Tomine, an acclaimed cartoonist and illustrator, started publishing his Optic Nerve mini-comics in high school, and “even the earliest and roughest of them,” wrote the Houston Chronicle, “feature the mix of wit and bullied awkwardness that would inform his subsequent work.” By the time Tomine entered Berkeley in 1992, Optic Nerve was making waves and, two years later, was picked up by prestigious publisher Drawn & Quarterly. It wasn’t long before critics and fans began debating whether or not Tomine was indeed the voice of self-conscious Generation X. ”The first time it came up,” he told The Believer, “I was doing a talk at a bookstore, and the woman … introduced me using that phrase, and I remember just feeling like, ‘Oh, now I’m really in trouble.’” His work has now been collected in seven books, and he has taken on some high-profile gigs — including myriad interior illustrations and more than a dozen covers for The New Yorker. His 2004 cover “Missed Connections” became iconic and, according to the Paris Review, “sums up what makes city life frustrating but also thrilling.” Keep up with Tomine on his website.
Nicknamed “Little Miss Poker Face” for her deadpan expression on the tennis court, Wills was anything but impassive. A force to be reckoned with, she ruled the game in the 1920s and ’30s, counting two Olympic golds, eight Wimbledon singles titles, and seven U.S. National Championship titles among her stunning wins. But her interests far surpassed tennis. She was a novice poet and painter, and eventually found herself in the path of muralist Diego Rivera. She posed for the central figure in Rivera’s “Allegory of California,” but the mural drew heated criticism for using the face of a real woman to represent California. In his autobiography My Art, My Life, Rivera defended his choice: “…she seemed to represent California better than anyone I knew — she was intelligent, young, energetic, and beautiful.” At the end of her life, Wills gave $10.5 million to Berkeley to establish the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. In making her gift, she said, “What university has a better reputation in research than Berkeley? We can find the answers to why we are the way we are, and gain a better understanding of who we are.”
While DJing in the mid-1980s at KALX, Berkeley’s student radio station, Portman, AKA Dr. Frank, became what most people only dream of: a rising rock star. He cofounded The Mr. T Experience (MTX) — a leading light of the Bay Area pop-punk scene that launched Green Day — and has remained its primary songwriter, singer, and guitarist since then. In recent years, Portman has turned his knack for writing smart, humorous, and youthful songs into writing young adult fiction. His 2006 debut novel, King Dork, is now a cult classic and was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “smart, funny, occasionally raunchy, and refreshingly clear about what it’s like to be a geeky guy in high school.” Andromeda Klein (2009) follows an occult-obsessed teenage girl, and King Dork Approximately is due this fall. In describing his reluctance to shift from songs to books, Portman said in an interview: “When I found out that Random House had bought [King Dork], my first thought was, ‘Oh, my god. Oh, no. Now I have to finish it.’ … It’s like with music. There’s an energy you get from discovering how to do something that is special.” Find Portman — plus updates on the movie version of King Dork — on Dr. Frank’s What’s-it blog, Facebook, or Twitter @frankportman.
A few years before co-founding Intel, one of the largest and most revered semiconductor chip makers in the world, Moore wrote that the amount of transistors on integrated circuits — essentially, the complexity of computers — doubles every two years. Now called “Moore’s Law,” that estimate is gospel in the computer industry, and Moore a prophet of Silicon Valley. In the early years, as electronics were being installed into almost every consumer item, “we had the feeling that this was the basic technology of some kind of a revolution,” he said in a 2012 NPR interview with himself and fellow Intel icon Andy Grove Ph.D. ’63. Still wanting to do more, Moore and his wife began the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2000 to support their combined passions: environmental conservation, patient care, science, and Bay Area-focused projects. The foundation emphasizes planning, partnership, and — when necessary — learning from mistakes. “Failures are not something to be avoided. You want to have them happen as quickly as you can so you can make progress rapidly,” Moore once said. He received the Berkeley Medal in 1996, the university’s highest honor.
In 1972, as a newbie at the young game-maker Atari, Alcorn was asked by company cofounder Nolan Bushnell to make a simple ping pong game under a contract with General Electric. Although the contract didn’t really exist, Alcorn worked hard nonetheless to make something good. Three months later, the first coin-operated Pong machine was installed at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, CA — and became an instant hit. As Bushnell would later say, it was “so simple that any drunk in any bar could play.” Alcorn designed both the arcade and home versions, and Pong’s popularity sparked the globally ubiquitous, multi-billion-dollar game industry we know today. “It wasn’t my intention. I’m just as surprised as the next guy,” he told the Computer History Museum in 2011. After Atari, his crucial involvement with many Silicon Valley startups earned him an Apple Fellowship; his own company, Zowie Intertainment, was acquired by LEGO in 2000. Alcorn continues to remain involved in tech’s fun side through Hack the Future, which offers daylong “hackfests” to school-age kids that teach them programming and connect them to mentors. Follow Alcorn on Twitter at @alalcorn.
In 2002, as a young analyst at J.P. Morgan in New York, the arts-loving Ringelmann excitedly attended an event expecting to rub elbows with movie stars. Instead, she found herself surrounded by starving artists, “all hoping they’d meet their angel that night, someone who’d give them the money to finally go make their big project,” she explained in a 2011 Tedx Talk in Dubai. Fueled by the desire to democratize finance, she entered Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where she met her future partners. “I wanted to be in an environment that would allow me to really think big,” she said in a video. In 2008, they launched Indiegogo, an online platform that makes it easy for ideas to go viral and gain multiple donors, who receive fun perks over profit shares. The first and now largest crowdfunding site, Indiegogo distributes millions of dollars every week to people worldwide for everything from solar roadways to graphic novels, high-fashion wetsuits to the world’s first crowdfunded baby. “Friends, family and even complete strangers wanted to help make our dream come true,” said Jessica Haley in a Sydney, Australia, newspaper on her successfully funded infertility treatments. Follow Ringelmann on Twitter @gogoDanae.
In 1956, as Grove fled Communist-occupied Hungary and a Holocaust-haunted past, little did he foresee becoming a legend of the high-tech industry. A few years after finishing his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Berkeley, he was the first hire at Intel — co-founded by Gordon Moore ’50 to push the edges of the fledgling microchip — and later led Intel to great acclaim. “Every pestilence that could kill a microchip hit it,” Grove said in an NPR interview, recalling its bumpy start. But they finally struck gold — and continued uncovering gems over the decades with the microprocessor and personal computer. In 1997, Time magazine named Grove its Man of the Year. Driven by personal frustrations with treating his own illnesses, Grove has recently turned his attention toward speeding up the delivery of new medical therapies. In 2010, he made a gift to UCSF and Berkeley’s bioengineering department to jointly launch the first-ever master’s degree in translational medicine, which graduated its first class in 2014. “What we have learned from decades of rapid development of information technology is that the key is relentless focus on ‘better, faster, cheaper’ – in everything,” Grove said, including curing life-threatening diseases.
The economic battle that rolled across America started in Michigan, and Granholm was one person who took the blows. But as the state’s first female governor from 2003–11, she worked tirelessly to salvage the state’s auto and manufacturing industries and add emerging sectors. After leaving office, she hosted Current TV’s political news analysis show ”The War Room” and co-wrote the Washington Post bestseller A Governor’s Story. In a review, President Bill Clinton wrote that Granholm “faced extraordinary challenges with grace, intelligence, and tenacity. … She embraced the challenge of rebuilding Michigan’s economy … with new ideas, new jobs, and new businesses.” Concerned that the United States is lagging behind in energy policy, Granholm is now zeroing in on creating jobs in the clean energy sector. She is back at Berkeley as a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy and is being awarded by the Cal Alumni Association in 2014 for Excellence in Achievement. Watch her TED2013 talk on clean energy, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @JenGranholm.
Every April, Dang celebrates what she calls “Freedom Day” — the anniversary of breaking away from a life of being sexually abused and trafficked. Since MSNBC aired the documentary Sex Slaves in America: Minh’s Story in 2010, Dang has become an unbending force in the fight to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children — helping many heal the pain and shame associated with it. She has courageously addressed tens of thousands of survivors, advocates, and other concerned citizens, as well as directed Don’t Sell Bodies, founded by actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Recognized by the White House in 2013 as a Champion of Change, Dang said, ”There was a time that I could only imagine breathing beyond the next day, let alone being at the White House.” She credits her Berkeley undergraduate experience for teaching her how to “stand up for justice” and looks forward to April 16, 2026, when her “days in freedom will finally match my days in slavery.” The Cal Alumni Association honored Dang with the 2014 Mark Bingham Award for Excellence in Achievement by a Young Alumna. Read her blog Minh Speaks Truth, or follow her on Twitter @minhspeakstruth or Facebook.