Golden Bear Orientation Welcomes New Bears to Berkeley

August 15, 2017

Supported in part by the College of Letters & Science Advisory Board and College Leadership Fund donors, an ambitious program to introduce all 9,500 incoming students to UC Berkeley launches Tuesday, Aug. 15. Golden Bear Orientation (GBO) — eight jam-packed days of training sessions, ice breakers, tours and academic programming — is expected to be the largest orientation of its kind at a U.S. university, in terms of the number of students participating.

GBO replaces Berkeley’s venerable CalSO (Cal Student Orientation) program, which began in the 1960s and, for more than 50 years, ran two-day sessions each summer for 300 to 500 incoming freshmen at a time and one-day sessions for transfer students.

But it was a hardship for about 20 percent of these students — especially low-income and out-of-state students — to make the trip to campus in June and July, only to return again in August to begin classes. Travel costs and summer jobs were among the impediments.

Now, with orientation immediately before the semester’s start, “we know we’ll have nearly 100 percent coming, and all at the same time,” says Chrissy Roth-Francis, director of New Student Services. “We want all our students to make it to orientation and to have an accessible and equitable experience.”

First thing Tuesday morning, all incoming freshmen and transfer students will be assigned for the week to small groups led by 575 student orientation leaders. These groups will take part in activities such as Bay Area excursions, training sessions about sexual violence, a campus resource fair, Caltopia, discussion sessions and campus tours.

Among the evening activities is a Sunday, Aug. 20, keynote lecture by Jeremy McCarter, co-author of “Hamilton: The Revolution.” As part of On the Same Page, an annual program hosted by the College of Letters & Science (L&S), all incoming students and faculty reviewed over the summer the cast album to the hit musical “Hamilton.”

Across the campus, departments, schools and colleges all joined the elaborate and lengthy planning process, which required a shift in some of the ways that, for decades, staff and faculty helped new students get their bearings.

At CalSO, many incoming students met one on one, albeit briefly, with an academic adviser. But this summer, over several weeks’ time, they took part in Golden Bear Advising, hopping on their computers to engage in online learning modules tailored to their fields of study and to meet virtually with their advisers through video conferencing tools. Students also connected with advisers via email.

While in-person advising has its benefits, says Bob Jacobsen, dean of undergraduate studies in L&S, GBO is taking away the pressure new students felt at CalSO to talk to an adviser and choose classes, all within 24 hours. In addition, students who couldn’t go to CalSO had the disadvantage of registering last, after those who attended got their pick.

“We stretched advising out this summer over many weeks,” says Jacobsen, “with the goal of having students register at the end of the process, and having had time to think about their choices after connecting with an adviser.”

In prior years, many academic units on campus also only had a brief time during CalSO to welcome new students, with faculty often playing a minor role. This year, L&S, which encompasses more than half of Berkeley’s faculty and 75 percent of its undergraduates, will offer “First Lectures” to give new students a taste of the span and vibrancy of each of seven academic areas.

For more details on the new GBO, read the full story. Students and parents can visit for schedule information.

UC Berkeley NewsCenter