Imani Martinez ’23 freely admits that joining Berkeley Law’s Alumni Guide Program didn’t exactly rank high on her to-do list.
“I signed up for a mentor because a bunch of my friends had, and I thought it couldn’t hurt,” she says. “I didn’t expect much, which made finding the perfect mentor (Elizabeth Toledo ’16) so much better.”
Launched last fall to help build community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the program matches alumni volunteers with entering first-year and transfer students to answer questions and help ease the transition to law school.
More than 150 pairs Zoom-met during orientation in August, then again in September. Many continue to communicate about courses, careers, and life itself.
While Toledo has helped with cover letters, networking, and interview preparation, Martinez most appreciates her authenticity and perspective.
“My favorite part of speaking to Liz hasn’t been about law school,” she says.
“It’s talking about our families, joking about the election, things like that. It’s also nice talking with someone removed from my class because they aren’t freaking out over finals or journals. There’s a space of calm where you can step outside the tornado that is 1L year.”
The Alumni Guide Program aims to fuel the warmth and humanity that pervade Berkeley Law’s community. Having benefited “tremendously” from mentorship pro-grams as a law student, Toledo also signed on because of the pandemic’s unique circumstances.
“I thought connecting with a Berkeley Law student, and in particular a woman of color, would create an important bridge in what are such isolating times,” she says.
“It’s important for 1Ls to forge alumni connections early for many networking and career-building reasons. But as a woman of color, I also found these connections were a critical reminder that people who look like me can make it through law school in one piece and begin to build the career they dream of.”
Indeed, Martinez says she chose Berkeley Law largely because many alumni spoke glowingly about its Law Students of African Descent and La Alianza (formerly La Raza) chapters. She is currently active with both student groups, the La Alianza Workers’ and Tenants’ Rights Clinic, and the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.
For Toledo, giving back as an alumni guide has been rewarding — and inspiring.
“Imani is full of positivity and ambition, which is contagious,” she says. “I’ve loved hearing about her family, her background, and her path to Berkeley Law. She’s also very receptive to suggestions on how to challenge herself. I’ve enjoyed seeing how she has grown in law school and I’m very confident that she’s going to be incredibly successful.”
— Andrew Cohen