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UC Berkeley asks incoming students to say more than 'hello'

5,800 Berkeley freshmen and transfer students are asked to record their voices and accents, which will be mapped and compared to other students' samples. The project is part linguistic experiment, part social science and part ice-breaker.

July 17, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times

However, UC Berkeley's request for DNA and voice samples is very unusual, said Joyce Holl, executive director of the National Orientation Directors Assn., a group based in Minneapolis. "I am not aware of other institutions doing anything remotely similar," she said.

In last year's experiment, called Bring Your Genes to Cal, about 700 students sent in DNA swabs for testing of genetic variations for reactions to alcohol, lactose and folic acid. Privacy advocates criticized the project and state health officials said the testing should by done only by licensed labs, not UC technicians. The university dropped its plan to offer individual, confidential results and reported only group results.

This academic side of UC Berkeley's orientations, known as On the Same Page, began in 2006 as a traditional reading model. Previous topics have included the Gettysburg Address and food and agriculture, according to Alix Schwartz, academic planning director for the College of Letters & Science. This year's readings are online texts about such topics as Christopher Columbus' encounters with the New World, efforts to create new languages like Esperanto and the experience of immigrants, she said.

Yet there also is an old-fashioned social goal, Schwartz said: "Students bond around orientation. We're hoping they will get to know each other."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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