Mills Awarded $1.4 Million for Low-Income Students to Prepare for College
Oakland, CA–July 26, 2016 — Mills College received a $1.4 million, five-year grant from the US Department of Education to motivate and prepare low-income Oakland high school students for college.
The Mills College Educational Talent Search, now in its 18th year, serves about 600 Oakland middle and high school students from disadvantaged or low-income families.
Students in the program are offered free monthly seminars on study skills, college preparation, financial aid, scholarships, career exploration and goal setting. The program also offers a five-week academic enrichment summer program for middle and high school students that includes English instruction, an SAT preparation course, science instruction, mentoring and cultural and educational field trips.
Mills Program Director Mayra Guevara, who graduated from an Oakland high school and benefited from a similar program in the early 1990s, said the work she does at Mills is close to her heart.
“The Mills program serves low income families and students who will be the first in their families to go to college, so it’s very personally rewarding to be working here,” Guevara said. “The program is a way Mills can give back to the community and to the students who are in high need of our services.”
The talent search targets students at Castlemont High School, Coliseum College Prep Academy, Fremont High School, Life Academy of Health and Bioscience, Leadership Public School Oakland R&D, and Oakland Technical High School.
Mills Alumna Lands Her First Published Short Story in ‘Best American’ Anthology for 2016
Oakland, CA–October 10, 2016 — A Mills College alumna has landed her first published short story in TheBest American Short Stories 2016, published this month and edited by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz.
“The Letician Age,” by Yalitza Ferreras, ’07, first appeared in the Colorado Review in 2015 and was noticed by Díaz as worthy of inclusion in the ‘Best American’ book.
Mills English Professor Kim Magowan, who taught Ferreras at Mills and who has kept in touch with her over the years, said being in the “Best American’ anthology is the literary equivalent of winning an Oscar for a short story.
Ferreras credits Mills and Magowan for inspiring her to do great things.
“Mills really made this possible for me,” Ferreras said. “When I got to Mills I wasn’t a writer, but it’s where I became a writer.”
Ferreras entered Mills as a 34-year-old resumer on scholarship and graduated in three years with a double major in English and Political Legal and Economic Analysis. She went on to earn a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and now lives in San Francisco.
Magowan remembers Ferreras clearly, and the two have kept in touch.
“Yalitza was extremely talented—a dynamic, vivid, thoughtful writer,” Magowan said. “I witness her accomplishments with great pride but no real surprise. Her story in the current Best American is remarkable—complicated, sophisticated, dazzling.”
The story, Ferreras said, is part autobiography but mostly fictional. She said as a child she often watched PBS documentaries on volcanoes, which sparked an interest in geology. The interest became an obsession as she was shuffled back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the US, not learning to speak English until she was 8 years old.
“When I watched those documentaries about volcanoes there was so much power, but I felt powerless as a child,” she noted. “The character in the story wants to become a famous geologist. She starts on a quest to this dream, but her obsession gets her in trouble.”
Mills Student Sets World Record in Open Water Swim
Oakland, CA–August 18, 2016 Melissa Berkay, a 25 year-old junior at Mills College, set a world record for crossing the Catalina Channel. She also became the first American swimmer to ever cross the 20.2 mile Channel while swimming in the butterfly stroke only. Berkay completed the open water swim from Santa Catalina Island to Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California in 12 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds on August 11.
Melissa is no stranger to tough challenges. Due to unforeseen circumstances, she had to put her education on hold for four years, enduring a difficult period of hardship and homelessness. She really didn’t think she had a future, but that all changed when Head Swim Coach Neil Virtue recognized her potential and helped facilitate her transfer to Mills College last semester.
Inspired by Mills’ commitment to social justice, Melissa wanted to do something to give back to the people who helped her when she needed it the most. So, Melissa decided to use her down time over the summer to organize the swim to raise money for nonprofit organizations that aid the homeless and affordable housing.
Melissa is not only a great athlete, she’s a strong academic who was recently selected for the Scholar All-America Team for achieving a GPA of 3.5 or higher and for placing in the top 16 in the NCAA Division III championships. “Twenty miles in open water, with only a butterfly stroke is not easy,” said Virtue. “But if anyone was capable of accomplishing a huge feat like this, it would be her.”
Mills Receives National Environmental Sustainability Award
Oakland, CA–July 18, 2016 — Mills College received a national environmental sustainability award for its efforts to reduce water, gas, and electricity use and for its recycling, reusing, and composting programs.
Mills received the Silver award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Through its self-reporting framework, the organization awards five ranks with Bronze at the top and Silver second.
“Mills is very proud to receive the Silver award for sustainability,” said Linda Zitzner, associate vice president for operations. “Our efforts are inextricably linked to our commitment to be responsible stewards of the world and to social justice. But there is still room to improve, and I hope everyone at Mills continues to contribute in whatever small or big way they can.”
Zitzner added that the award is a culmination of continuing efforts starting in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2015.
The College achieved that goal by installing energy efficient light bulbs in every campus building and installing motion detectors to turn them off when people leave rooms; replacing five natural gas powered boilers that provide heat and hot water with newer, more efficient boilers; encouraging students and staff to take free items from the Reuse Depot that would otherwise go to landfills; diverting food, green waste and recycling from garbage cans and landfills; and saving 27 million gallons of potable water each year since 2009 by using Lake Aliso to irrigate campus lawns, plants and trees.
“One of the things I am very proud of is changing all of the campus lighting from incandescent to florescent lighting,” Zitzner noted. “Through rebates and incentives, that cost us nothing.”
According to Zitzner, although Mills met its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by15 percent, the College continues to find new ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
The Spanish tiles on campus roofs prevent the installation of solar panels on most of the buildings. The College is, however, considering the installation of a solar hot water heating apparatus on two buildings. And it is exploring the idea of replacing older, outdoor campus lights with more efficient LED lights.
When the new Mills farm begins producing a large enough volume of fruits and vegetables to sell to the campus food provider, Mills will reduce its carbon footprint further by eliminating some food deliveries that arrive by truck.
Mills Student Rallies Peers in Central Valley Congressional Election Campaign
Oakland, CA–October 06, 2016 — Exercising her passion for community action, a Mills College public policy student is joining forces with famed California labor leader Dolores Huerta in a Central Valley voter registration drive this month.
Maira Perez Velazquez, a 20-year-old senior at Mills, plans to bring a group of five other students to knock on doors in California’s 21st Congressional District October 14 and 15. Working not on behalf of Mills, but as individuals, the group hopes to rally support for Huerta’s son, Democrat civil rights attorney Emilio Huerta, who is campaigning for the district’s seat.
The younger Huerta is seeking to wrest control from Republican David Valadao who currently holds the seat in the vast farming district that extends from an area near the town of Firebaugh in the north to an area just south of Bakersfield.
Perez Velazquez said registering voters is one way to further the Mills tradition of public service and get others involved, even if they need a little nudge. The voter registration drive and campaign work also is bucking the perception that her generation is politically apathetic.
“We all need to find time to be actively engaged in the political process,” said Perez Velazquez. “If we are not actively engaged in the political process and not actively participating, we’re not taking responsibility for the future. Through this process we are more than anything gaining the love and passion to be life long active citizens in this country.”
Perez Velazquez said she connected with the 86-year-old Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers Association in 1962 with Cesar Chavez, while doing voter outreach in the Central Valley over the summer. The work was part of an outreach program of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland. During a one-month period, a group from the center knocked on 7,000 doors to explain the voter registration process and urge people to vote in November, she said.
Perez Velazquez, who won a national student journalism contest this year for a public radio story on a Central American refugee fleeing gang violence, hopes to go on to law school after she graduates in December. And she hopes to inspire other Mills students to get out in the world and do some good.
“One of the things I noticed is that as college students we have this tendency to believe we’re too busy to be actively engaged in community work, so I really wanted to help convince my peers and other students at Mills to get engaged in the political process,” Perez Velazquez said.
Building Bridge to College, Mills Hosts Oakland Youth for Day of Fun, Sports
Oakland, CA–October 14, 2016 — Forging ties with the East Oakland community and nurturing enthusiasm for higher education, Mills College hosted over 180 elementary school students Thursday, October 14 for a day of sports and fun on campus.
Elementary and middle school students from three neighborhood schools attended the day of fun designed to cultivate a college-going attitude among young people and to build leadership skills among Mills students.
Volunteering at the Mills Cyclone Olympics and the Mills Community Tennis Program were Mills student athletes, urban education students, and sociology students.
The Cyclone Olympics included sports competitions, medal ceremonies, and dinner. On the same day, students from Roses in Concrete Community School attended the Mills Community Tennis Program, an ongoing weekly event in which third through fifth grade students receive free tennis lessons from members of the Mills tennis team and coach. Mills neighborhood resident Vincent Owens, who co-founded the tennis program with Mills in 2002, said the idea is to get kids to feel what it’s like to be among college students and to get them thinking about one day attending college.
“A lot of these kids in this neighborhood have never been on a college campus,” Owens said.
Mills Athletic Director Themy Adachi said the Cyclone Olympics, held nearby on the college soccer field, was also a great lesson for Mills students that showed them they can make a difference in the world around them.
“This teaches our students that to be a leader, you have to engage in the world and understand the life experiences of others,” Adachi said.
Op Ed: Mills Changes Admission Policy to Increase Diversity
Oakland, CA, January 15, 2016 —The measure of a woman’s ambition and intelligence is so much more than a standardized test score. For this reason, Mills College will no longer require Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Testing scores as part of the application criteria for admission. Effective Jan. 1, 2016, students applying for enrollment in the fall of 2016 have the option to submit these test scores, but doing so is not a requirement.
Mills joins nearly 200 other top-tier schools that have made standardized test scores optional, including institutions like Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Smith College in Massachusetts. These institutions, and others, have found the best predictor for success in higher education is not a standardized test but a student’s high school record, as well as their grade-point average. The truth is some high-potential students with good grades and a history of success in high school just don’t test well.
In addition, many students don’t have the financial resources for expensive test preparation courses. These students should not be excluded from Mills College on the basis of a low SAT score.
Mills will, however, continue a rigorous examination of all applicants. Do they possess intellectual curiosity? Are they thoughtful? Have they demonstrated leadership skills? Are they creative? Did they get good grades in high school and take difficult classes and succeed in them?
We hope the move to an SAT and ACT test-optional application process will also bring more racial and socioeconomic diversity to campus. Studies show that socioeconomically disadvantaged high school students and people of color fare worse on standardized tests for a variety of reasons. While Mills is doing a good job enrolling students of color (51 percent of the undergraduate student body in the fall of 2015), we believe we can do better. We don’t see the change to a test-optional process as the only answer, but we hope it will bring down one more barrier to higher education.
In addition, Mills will soon sign the Oakland Promise College Pathway Partnership along with 11 other Northern California colleges and universities that are committing to make higher education an attainable goal for every Oakland student. In order to accomplish that goal, we will work together to address challenges that have blocked student success, including issues with placement testing. Signatories will also pledge to increase the percentage of Oakland students who graduate from college within six years of graduating high school.
A 2014 study found students enrolling at test-optional colleges who chose not to submit SAT and ACT scores were more likely to be students of color, students with economic need, or the first in their families to attend college. The study, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” looked at 123,000 students nationwide at 33 universities and colleges. It found no statistical differences in either college GPA or graduation rates between students who submitted test scores and those who did not.
Since its founding in 1852, Mills has been committed to providing women with access to education of the highest caliber and to overcoming social barriers that exclude women from educational and career opportunities. Mills College prides itself on its commitment to diversity and inclusivity. It is our hope that the test-optional policy will further this proud legacy.
Alecia DeCoudreaux is president of Mills College.
Mills Swimmer Makes Scholar All-America Team
Oakland, CA–July 22, 2016 —Melissa Berkay, the Mills College swimmer who made school history when she qualified for the NCAA Division III national championships in March, was named recently to the Scholar All-America Team for her academic and athletic achievements.
The College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America selected Berkay to the Scholar All-America Team for achieving a GPA of 3.5 or higher and for making it to the NCAA championships.
Berkay, who made it to the top 16 finals race in the 200-yard butterfly at the championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, said when she’s not studying, she’s in the pool training—up to 25 hours a week.
“I’ve been trained my whole life to put swim practice and academics first,” Berkay said. “When I’m not in the pool, I’m in a tutoring session, studying or talking to a classmate about our lessons. I enjoy working hard, but there are sacrifices. I don’t go out and I don’t party.”
The 25 year-old junior who is majoring in music and minoring in journalism, is currently training for a 20.2-mile open water swim August 10 in the butterfly stroke from Santa Catalina Island to Rancho Palos, Verdes, in Southern California. Berkay organized the swim to raise money for non-profit organizations that aid the homeless and affordable housing. If successful, she will be the first American woman to complete the swim in the butterfly stroke.
Themy Adachi, Mills Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Athletics, said Berkay epitomizes the Mills scholar-athlete.
“She’s all in,” Adachi said. “Swimming across the Catalina channel to raise money to fight destitution and homelessness is a perfect example of her zeal to make this world a more just and inclusive place.”