Bank of the West, the university’s official bank, has been a longtime sponsor of registered student organization (RSO) grants awarded through the LEAD (Leadership, Engagement, Advising, & Development) Center. For the past five years, the bank has provided $20,000 in funding annually to be distributed to RSOs that further one of the bank’s areas of interest: sustainability, financial literacy or women’s empowerment.
Competition for this year’s grants was higher than ever, as LEAD Center Associate Director Jeff Woods explains, “We had 75 student groups request money when most of the time we're in the realm of 30 to 40 requests.” He speculates that this might be due to the fact that costs for student organizations are now rising across the board. Woods emphasizes it is important for partners to continue to support student groups, especially as students navigate their budgets for the upcoming year. He notes that groups are now having to pay for expenses that were previously waived, like costs for materials and venue fees.
Of the 75 applicants, 10 student groups were selected as recipients. This year’s awardees include:
Black Graduate Engineering & Science Students
Expanding Your Horizons at Berkeley
Families at Berkeley Law (FABL)
First-Gen and/or Low-Income Graduate Students
Middle Eastern Business Association
Strategies for Ecology, Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS)
Vertical Farming at Berkeley
Womxn of Color Collective
This year, it is apparent that sustainability is a focus area for both students and campus partners alike, with four of the chosen organizations prioritizing their efforts towards this issue. Two groups new to the Bank of the West RSO Grant Awards this year are DeTrash Berkeley and SEEDS.
DeTrash Berkeley recently became an official RSO in Fall 2022. The new student organization, which champions eco-consciousness, started organically through social media when a Berkeley student posted about how much litter they noticed around campus and asked if anyone was interested in participating in a clean-up effort. Today, the group encourages Berkeley students to protect the environment and combat litter by hosting weekly street cleanups and spreading awareness on trash pollution.
Julia Métraux, the public relations officer at DeTrash Berkeley, credits the organization’s growing membership to a combination of flexible volunteer commitments, shared solidarity and a mission dedicated to “a larger responsibility to the environment.”
The organization is especially grateful to receive the Bank of the West grant because of the constant demand for equipment, including garbage bags, trash pickers, reusable gloves and carts. Funding for these items originally came out of the founder’s own pocket, so the organization previously had to sacrifice quality over quantity in order to afford supplies to equip all their volunteers.
“This funding is very helpful, not just for now, but so we don't have to worry about buying more equipment down the road,” says Métraux. “Equipment is expensive and it's also great that we'll be able to buy more durable things that won't break as easily.”
SEEDS Berkeley focuses on beautifying the campus in a different way. The organization’s President, Thuy-Tien Bui, explains their mission is to “diversify and advance the ecology profession through engaging hands-on experiences that nurture the interests of underrepresented students.” Their efforts closely align with the bank’s interest in sustainability by “fostering environmental understanding on campus, creating a healthier ecosystem and encouraging the campus to observe environmental problems.”
One project the group aims to carry out is planting drought tolerant plants on campus by Wellman Hall where vegetation was recently removed. Bui explains the area was previously covered in ornamental shrubs which are not the best plants for conserving water. SEEDS will use their grant money to purchase tools and seeds of native plants better suited for California’s climate. They hope to plant the seeds by the end of the spring semester.
A returning recipient of the grant is TEDxBerkeley, who has been hosting annual speaker events on the Berkeley campus since 2009. As the world’s largest student organized TEDx event, TEDxBerkeley prioritizes giving a voice to “speakers across a wide range of disciplines, spanning from technology, to environmentalism, to social activism.”
TEDxBerkeley Curator Amy Wu explains that their organization is in a unique position to elevate stories and ideas that go on to influence thousands. The annual event, which is hosted in Zellerbach Hall, brings in close to 2,000 attendees and engages another half a million viewers through the TED digital platforms which reach attendees in over 46 countries.
“Bank of the West’s interest in sustainability aligns closely with TEDxBerkeley’s commitment to sharing revolutionary new approaches to tackling the climate crisis,” says Wu. “Three of our fourteen speakers [this year touched] upon the problem of climate change.”
The group is grateful for the bank’s continued support over the past five years. With the funding, TEDxBerkeley has been able to offer lower priced tickets for Berkeley students, as well as offer students needs-based scholarships to attend the annual event.
Supporting RSOs is not a new concept, but it is one option that directly benefits an important community on campus – our students.
“It's an opportunity to [directly] provide money to student groups that can truly impact the student experience,” says Woods.
Woods’ advice for future grant applicants is that the strongest applications are those that establish an “immediate connection to Bank of the West’s values.” RSOs that align with Bank of the West’s interest areas are invited to apply for the grant when applications open again next fall.
Bank of the West is a trade name used by BMO Harris Bank N.A.