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Graduating UC Berkeley in Three Years – Dublin High School’s Tatum Wheeler’s Accelerated College Experience

May 12, 2016

DUBLIN, CA–Our next Life After College Series article profiles Tatum Wheeler, Dublin High School Class of 2012 and University of California, Berkeley Class of 2015 graduate (BA Political Science, BSc Society and Environment). Doing the math that’s 2015 – 2012 = 3 years for two majors from Berkeley; add on rowing crew, holding a leadership position in the Berkeley Panhellenic chapter, working as a resident assistant and being a first-generation college graduate and you have a rich college experience. Tatum also wrote one of the most popular Life in College Series articles back in 2013 (read more…). Tatum is currently working as a legal assistant at a law firm and intends to attend law school.

We recently met up with Tatum to learn more about her unique Berkeley experience.

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OneDublin.org: Looking back at your Life in College article, which captured a typical day for you at Berkeley, how did your routine change as you completed your upper year classes?

Tatum Wheeler: “As a Political Science and Society and Environment major my upper year semesters ended with papers rather than final exams. In my last semester I had three papers due the Tuesday of Finals Week so I was able to create my own schedule and have a lot more flexibility. During my first year at Berkeley I lived on campus, the second year I commuted and my third year I was back on campus as a Resident Assistant. For the most part it stayed the same, although I stayed on campus more during the year I commuted. I’m a creature of habit so my schedule didn’t change that much!”

OneDublin.org: What is “political science”? Has your view of politics changed after completing your degree?

Wheeler: “Political science casts a wide net; generally speaking political science is the study of how politics and/or government interact with institutions. Studying political science hasn’t made me cynical towards politics, but it has made me more aware of the political process and has provided me with more data when I’m talking to people about political issues. I believe one of the reasons people are cynical about politics is that there is a huge learning curve about the procedures and rules that govern the political process. This year’s Primary, for example, has demonstrated how different the rules are from state to state. If there were an easy way to educate the public about how the political process works I think it would really help.”

Cal at Levi's Stadium

Cal at Levi’s Stadium

OneDublin.org: How prepared were you coming out of high school to write the multi-thousand word essays that are so critical to many of your courses?

Wheeler: “I felt I was in a better place than most of my classmates because throughout high school I learned the structure of papers, the tone you should use, where to put your commas – little things like that! When you are working on a complex topic not having to think about those things makes it much easier to focus on the argument you are trying to make. Taking both AP Lang and AP Literature at Dublin High School really helped prepare me for writing papers at Berkeley.”

OneDublin.org: What did you learn about avoiding the end of semester scramble?

Wheeler: “I tried to plan ahead. I set deadlines for myself and used a planner – I would write everything down that I wanted done and by what date. For major papers that really helped me stay on track. UC Berkeley offers a really useful planner with all the key dates and I’d set a timeline leading up to key deliverable dates. That helped me visualize goals for a paper and what steps I needed to take to meet those goals.”

OneDublin.org: You’ve spoken about going to law school as your next step. What sparked your passion for the law?

Wheeler: “My mom has worked as a legal assistant my whole life so I had exposure to what she was doing, and even worked with her for a bit during high school. After attending some pre-law programs from CLEO, hearing about the roles of different types of attorneys and talking to current law school students, I was convinced law school was the right next step for me.

“I’ve also had internships that have shown me what the day-to-day work of an attorney is like. In my current job as a legal assistant I see what lawyers do from the moment they step into the office. Every job can sound glamorous in a paragraph or two, but unless you are in the thick of the job you won’t really understand what a job entails.”

OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for students who will be taking the LSAT?

Wheeler: “The LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test that everyone has to take before applying for law school. Almost every ABA-accredited school looks at the LSAT score and while it’s not the only factor, your LSAT score is a major component of admission decisions.

“The LSAT tests logical reasoning, logic games which you can think of as logical puzzles, and reading comprehension. The LSAT is different from other standardized tests and has a large learning curve so I’ve learned to give it time. The test seems to come easier to students who have taken debate classes or participated in many debates. The key thing is to give yourself enough time to learn how the test works, the components and the question types. I also recommend finding a study partner who you can review practice tests with”

OneDublin.org: Was there an extracurricular activity you pursued while in college that you didn’t expect to be involved with going into college?

Group Cal Crew Photo

Cal Crew

Wheeler: “I was on the Berkeley Crew Team for my freshman year! I found out about crew through a flyer, emailed the coach and expressed interest. I reached out, joined the team and three weeks later I was rowing crew! I thought I was a time management pro entering college and rowing crew taught me I wasn’t. With crew there is 20 hours of practice per week plus 10 hours of travel time to and from the boathouse – plus classes and regattas. Practice was always in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon – I’d frequently be running  straight from the bus to class.

“In addition to time management skills, crew also taught me self-discipline. While I believe that discipline is an evolving skill that you can never fully master, crew helped me foster habits that I’ve carried with me in my work-life today. One of the most prominent is my morning workouts which help me organize my thoughts and prepare for the workday.”

OneDublin.org: You’ve also worked as a Resident Assistant – what did you learn from that experience?

Wheeler: “I’ve learned a lot! I’ve learned that when your phone rings you never know what’s going to be on the other end. I really enjoyed watching residents grow so much throughout the year. I also saw the importance of community and building relationships because in college you need a support system in place. I learned that you don’t really know a person’s situation by looking at them or interacting with them, and to give people the benefit of the doubt.”

OneDublin.org: How did you manage to graduate from UC Berkeley in only three years?

Wheeler: “Dublin High School’s AP Program really set me ahead. The moment I walked on the UC Berkeley campus I already had enough units to be at an advantage. I chose my major early and stuck with it. I’ve noticed by watching my peers that it may end up taking more time if you change majors. I also took summer classes, and met with my advisor early and often. It made financial sense to graduate early if I was able to because I have law school in my future – I’m trying to minimize debt as much as possible.”

OneDublin.org: What was your sorority experience, esp. given the stereotypes about sororities and fraternities?

Cal Greeks Meeting with President Napolitano

Cal Greeks meeting with UC President Janet Napolitano

Wheeler: “I had a positive image of sororities based on talking to parents of friends who had attended sororities and was also aware of the negative images conveyed by the media. I believe that sororities and fraternities, like any institution, have their flaws and have had both a positive and negative influence in their communities. That being said, I would never change my sorority experience.  Joining my sorority provided me significant leadership opportunities. I was able to participate in two leadership conferences, one in San Diego and the other in Indiana (which I had never been to prior) that focused on living out your values. This allowed me to connect with and form friendships across the country; friendships which I have sustained to this day. Within my leadership role as Vice President of Philanthropy in Panhellenic, I was able to witness the thirteen sorority chapters team up with other community organizations for events, participate in weekly community service serving at the local soup kitchen, and raise over $120,000 to charities ranging from Alzheimers to local women’s shelters.

“While I believe there are large systemic issues within sorority and fraternity culture including sexual violence, dependency abuse, and lack of diversity, I also believe that the sorority and fraternity community is not only aware of these issues, but is equipping its members through resources and training from outside organizations to address these issues. Like any systemic problem, it will take time and a plethora of solutions.

“For me, the sorority was a place of community and my experience was positive.”

OneDublin.org: Describe a UC Berkeley course that defined your college experience, that is representative of what you expected to get out of college.

Wheeler: “In my last semester, I took ‘Special Topics in American Politics: When Government Partners With Business – Baseball, Football, Basketball, Museums (and Bridges)‘ and the instructor was Pamela Duffy of Coblentz, Patch, Duffy, and Bass LLP. She brought in guest speakers who were working on local projects and we were able to visit the Giants stadium and get a behind-the-scenes look at the work done by their legal counsel. It was an interesting class that helped motivate me even further to pursue law school.”

OneDublin.org: Many high school seniors have just committed to, or are about to commit to, a college. What advice do you have for graduating seniors and their parents?

Grad PhotoWheeler: “For seniors I advise that while first year is about finding yourself, joining different organizations and having fun, that you are going to school for a reason. You should meet with your advisor early and learn about the academic support systems. Expect that first year to be a transition that won’t always be smooth, but have a goal to work towards, that will help keep you motivated.

“I encourage all first-years to pursue their intellectual passions and future career paths any way they can. While internships are an invaluable resource in actualizing the day-to-day work structure, other opportunities can also help determine whether a certain career path or major is right for you. UC Berkeley, for instance, offers one day to week-long externships during winter breaks which allow you to meet with people in a variety of industries.

“A lot of schools also offer internal networking databases in which you can connect to an alum in a career area that you’re interested in.  You may also want to ask a professor for permission to sit in on an upper-division class in a major you’re interested in. Clubs also offer professional opportunities, or at the very least, older members to talk with about paths to certain majors.

“You should never feel alone in your college journey. Chances are there is one older student or alum who has forged a path that you can utilize as you make your own. As a first-generation college student, I especially utilized older students in my classes and in my sorority for recommendations on majors and courses. I would also encourage you to find someone who can answer your questions, regardless of what department they’re in. My Society and Environment advisor really helped me ensure that I was on track to graduate in three years despite pursing majors in two different colleges on campus.

“For parents you have to know that even if your child needs you in a different way that they still need you, and you need to be supportive. If you live close to your child’s campus you can attend a parents’ weekend. If you live far away you can Skype or send a postcard. Something silly and simple can really help show your support. It’s also important not to overwhelm your child with academic information and to let them grow on their own.”

Tatum encourages anyone interested in law school, a major in political science, an environmental studies major, who is first-generation, or who has any other questions to reach out to her via LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tatumwheeler). 

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