After a year of significant administrative turnover in the residential colleges, new leaders for Berkeley and Jonathan Edwards colleges have settled into their positions this fall, maintaining traditions while setting their sights on new events.
Earlier this year, chemical and biomedical engineering professor Mark Saltzman was appointed Head of Jonathan Edwards College, along with Christina Ferando ’97 as its new dean. Berkeley also underwent an overhaul in its leadership: professor of geology and geophysics David Evans ’92 and Renita Miller now lead the college as head and dean, respectively.
Students interviewed said the leaders have occupied themselves with getting to know the students in their colleges, and expressed hope that their favorite college traditions would continue.
“They are really trying to get to know people,” said Ademide Ajayi ’19, a Jonathan Edwards College Council representative. “It’s a big change. Everyone knew [former] Head [Penelope] Laurans was leaving, but [former] Dean [Jody] Spooner ’91 leaving was a big surprise.”
Spooner announced in June that he will be stepping down to assume the presidency of Ferrum College, a small liberal arts college in Virginia.
Both colleges have some traditional events that were tied to the personal interests of their previous leaders. Under former Head Marvin Chun’s leadership, Berkeley held multiple events centered around food, including the two annual Thunderbrunches — extravagant meals complete with chocolate fountains and sparkling cider.
Max Wilson ’19, a college aide in Berkeley, said Evans has informed the aides that he will make the biannual brunch an annual affair, and the funds traditionally dedicated towards the second brunch will be redirected elsewhere.
Evans said in an email to the News that Chun’s commitment to food-centered traditions was emblematic of his commitment to diversity.
“Eating is something we all have in common and there can be such diversity in the various cuisines among events,” Evans said, adding that while he would continue many of the food-centered events because of their popularity among students, he would also leverage his experience as a Berkeley alum to help students focus on mindfulness and healthfulness.
Evans reflected on some of the “nontrivial changes” that have occurred since his time as an undergraduate, including what he sees as higher standards for students.
“But with that high achievement can also come a higher general level of stress, and I’d like to encourage students to be mindful of their own health and well-being: sleeping adequately, taking a moment to breathe deeply and reflect, resting for some minutes just to watch the clouds go by or a squirrel to run around a tree — hopefully to return to all those activities with renewed vigor,” Evans said.
In a similar vein, Miller, who worked as an academic advisor at Princeton, said she hopes to organize more activities outside the classroom and sponsor more community service events. She will start teaching next academic year.
Wilson welcomed the mixing of the old and the new, saying that Miller and Evans are very receptive to concerns about changes. He added that he hopes to see more interaction between students and resident fellows. In a recent collegewide email to the Berkeley community, Evans mentioned current efforts to connect Berkeley undergraduates to their resident fellows and graduate affiliates.
Students in Jonathan Edwards also expressed a desire to see traditional college events preserved, referencing events such as the Great Awakening — a celebration of Jonathan Edwards’ birthday —and Wet Monday, a water balloon fight between freshmen and upperclassmen.
Eliza Dach ’17, a chemistry major in Jonathan Edwards, said she is happy to have a head of college who also teaches engineering.
“It’s always helpful to have a mentor with whom you can see some similarities,” Dach said. “I’m sure he’ll have lots of information about being a STEM person after college, which will be helpful.”
Sunday Swett ’18, vice president of Jonathan Edwards College Council, praised Saltzman and Ferando for engaging students in conversations about the college’s future, commenting that “they are totally open and honest to being rookies.”
Swett also referenced Spooner’s commitment to hosting study breaks during finals periods, adding that everyone is “banking on” the new leaders to continue these popular traditions.
“It’s the staff who really run the college and make it shine,” Evans said. “I’ve been mostly able to follow their leads in helping maintain a straight course for the college.”