Funding cuts, diversity mandates, and managing affordability all create huge challenges for the nearly 200,000 students in the University of California system. UCSB graduate student Jesse Bernal has embraced these challenges as opportunities for improvement within one of the country’s largest public school systems, a task he hopes to accomplish as the next University of California Student Regent.
Last week, Bernal, who got his bachelor degree from Westmont College and is now pursuing a doctorate in education at UCSB’s Gevirtz School, was nominated for the Student Regent position for 2009-2010 by the University of California Regents’ special committee. He was selected from an original pool of 65 applicants from all 10 campuses in the UC system. The full Board of Regents will meet July 15-17 to deliberate on the committee’s recommendation and vote to approve the nomination.
If approved, Bernal will begin his two-year term as the Student Regent-designate for the 2008-2009 academic year, attending and participating in the Board of Regents’ discussions. His full term as Student Regent will commence on July 1, 2009, when he’ll become a full voting member of The Board of Regents of the University of California, the system’s governing body that also includes 18 regents and seven ex-officio members. As the Student Regent-designate and Student Regent, Bernal must attend six two-day meetings each year and, in return, his university fees and tuition will be waived.
As Student Regent, Bernal will represent students and their perspectives from across all 10 UC campuses and make their voices heard to the governing powers. With his one vote and close connections to the decision makers, Bernal will focus on articulating the concerns about student life expressed by UC student leaders to the other boardmembers.
After more than one decade of Student Regents hailing from other UC campuses, Bernal is excited to bring the position back to UC-Santa Barbara. When the position was established in 1975, the first appointed Student Regent was an undergraduate from UCSB. Then, in 1996 a UCSB graduate student served, which will make Bernal the third Gaucho, if his nomination is approved. “It’s great to be able to bring this position back to this campus and really provide local students and administrators with an additional avenue to voice concerns, share ideas, and provide advice to the system,” said Bernal. “I am really honored to be able to represent our campus in this capacity.”
As the Student Regent, Bernal hopes to bridge the interests of public schools with supporting nonprofits to help students overcome some of the challenges that he has personally faced and ultimately help them succeed. “I think most importantly, what has prepared me for this position is actually being directly affected by many of the challenges students in our University and public schools everywhere face,” said Bernal.
All of his hard work will create better opportunities for the future generation of students. He explained, “I hope to be able to work in partnership with all those who care about these issues and Santa Barbara is definitely a community passionate about education.”
Bernal has a lot of experience volunteering and working with educational programs from the primary through collegiate levels. He began in high school as a third grade mentor, then as a college student in Texas, he worked with a migrant education tutoring and mentoring program. When he came out to California to earn his bachelor degree at Westmont, he worked for outreach programs such as Cal-SOAP and the Endowment for Youth Foundation. “Ironically, I had never seen myself as being so interested in ‘education’ and issues within the field of education,” Bernal said, “It’s just what I did: what I’ve always done.” But it is a passion that has developed over time as he connected with volunteer education programs as well as through his own experiences as a student. He began his academic career with a focus in political science and only recently shifted that emphasis to issues in education.
Bernal was raised in South Texas where education generally prepared students for vocational futures. His parents’ never went to college, so while growing up, the world of college seemed foreign to him. His academic background caused concerns for Bernal about whether he was prepared to tackle college. The financial component was another enormous worry for Bernal and his family. These two factors caused Bernal to drop out of school twice, once during undergraduate and then as a graduate student. “The time off was short because I quickly realized how important this was to me (and my family) but these issues continue to be a struggle and I know this is the case for many,” Bernal said.
In his academic journey, Bernal has come to value his education immensely and realizes how greatly it has shaped his outlook. “Despite the continuing struggle and challenges, my education has brought me to a place I could have never expected and have created a passion in me for issues I had never contemplated,” Bernal said. “I truly believe that education is the last sane place to change people.”
With his personal experience in mind, he hopes to work toward giving everyone including underrepresented minorities and low-income students the opportunity to a higher education. Bernal is incredibly optimistic about the University of California as a valuable institution. He said, “Despite all I’ve learned and all I know I will learn about this system and education in general, I’m still optimistic that the UC is a place of hope and opportunity and a place capable of diminishing educational and therefore social inequalities.”
Kathleen Zaratzian is an Independent intern.