Making Berkeley Home: NavCal creates community for nontraditional students

Monday, October 26, 2020

When he transferred to UC Berkeley last fall, Andrew Mendoza was intimidated. He said the sprawling 1,200-acre campus, with its emblematic Sather Gate, abundance of vast libraries and towering Campanile looked like “something you see in a Harry Potter movie.”

But more than those iconic structures, he feared what they represented: spaces of privilege that felt foreign. Mendoza, then 24, was many of the things his fellow classmates were not — Latinx, first-generation, low-income and the first in his family to attend a four-year university.

“I just felt out of place,” said Mendoza, who came to Berkeley from Pasadena City College on a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship. “For many nontraditional students in higher education, it feels like we’re constantly pioneering in a foreign land where we don’t know the language and don’t have a legend to decipher it.”

Mendoza feared many of the things more traditional and affluent students grasp with ease: visiting with prestigious professors during office hours, confidently seeking out research opportunities and feeling like they belong on campus.

Berkeley does offer help for students like Mendoza, but he found the process of accessing that help bureaucratic and extremely overwhelming. It was hard to reconcile his personal background with the specific way he needed to carry himself into these settings on campus.

He felt pressure to be someone he was not to fit into a mold that wasn’t meant for him.

“It’s a hidden curriculum, equivalent to academic code-switching, to fit a certain norm,” Mendoza said.

But that changed when Mendoza found NavCal — short for Navigating the University of California, Berkeley — a course designed to teach nontraditional students this hidden curriculum about how to succeed at Berkeley and beyond. 

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Story by Ivan Natividad