Letter from Director, Sandra Bass, Ph.D.

Sandra Bass, Assistant Dean of Students and Director2016 was a difficult year by any measure and making sense of this fractured political moment has been uppermost in the minds of many of our students. At our spring student leader retreat in January, we brought our students together for a day of self-renewal, reflection, and reconnection. Most importantly, we wanted to remind our students that in these uncertain times we could find strength in our care for each other. For inspiration, we turned to an ancient life form that lives in Fishlake National Forest, Utah.

From a bird’s eye point of view, this forest looks like any other, the ground thickly covered with thousands of individual trees. However at the root level a different story unfolds. This forest is not comprised of separate and distinct “trees,” but rather stems of one ancient, sprawling, quaking aspen known as the Pando Tree. The Pando is at least 80,000 years old, although some experts believe it to be closer to 1 million. It comprises over 40,000 genetically identical stems connected by a complex network of roots spanning over 100 acres across western Utah. The tree “communicates” to each of its stems through this root system; sending additional nutrients and support to stems that are either growing or faltering.

What we shared with our students is that like the Pando tree, on one dimension we appear as separate entities, signified by race, gender, sexual orientation, or class, but beneath the surface we are all interconnected. And it is our capacity to acknowledge these differences and their impact on lived experience — while acting from the deeper truth of our interconnectedness — that feeds our strength and resilience.

In this newsletter, you will read about several members of our community who recognize that interconnection and are taking action through service. These are but a few of the thousands of inspiring stories of public service by members of the UC Berkeley community that have taken place over the past 50 years. In 2017, the Public Service Center — formerly known as Cal Corps — celebrates its 50th anniversary — a unique opportunity to honor Berkeley’s legacy of interconnectedness, of putting forward innovative, collaborative solutions to pressing social problems. We invite you to share your stories of service and resilience, and to join us as we celebrate the past, present, and future of public service, community engagement, student leadership at Cal.  

Sandra Bass
Assistant Dean of Students and Director