GSI Feature: Mariela Herrick
Guiding projects, supporting instruction, and mentoring students alongside the rest of the staff and faculty, Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) are key supporting players in shaping the student experience. This article is part of a series featuring the GSI’s of the Fung Fellowship for Wellness & Technology.
Mariela Herrick is pursuing her Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. Her research focuses on displacement in housing, communities and economic development. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Social Welfare Program, Mariela worked at the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) and YTH, an organization at the intersection of youth, tech and health, prior to returning to Berkeley for her professional degree. She hopes to bring her enthusiasm for the ideation process and passion for experiential learning and equity into her instruction.
How did you first hear about the Fung Fellowship? What attracted you to apply for the GSI position?
Public health is a small field. I had the opportunity to meet Fung Fellowship Faculty Lead Jaspal Sandhu a few years ago while I was working at the Alameda County Department of Public Health. My team was searching for summer interns, and Jaspal connected us to one of his students. By working alongside the Fellow, I learned how the Fellowship fosters mentorship and concrete design skills. Moreover, I learned that the Fellows were passionate about social justice, public health, and technology — all passions I share. When I returned to Berkeley for my MCP, I knew that I wanted to teach and work with students. The Fung Fellowship is a great opportunity for fellows and instructors.
“By working alongside the Fellow, I learned how the Fellowship fosters mentorship and concrete design skills.”
What are you responsible for accomplishing within your GSI role, and what do you hope to gain?
As a GSI, I run lab sections, manage bCourses, and organize guest speakers. I see myself as a facilitator of my students’ learning process. When I think back to my undergraduate experience, I remember the teaching teams of professors and GSIs that most significantly impacted my interest in academia. They created a classroom environment where I was able to explore, think outside the box and challenge the material. I want to emulate that experience for my students. Additionally, as both a woman of color and a public health practitioner, I feel compelled to incorporate equity into the design process. Working with Jaspal has been great because he emphasizes equity in design and technology in the course curriculum. Ultimately, I hope to be a resource for my students.
What do you look forward to the most about this upcoming year?
This year has already been so fun! Human-centered design (HCD) has beautiful “Aha!” moments. Many times they come when designing a new product, or following an interview. I am excited to see my students experience these moments. The Fung Fellows are clearly very talented, and I look forward to watching their ideas grow.
What excites you about working with Fung Fellows?
The energy! It is truly a fun environment to be in. I love seeing my students present because I can see everything they have accomplished, and their presentations are pretty funny. Sometimes I talk to my friends who are GSIs for other classes, and their stories about their students could never compare to the memories I have with mine. I have found that the Fung Fellows are all outspoken and insightful in their own way. I also am really excited to work alongside Jaspal, Adrienne, Caroline and Jennifer — it is such a dynamic team comprised of innovators, leaders and caring people.
“Sometimes I talk to my friends who are GSIs for other classes, and their stories about their students could never compare to the memories I have with mine.”
What do you hope to bring from your own background to help the Fellows in their projects and development?
In my career, I have learned that lived experience, coupled with professional and academic background, are extremely powerful. In my previous roles at YTH and ACPHD, I was immersed among fellow professionals motivated to address public health issues. I gained technical skills, refined my HCD toolkit, and learned to think beyond the boundaries of prescribed solutions. At ACPHD, I learned to design with and for the population I am serving — this is critical. If the community doesn’t want it or isn’t a part of the solution, it shouldn’t be happening. At YTH, I learned the importance of design language and often found myself code switching for different stakeholders. I learned that knowledge needs to be accessible to all and jargon can get in the way of that. As someone who speaks more than one language — English, Spanish, and Public Health and City Planning jargon — I need to translate critical information for stakeholders. These lessons have been critical in the work that I have done to date, and I try to bring them to the classroom every day.
What convinced you to stay at Berkeley to pursue this graduate degree?
This campus has always been home to me. I first came to UC Berkeley on a field trip with my mom. “All the smart kids go here,” she told me. My dad used to bring me on Easter egg hunts on campus, and later, my cousin attended Cal. As a semi-shy kid growing up in Oakland, I always wanted to learn and to give back to my community — I think Oakland ingrains that in you. I enrolled in all the college prep programs available on campus, like the Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) and the College and Career Information Center (CCIC). You name it, I signed up. I’ve spent nearly every summer on this campus since I was in 8th grade.
Fast forward to when I had to choose my graduate school program, I realized that students in UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, ranked second in the nation and fostering a passion for social justice that I found unparalleled among all other universities. Plus, the professors were inspiring! While I wanted to be on the East Coast, Berkeley ended up being the better fit for me yet again.