In Fall 2021, Bryce Wallace (’23, English & Linguistics) was still stunned that he had gotten into Cal as a transfer student from Irvine Valley College, when more UC-related honors started pouring in. He has since received the merit-based Sharer and Gilman Scholarships and was granted a College Corps Fellowship for his strong commitment to community service, especially in the areas of literacy and DEI work on campus. He has participated in URAP and was recently named a Haas Scholar. Then, last month, Bryce gained national recognition when he was named a 2023 Beinecke Scholar, making him the first Cal student to successfully apply to this prestigious program since 2014.
The Beinecke Scholarship, which requires university nomination, provides $35,000 ($5,000 prior to graduate study and $15,000 per year) for two years of graduate study in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. Eighty colleges and universities from across the U.S. (including UC Berkeley) are invited to nominate one student for the scholarship, and twenty scholarships are awarded nationwide. Most Beinecke recipients are at the top of their class academically and many plan to pursue careers in college teaching and/or research. With a 3.98 GPA, Bryce is no exception. He intends to use the Beinecke support to help fund a PhD in English.
In his Beinecke application, Bryce humbly narrated his journey from feeling he did not have the qualities and circumstances college required, through a period of independent study of complex prose and literary criticism while in community college, to thriving in seminars with top literary scholars at UC Berkeley. That journey has been fueled by his intellectual hunger, openness to interdisciplinary work, and, eventually, the conviction that his questions—and those of others with humble beginnings—“deserve to be asked.” He attributes his personal growth and academic achievements to a combination of guidance and risk-taking. Like most transfer students, he had to hit the ground running at Berkeley, knowing how little time he had to make the most of the great professors and resources on campus.
In a recent conversation, Bryce named person after person at Cal who has “boggled his mind” by being willing to spend time talking with him and providing feedback on his ideas. Prof. Eve Sweetser’s class on metaphor got him into linguistics and led to participation in her URAP project analyzing public discourse. This research led to an honors thesis on the rhetoric of anti-vax websites. Prof. Joshua Gang’s philosophy and literature class and his book Behaviorism, Consciousness, and the Literary Mind introduced Bryce to meta-critical approaches to meaning-making in literary texts and to rethinking the tradition of the field of literary criticism itself (the subject of his honors thesis in the English department). Prof. Victoria Kahn’s seminar on the history of literary criticism also inspired him to think of larger historical and philosophical questions about the study of literature as he moves on to graduate study. Bryce is also deeply grateful to Prof. Dorothy Hale, his thesis advisor and Haas mentor, whose expertise, teaching, and generosity with her time in and out of class have challenged and encouraged him in too many ways to list here.
Bryce is also thankful for the support offered by Laura Steffen, President of the Carol H. and Kevin W. Sharer Education Foundation. Her mentorship and the funds from the Sharer Scholars award allowed Bryce to double major and excel in his classes because he didn’t have to work as many hours to cover his expenses. Being part of the Sharer community also “made him proud to be a transfer student.” Many transfer students find it difficult to study abroad due primarily to scheduling constraints, but the Gilman Scholarship enabled Bryce to participate in the Pembroke Cambridge Summer Program (UCEAP). At Cambridge, he engaged in intellectually stimulating one-on-one conversations with literature and film scholar Dr. Nathaniel Zetter, whose reading recommendations greatly influenced Bryce’s current research.
When not engaged in his rigorous academic work on campus, Bryce currently serves as a mentor and tutor for students at McClymonds High School in Oakland and volunteers with a literacy program run by Dr. Grace Carroll at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. Brian McGhee (’91 BASW), Bryce’s supervisor at McClymonds, has joined the team of mentors who understandably see something special in Bryce and have provided important guidance along the way, guidance he fully intends to pay forward:
“My ultimate goal is to be a lifelong learner and teacher as a professor. Looking back at the aimless younger version of myself gives me a sense of responsibility to be the academic role model that I lacked growing up. I want to teach students to believe what I used to think was a cliché: that there are no right appearances, attitudes, or circumstances that qualify someone’s ability to think—that the questions they have deserve to be asked, as did mine.”