excited to have you here today. Just a note for those listening, in order to shorten what I’m saying, I will be regularly referring to organizations and that’s just going to kind of be this umbrella of student organizations, clubs, competition teams just to make it a little shorter so we’re not trying to say all of that every time. So let’s start out with Luis. Can you tell me more about the benefits of being involved in campus organizations.
LC: Definitely, as you explore your major and you get a better grasp as to what your interests are, there are different student orgs, as Connie already mentioned, from professional societies, competition teams, project based teams, community and global outreach, design make and hack, entrepreneurship/consulting, fraternities and sororities, local school outreach, and honor societies. And within these different student orgs or clubs you may be able to find your niche with different students who also have the same passion as you. I do suggest that you visit esc.berkeley.edu and in their top menu bar you can select organizations and look at the affiliated organizations. You can look at all the different orgs that are under the umbrella of ESC.
LV: Excellent. Connie, can you tell us about your experiences with organizations on campus and maybe how you chose what to be involved in?
CM: Organizations at Cal have been really a big part of my college life. I’ve met some of my closest friends, some of my best friends, through them. It’s really enriched my experience as a student. I’m currently an incoming junior but as a freshman when I first came to Cal I was really overwhelmed by the amount of clubs on campus, just like Luis and I mentioned, there’s so many different types of clubs that do a variety of things. Over the past two years, aside from ESC, I’ve really chosen to surround myself with a good mixture of technical, social, and more leadership oriented clubs. So I was a part of FemTech, which is an org that really supports female students in tech. That really helped me gain a new circle of friends that could understand and support my experiences as a female engineer at Cal. I also joined the Student Association for Applied Stats and this gave me the opportunity to conduct my own research on statistics and that was something that I was really interested in. Based on my own experiences, I really found that surrounding myself with a variety of types of clubs has given me exposure to different people, different experiences, different opportunities, and that’s really made my life as a student engineer way better.
LC: One thing that I would like to add, keep in mind that joining student orgs does not only help you in exploring what direction in your different engineering majors you want to go in, but it also puts you in contact with different alumni that have been here UC Berkeley, that have followed that same trajectory. These are connections that you can use to explore different areas of your career, figure out where you want to go next in grad school, or even go into industry. If someone that already has a connection with you by being part of the same student org that you are going to become part of.
LV: Yeah, because you’ve already shown in some ways that you have this experience or what your work ethic was as you were working on club projects. All right, so Connie, what is the best way to start exploring? You were talking about the specific clubs you chose but how did you find them? What is your process of exploring them?
CM: So things are a little bit different now that we’re in kind of a hybrid post-COVID world. When I was a freshman, I really found campus events like Calapalooza and Sproul to be really beneficial for me. I would say for students who are joining Cal now, if you can attend these events, and if they are still going to be happening, please do attend them at a safe distance, with the safe precautions. But there’s also many different ways to explore online. You mentioned the Engineering Student Council has a really great website that breaks down all of our affiliated works into different types. CalLink is also another great resource. I’ve really found that to be helpful not only to find clubs but also to find events that are hosted by the College of Engineering. I’d really recommend students to start exploring now before the semester starts to guide you and start planning your upcoming semester.
LV: Since you brought up Calapalooza, Luis can actually tell us a little bit more about how the student organizations are going to be part of Golden Bear Orientation.
LC: Definitely. Different student orgs this year will be participating via video. Meaning that usually, when we didn’t have the pandemic, student orgs would table outside of the Bechtel Engineering Center. But since all of this is going on and we have to keep safety of the students in mind, we are doing the distancing protocol and having all of our student orgs virtually table. They will present videos online that will be accessible to you all, so that you can learn a little bit more about what different student orgs are and how you can get involved.
LV: Luis, who can a student reach out to if they know they want to get involved, but aren’t sure what would be a good fit?
LC: One of the things that you can do is reach out to me personally or you can also reach out to the ESC. What I would recommend is first going through the link I recommend, esc.berkeley.edu to start looking at what orgs there are, start going through the websites, read about them, and see where you would like to fit in. For your first year, I would recommend that you probably join at most two student orgs. I’m going outside my realm here with students but your first year, your first semester particularly, we want you to be successful. Start thinking about your time management skills. Start plotting out what your week is going to look like on your bCal calendar that you’ll have access to, and start seeing what your free time will be outside of doing homework and different projects that you’re going to have, and studying. You’ll see what time you’ll have free to join different student orgs and go to their meetings. Of course, they’re going to be online but still something that is time consuming and we don’t want you to be overwhelmed. We want you to be successful, not only in your courses, but also in the orgs you become part of.
LV: Definitely. Connie since you’ve done a few of these different student organizations, how much time do you think a student you plan on giving during the semester or how much time do you think is asked?
CM: That’s a really great question. I think it really depends on each individual’s students schedules and goals. I really encourage students, especially underclassmen, to spend some time evaluating their upcoming goals for the semester. In general there’s no right answer for how much time we should plan on spending for clubs. For example if you plan on spending 10 hours a week on clubs, that’s great as long as you make sure you have time for your classes, to focus on your mental and physical health, and also definitely plan some time that’s extra just for you to relax. If you on the other hand only want to spend two or three hours a week on clubs, that’s also perfectly fine too. It is really all relative to your goals and what you have going on.
I also think that a student’s time commitment to clubs might change throughout the semester. Just in my personal experience, you might be busy with applying to internships during one certain month and then the next month you might be more free. Or you could be more involved with research in one month and then the next month you’ll be more free again. So it would really be good then to look at your whole semester and see which months you might be more busy or free and then plan to spend less time or more time on clubs then. In general, I would really watch out for the number of technical courses you’re taking, whether or not you might have a part time job, and also if you might have a goal of finding more friends or socializing. It’s all about balancing these goals and really taking some time to think about them.
LV: When you talk about trying to figure out and balance how many hours you’re putting into it – what’s the best way, if you’re doing the investigation into a club…Is there someone that you think you they could talk to you more to find out what types of activities there are or is that just a matter of exploring the websites for each individual organization?
CM: I think most club websites will actually have a contact us page that has some of the student leaders that are part of the club. I think it would be a really great idea if you could look at that page and reach out to those club members. I know just for the Engineering Student Council, on our website, we list all of our officers and all of our executives and we have our emails on there. I really encourage students to please reach out to us. We will definitely answer your emails, if you want recommendations for what clubs to join or even if you just want to get to know more about what ESC does and if you do join me to see how much time you’ll be spending, we can all let you know that.
LV: For most of these organizations it’s gonna be an application process or a time commitment trying to be part of something?
CM: So each club on campus has a different application process. Some clubs do not require students to submit any kind of application. Students can then simply just join and attend club events. There are other clubs that have maybe like a google form application for students to fill out and then maybe the applicants have to participate in a short coffee chat, so that the club can figure out which committee to put them in. Some engineering clubs or some other clubs on campus that do have more extensive application processes that might seem a little daunting. Just remember, you don’t ever need to stress out about long applications or club interviews. There are many different avenues for students to really learn new experiences and skills. I would personally recommend engineering decals. They are run by students and they’re really great and they have an open enrollment policy where students can just learn about new skills like web design, prototyping, things like that.
LV: Excellent. I didn’t even think that you could do decals to build your skills. That’s an awesome idea. And Luis, are there costs involved to be part of these organizations?
LC: For the most part, there aren’t any costs but do keep in mind that part of your tuition and fees goes to making sure that these student orgs are funded by the ASUC and through the ESC that’s how orgs receive those funds. So definitely keep in mind that you’re already paying for these student orgs to exist. In general, you won’t have to pay anything but there are orgs like honor societies that do have some type of due that’s required but they are flexible and will make sure that if you do not have the financial support to fund your membership in that org, that it is taken care of for you. In any case if you happen to come across difficulty and your org does not have the leniency to support you, reach out to us because we definitely want to make sure that there are no barriers or obstacles for you to be successful in that realm as well.
LV: OK. And that’s just sending you and maybe an email?
LC: Definitely. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
LV: I will also have a list of the important links that we talked about today because there have been a few of them now. Is there anything else that either of you wanted to add that we haven’t already talked about?
LC: I’ll probably say that, do keep in mind that this year everything’s going to be different. We are mostly going to be interacting in our courses and then with other students online via video call or all sorts of different forums. So keep in mind that exhaustion does happen too, even if you’re just sitting in front of a computer. So do take care of your well-being, make sure that you are taking time to exercise, go outside into the sun, and drink and eat, maintain your body healthy. Keep in mind that the first year, in the first semester particularly, is stressful but there are definitely a variety of different resources and support programs that are here to support you, myself particularly, the ESC, all of the members in ESS. So reach out to your adviser, make sure that you have a good plan, and make sure that you are reaching out for support as you go on this new venture.
CM: Yeah, Luis, that is a really great point that you brought up that students should really take care of their health, even on a hybrid system for the semester. I also do want to add that I think a lot of students might feel very disconnected from clubs in a hybrid system, but I do want to emphasize that a lot of the engineering clubs on campus, I know personally, are doing a really great job of transitioning everything online. They’re holding meetings, welcome sessions, all over Zoom. I’ve even heard of club socials over Zoom, with game nights. So students please don’t hesitate to reach out over email or social media even. The Engineering Student Council is really looking forward to a really great year. We’ll be having a lot of online events, events that will be accessible over Zoom. Look out for that and yeah we’re very excited.
LV: Thank you both so much for joining us today. Like I said, student organizations are one of the best ways to start getting to meet people that you’re going to be working with and going to school with over the next few years. And I just really appreciate everything that you’ve added to the conversation and let people know how to do it.
CM: Thank you, again, Laura for having us.
LV: And thank you everyone for tuning in to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I look forward to podcasting with you next week.