Most students at UC Berkeley have seen the Bank of the West branch on the first floor of the ASUC Student Union, flanked by green columns and edged with an impressive living wall. As the official bank of UC Berkeley, Bank of the West plays a key role on campus, supporting student-led initiatives and programming.
Each year, Bank of the West provides financial support to Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) by annually setting aside grant money for student groups that need additional funds to offset event and marketing costs, organizational resources for members, and general day-to-day expenses.
“Most RSOs get their funding primarily from campus funds via the ASUC or the Graduate Assembly; however, these funds may not be enough to cover larger events and are often term-limited to a specific semester or school year,” explains Deepak Sharma of UC Berkeley’s LEAD Center. “Aside from that, orgs get funds from the colleges, campus departments, and organizational dues.”
Sharma encourages more student organizations to apply for external funding, such as the Bank of the West Student Grant program, which can help students achieve their goals and support specific initiatives of the group.
“When applying for funds, orgs should take into account that their ask should have a larger student to dollar ratio for impact,” says Sharma. “Those who are interested in applying for the [Bank of the West] grant must be able to convey how the money will help them impact more students.”
In addition to supporting the UC Berkeley student body, applications are also evaluated based on how the organization's goals or programming promote women’s empowerment, financial literacy, or sustainability – three values that the bank is committed to.
This evaluation process is facilitated by the LEAD Center, with final awardees selected by Bank of the West.
Programming during a pandemic
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought financial hardship to many businesses, which has also greatly impacted opportunities for student organizational scholarships and grants.
“A major impact has been on the ability to have in-person events and having to pivot to virtual events,” says Sharma. “At the same time, the need for technology has gone up a lot. The idea of doing things outside of simple Zoom meetings and webinars has been an area of need.”
This has also changed how student orgs are choosing to spend the grant money – with a greater emphasis placed on digital engagement. The bank is learning right alongside the students as virtual events become part of the norm in our quarantine lifestyle.
Anissa Hagedorn, activation manager for University Business Partnerships and Services, notes the continuation of this grant program during this time is a symbol of Bank of the West’s “strong commitment towards UC Berkeley and the student community.”
“The bank cares,” says Hagedorn. “They don’t just want to teach students how to manage a checking account. Bank of the West truly wants to be a part of the UC Berkeley community by getting involved with and supporting what students are doing.”
Around 35 - 40 organizations apply for the Bank of the West Student Grant every year. This year, the Bank awarded support to Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative; Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice; Expanding Your Horizons, IEEE Student Branch; Indian Students Association; Sigma Eta Pi; TEDxBerkeley; and Voyager Consulting.
Applications for the Bank of the West Student Grant program open each fall and all registered student organizations and CalGreek chapters are eligible to apply.
“Our students want to continue to be a part of organizations and programs that they are passionate about,” says Hagedorn “With the bank’s support, organizations can continue to operate despite additional or unplanned expenses.”
University Partnership Program