Cal supporters enrich master’s program experience

Mike and Jeanne Williams make $600,000 commitment to support the cultural studies of sport in education

Photo of Derek in a light blue top and dark blazer walking with two students. One has red hair and a brown hoodie and the other is Black with their hair pulled back and is wearing a Cal sweatshirt.

Dr. Derek Van Rheenen, left, leads the Cultural Studies of Sport In Education program in the Berkeley School of Education.

Cal alumnus H. Michael Williams ’82, P. ’22 knows as well as anyone the inspiring combination of athletic accomplishments and academic acumen that Cal student-athletes possess.

It is with that perspective that he and his wife, Jeanne, decided to make a $600,000 pledge to the Berkeley School of Education (BSE) in support of a master’s program in the cultural studies of sport in education. The program is led by Dr. Derek Van Rheenen, executive director of the Cal Athletic Study Center and a full adjunct professor in the BSE.

We have been looking for opportunities that are meaningful for young people, but also for Berkeley,” said Williams, who served as Cal’s director of athletics from 2014-18. “When this was described for me by Cal Athletics, it was very much in line with what we have tried to do and very much aligned with the ultimate vision for Cal Athletics — integrating with the rest of the campus.”

Van Rheenen has served as the faculty director of the master’s program for over 20 years, but in a limited capacity due to resource constraints. With this gift, Van Rheenen will become a full-time faculty member with the BSE and leave his post at the Athletic Study Center. In addition, the number of admissions spots available for the program will more than double.

In the past, Van Rheenen’s course was available to 10-12 students at a time. The added support will enable approximately 25 students to take it.

The program welcomes applications from any Berkeley student and has been especially popular with Cal student-athletes over the years. It also provides an added option for student-athletes looking to take a fifth year with their sports and for potential incoming graduate transfers.

I’m extremely excited about the gift that Mike and Jeanne are providing to reinvigorate and grow this long-standing master’s program at the intersection of sport and education,” said Van Rheenen, a former soccer standout at Cal and a member of the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame. “Mike and I worked closely together when he was the athletic director here, so I know him and appreciate all that he and Jeanne have done for the university. I feel honored that they want to invest in the future and ideally build an amazing program that has global influence and recognition.”

Photo of Jeanne in a hot pink top hugging Mike, who is Black and wearing a pink striped shirt and dark vest.

Jeanne and Mike Williams

In the past, Van Rheenen’s course was available to approximately 10-12 students at a time. The goal now with the added support is to have a class of approximately 25 students.

We always saw the mismatch in demand versus supply,” Williams said. “There was always a huge demand and not enough open seats for all the students who were interested. So the fact that we will be able to address that is hugely positive.”

Van Rheenen’s program examines the impact sports have on society and culture and is designed to produce leaders — in and out of athletics. With its unabashed focus on equity and commitment to investigating how institutionalized sport both conflicts with and complements the educational missions of American K-12 and post-secondary schools, the program attracts Berkeley students who are inspired to advance social justice. Among notables who have taken his courses in the past are former Cal basketball standout and current Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, former Cal student-athletes and Olympians Anthony Irvin and Camryn Rogers, NBA Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas, and former Cal star and seven-time NFL Pro Bowler Alex Mack.

We were very excited when we learned the Williamses were interested in supporting us. The program, which was developed 30 years ago, is longstanding,” said Dr. Michelle D. Young, dean of the Berkeley School of Education. “It has not had the attention it needs – to its curriculum and powerful learning experiences – to make sure it’s fulfilling its promise. We will build from the strengths of the program and the legacy of activism at Berkeley to explore what else is possible and offer a redesigned program that cultivates transformative leaders in sports and education.”

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