Cal Teach Advising Provides Information and Perspective

Cal Teach Advising Team (left to right: Laura Imai, Cristian De Leon, Samantha Nguyen, Rita Tuan)

Which class should I take next? What is the field placement like? Is it too late for me to complete a Cal Teach minor? What do I need to do to earn a teaching credential?

These are questions Berkeley students typically ask about the Cal Teach program, whether they're pursuing the academic minor or thinking about adding it to their science, math, or engineering undergraduate major. For answers, they can turn to the new Cal Teach student advisor, Laura Imai, and students who serve as peer advisors.

Laura came to Berkeley and Cal Teach last April after eight years as an academic advisor for the School of Humanities at UC Irvine. Earlier, she spent two years as an orientation counselor at UCLA, where she also earned a bachelor's degree in history.

Now, she's applying this experience and her master's degree in counseling from California State University in Long Beach as she guides students in the intricacies of the Cal Teach curriculum and other aspects of the program.

"I like the fact that this program is small enough for me to get to know students on an individual level," Laura says. "I talk to students about how to fit the Cal Teach curriculum with their major so they can complete both in their timeframe for graduation, and about the different options in the credential program. I also manage the field placement process, which is how most of the students are familiar with me."

Aside from advising students, Laura oversees the Cal Teach Advising and Resource Center (ARC), a treasure trove of books and textbooks, study and teaching guides, and classroom supplies and materials for student field placements. Whether someone is looking for beakers or binder clips, tape or test tubes, magnets or measuring spoons, scissors or skull replicas, it can be found at ARC.

These valuable resources are so abundant that they began to outgrow the ARC space and become inaccessible. When Laura arrived, this changed. She and the peer advisors took an inventory, developed an online list, and created a Pinterest page to provide a visual representation of the resources.

"Most of our students look at our Web site first. I'm glad we have more complete and detailed information available now," says Laura. "Faculty are also using the resources in their classrooms, which is the best way to expose our students to these materials."

She encourages Cal Teach students to use ARC as a place to study, browse resources, and turn for guidance about their courses and program. It's also where they'll find the peer advisors: Cal Teach students Cristian DeLeon, Samantha Lagman Nguyen, and Rita Tuan.

"I wanted to help students know what resources are available and to have closer relationships with them," says Cristian, a math major who will begin the teaching credential program in the spring semester. "As a Cal Teach student, I can offer insights about the classes. The schedule doesn't tell you about the projects you'll do in class or what the faculty are like."

Samantha, an environmental science major whose long-term goal is to teach in an elementary school, notes, "I give students advice and also get advice from them. They often give me different perspectives on courses that I can then share with other students."

For Rita, an electrical engineering and computer science major who describes teaching as her "childhood dream job," being a peer advisor is an opportunity to gain an insider's view of Cal Teach. She says, "I like getting to know the people who run Cal Teach and getting to know the program better myself."

Like the other peer advisors, Rita also enjoys helping students who share her interest in teaching. She points out, however, "I see my role as giving people information rather than guiding them in a particular direction. What's important in advising is to give people options and then let them judge and choose which path they want to take."

Most of all, the peer advisors bring energy and a strong commitment to Cal Teach to their role. Laura says, "Hearing why they made the decision to be a part of Cal Teach helps undecided students make their own decisions. When the peer advisors talk to students about the program, their enthusiasm is infectious."