CUBS give voice to the undergraduate student experience

April 8, 2024

undergrads leading CUBS session

Pictured, from left to right: Aman Shah, Kayanna Harris, Gabriela Quiusky, Nelson Gaillard, Abigail Hinojosa, and Benji Garcia
Photo courtesy of Marissa Yáñez, PhD

In 2018, graduate students Emily Hartman and Chrissy Stachl started the Graduate Life Committee. The committee, including students from the departments of Chemistry and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, took on the major task of implementing a graduate climate survey to better understand how the College’s culture was impacting graduate students and ways to improve their experience while at Berkeley. In 2019, Kenneth Celis was inspired by this survey, and developed a separate, undergraduate-only survey with the same intent.

Since then, the undergraduate climate survey has been distributed every year, with questions that aim to understand and assess belonging at the College – how supported do people feel—emotionally, financially, academically? How available are their mentors?

This year, undergraduate students Aman Shah, Kayanna Harris, Gabriela Quiusky, Nelson Gaillard, Benji Garcia, and Gianna Segale (graduated) and graduate student mentor Abigail Hinojosa under the mentorship of faculty member Anne Baranger, PhD, led the effort to run the climate survey this year, analyze its data and present the findings to leadership and the college.

Taking a cue from the graduate student group cDIBS - Chemistry Departmental Information and Brainstorming Session - led by the CGLC (Chemistry Graduate Life Committee) to discuss the results of the graduate climate survey, the group created CUBS - Chemistry Undergraduate Brainstorming Session - and hosted an evening for undergraduates to discuss 3 main themes that emerged from this year’s survey: student climate within classes, improving resource usage, and fostering student community. They provided pizza and refreshments – but rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

“CUBS is important because we can come up with reasonable and short-term goals to improve the student experience,” said Nelson Gaillard, an undergraduate student and a member of CUBS. “Yes, we can inform administration about the results [of the survey] but we also worked as a group to create a list of action items that we can implement right away.”

For example, one of the survey findings showed that students feel isolated following COVID and the lockdowns that came with it.

“We have [fewer] events than we used to,” said Abigail Hinojosa, graduate student mentor and CUBS member. “So we are looking for ways to build community among students again. We asked questions like ‘What are some solutions to overcoming feelings of isolation within the College?’ during our brainstorming session to find ways to address this issue.”

And while the individual effort itself has been successful, CUBS speaks to something larger and more inspiring happening among the students.

“What’s great about [CUBS] is it gives a voice and a sense of power to the students,” said Gaillard. “It shows that students should be part of the decision making for the College.”

Gaillard talks about the energy behind their work in the same way movements are often spoken about. “We genuinely care,” he says on behalf of the group, as he refers to the experience of the students at the College of Chemistry. And they are also moved by the support they have received from Undergraduate Dean John Arnold, Director of Undergraduate Student Services Maura Daly, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Anne Baranger, and Chief Diversity Officer Marissa Yañez, PhD. “There’s a lot of great momentum coming from the top and it speaks to their commitment to the work.”