Inclusion, Engagement, and Transformation

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The Cal Independent Scholars Network Program (CISN) provides support and resources to incoming freshman, transfer, and continuing students who have recently emancipated from foster care, or are orphaned, and certified independent by the Financial Aid Office. By providing individual support, guidance, and resources to assist students in their transition to Cal, we facilitate their academic progress, personal development, and promote the realization of their educational and career goals.

CISN collaborates with the Financial Aid Office who determines student eligibility for this program. Prospective CISN students are former foster youth, orphaned, or certified independent students identified through self-reported admissions and financial aid data. After determining eligibility, we invite students to participate in the CISN Program.

Eligibility Requirements:

Comprehensive CISN Services are available to incoming freshmen, transfer students, and continuing students at the University of California, Berkeley who meet the following criteria

• Student emancipated from foster care within five years of admission to the university


• Both Parents died before student turned 18, student completed high school within five years of admission to the university


• Student qualifies as "Independent Student Status" under federal financial aid guidelines by the Financial Aid Office

Help us continue to develop and adequately fund this important program.

Cal Independent Scholars Network Program Coordinator:
Deborah Lowe Martinez, J.D.

109 César E. Chávez Student Center
Berkeley, CA 94720-4260
Tel: 510.642.6151 Fax: 510.643.1963


CISN Services for Students who Meet Eligibility Requirements

• Residence Hall starter kits*
• Books and supplies*
• Supplemental financial aid*
• Assistance with computer needs or problems*
• Assistance with unmet medical, dental, and optometric needs*
• Supplemental assistance with meals*
• Finals care packages
• Monthly Academic and Enrichment Workshops
• Community building social events
• Mentors

*Dependant upon funding


The CISN program partners UC Berkeley faculty, staff, community, and peer mentors with CISN scholars to provide personal support to students in their adjustment to college life. Peer mentors are current Juniors or Seniors who support new students by helping them navigate their way through Cal by sharing their experiences, offering encouragement, and reassurance. CISN mentors work collaboratively to guide CISN scholars to resources that enhance their success and academic path leading to graduation.

CISN students are matched with mentors prior to their arrival at Cal. Mentors initiate contact with students to introduce themselves, to ensure that they have transportation to campus, and offer assistance in setting up their residences. During Welcome Week, CISN hosts an event where new students meet mentors, other CISN students, and volunteers. We want new CISN students to feel welcome at Cal and to experience this caring community of Cal staff, faculty, volunteers, and students on which they can rely.

We provide CISN students with referrals to campus resource liaisons for:

• Academic advising and support
• Tutoring
• Housing issues
• Financial aid
• Scholarships
• Career counseling
• Confidential personal matters

Mission, Vision, & Inspiration

CISN Mission

The Cal Independent Scholars Network Program (CISN) mission is dedicated to supporting undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, who are former foster youth, orphaned or otherwise certified independent students to help them realize their dream of graduating from the university. Based upon notions of mutual support and mentoring, CISN assists students' transition into college, and their pathway through the university.

CISN provides students with information and tools to access academic and personal resources to help them achieve their educational and career objectives. A committed and caring campus community comprised of faculty, staff, alumni and Cal parents offer guidance, support and friendship to CISN students from the time of admission. Through partnerships with colleges, schools, and departments across campus, CISN has developed a network of caring individuals who provide support to CISN students throughout their academic career at the University of California, Berkeley. Participation in CISN will allow Cal students increased opportunities to achieve the academic success they have worked so hard to attain.

CISN Vision

The Cal Independent Scholars Network Program (CISN) seeks recognition as an excellent comprehensive program supporting independent students (former foster, orphaned or otherwise certified independent youth) from the time of admission to the university until graduation. The CISN student experience at Cal will be enhanced by mentorship and referrals to academic and other resources throughout the campus during the student's matriculation at the university. Through concerted outreach efforts, CISN will expand by reaching increased numbers of independent students. By continuing efforts to raise funding levels, CISN will be positioned to provide additional services and financial assistance to students through privately funded sources. CISN envisions the retention rate of participating students will be on par with the campus at large and that CISN students will realize their dream of graduating from the University of California, Berkeley.

CISN Inspiration
Written by M. Michelle Kniffin, July 2005

Last night I attended the annual reception celebrating a new class of Students Rising Above. We heard the story of 12 extremely needy students for the class of 05-06. The student speaker for the evening was Kimberly Armstrong who will be a senior at Cal next year.

Kimberly revealed how she never shared her story before because she lost her voice. She and her two younger brothers never knew their father. Kimberly's "last memory of my mother is horrific." Kimberly and her two younger brothers witnessed her mother shot 16 times by their step-father as her mother ran in terror. She and her brothers stayed that night in police custody. For the next two years, Kimberly (10) and her 2 younger brothers stayed with their alcoholic grandmother. After 2 years of abuse, Kimberly, then 12, told her two younger brothers to pack their belongings. They stayed in a shelter for a while and later with a sympathetic aunt. At first, this aunt was understanding but before long she resented the responsibility of three children and the situation spiraled into more abuse. Kimberly found solace in her school studies concentrating on academics rather than her troubles. But she always worried about her brothers. One night her aunt held her brother down while beating him senseless. Kimberly froze and this was the night that she lost her voice. Eventually, a teacher noticed that her brothers showed signs of abuse and reported it to social welfare. Kimberly and her brothers were removed from the home and placed in separate foster care homes, breaking up what was left of Kimberly's family.

Today, Kimberly just finished her third year at Cal with a 3.5 G.P.A and more importantly she found her voice again. She shared with us what it was like to move into the dorms on her first day when she arrived on a AC transit bus with her duffle bag of clothes and nothing else. She thought that bedding would be provided like in shelters. Later that day, her roommate arrived with her entire family (mom, dad, brother and sister) with newly purchased items to furnish her side of the room. They happily went about setting up her side of the room and all left together for dinner. Kimberly did not attend dinner that night; who would she talk to? Instead she cried herself to sleep.

Maybe we can't change what happened to Kimberly, but together we can change this experience for future students. Maybe we could provide residence hall starter kits for students in similar situations, maybe we can be more...


Media & Testimonials

From the Fall 2008 Letter Home for Cal Parents: Chancellor's award is a boost to students without parents

From the Winter 2007 Letter Home for Cal Parents: A Little Caring Makes a Difference: 'Pay it forward' program hooks up students who have no parental support with the help they need--from Cal Parents, staff, and student mentors--to beat the odds

From the Fall 2007 University of California, Spotlight on Campus Life

From the Fall 2007 edition of The Promise of Berkeley:

Student Testimonials

Thank you so much for everything. The program has been so inviting, generous, and helpful to me for the past three semesters. I got home yesterday from the library at 2am pretty exhausted but then saw the finals package on my desk and was SO happy. I'm so thankful for this program. Even though I don't have parents calling me to wish me luck on finals, I know I can always count on the program. The extra money for books is a Godsend. I just can't even put into words how thankful I am for all of you. Thank you!!!


Upon my arrival at UC Berkeley in Fall 2006, the Cal Independent Scholars Network immediately welcomed me as part of a larger, Cal-loving family that wanted to help me financially and socially without judgement or questions. I knew from my first CISN luncheon that the program would be a part of my life...The program has offered me crucial advice regarding financial aid issues, Career Center opportunities, and most importantly, a close network of fellow independent students with whom I can identify... Knowing that I will be able to pay for my textbooks in full without worrying about how much they cost has been an incredible financial relesase.


CISN has been such a helpful and supportive program for me. As an independent student, I have to worry about how I'm going to afford to buy my books, meet my living expenses, and also worry about fending for myself when I have questions or am in need. However, because of CISN I don't have to be burdened by all of these worries. CISN has proved to be a program that I can really depend on. …If it were not for CISN, my experience at Cal would have been drastically different. I would have never had the support system I needed in order to focus on my education, and I would have felt very alone in dealing with my worries.


…from day one, the members of the Cal Independent Scholars Network provided the strong support that I needed. From picking me up from the airport on move-in day, to providing me with all of my dorm room amenities and providing helpful mentor/mentee relationships…The members work extremely hard to ensure that independent students like me experience a smooth transition from home, into this large university and are ultimately able to call it home. The list can go on stating how much this program has done for me. Most significantly, CISN has shown me the power of giving back and instilled in me the passion to help others in my situation.


If I were to put it in one word, it would be definitely WOW! I am in awe every time I see how creative and full of heart people are, and so very thankful to be able to share my campus life with people like you and your colleagues in this wonderful organization. I would also like to let you know that I am willing to volunteer time and other resources including money to this cause. Let me know how I can be of service, and thank you again for doing such a wonderful "job.


CISN has been a huge asset coming into UC Berkeley as an independent. When I arrived here, I did not have many of the basics for college that most people possessed. With the money donated, CISN helped me with getting bedding for my dorm room and a printer, two things which were essential. The amount of money received from financial aid is often not enough to pay for all my expenses. CISN also helped me this year buy books from the student store, making other expenses affordable for me.