Reunion Alumni Spotlight

Peter Van Houten

Retired Campus Professional

Meet Peter Van Houten, a 1956 alumnus who spent more than 40 years as a student and staff professional on campus.

What are you doing now?

Following my retirement from Cal in 2000 — after working directly with students as Associate Dean of Students, Dean of Orientations, and advisor to pre-graduate, pre-law, and pre-medical students — I took up a “hobby” that has allowed me to work with prospective students and high school staff members: as a Volunteer Outreach Representative for Cal, I visit high schools and community colleges in many areas of California to talk about going to college in general, and preparing for and applying to Berkeley specifically. 

In some cases, I take part in “College Fairs,” while at other times I visit classrooms or have large and small group meetings. I spend a good deal of time discussing how to write the personal statement so often a part of the application; a number of applicants have sent me drafts for review. 

I remain active in alumni affairs in Tuolumne County with Cal Bears in the Desert, and with the Class of 1956. Each year at Homecoming I do a costumed campus history tour in which I play the parts of important people from Berkeley’s past. I also serve as emcee at Commencement each May. My post-retirement life is mainly centered on Cal. I received the Berkeley Citation upon retirement and later received an Excellence in Service Award from CAA and a Trustees’ Citation from the UC Berkeley Foundation.

What Cal experience helped you in your later life?

Being very active as an undergraduate exposed me to a wide variety of opportunities. I lived at Bowles Hall my freshman year and then joined SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon). 

Athletics have always been a big part of my life. I lettered in both baseball and volleyball at Cal. (Some classmates still call me “Van Volleyball.”) I coached the Cal JV baseball team in 1957, the year the varsity won the College World Series. 

A term on the ASUC Executive Committee was an interesting experience. Being Regimental Commander in Army ROTC was enjoyable as my father, Class of 1924, had also been active in military affairs at Cal. Membership in a variety of honor groups took much of my time. I worked hard as a student and it culminated in my receiving the Departmental Citation in Physical Education. The Order of the Golden Bear was then and continues to be an affiliation of great importance to me as I was the group’s Warden (President) and later Alumni Secretary. 

These activities and interests allowed me to become a part of a wide spectrum of campus life and to get to know many fellow students, faculty members, and those in the administration. In many ways, it was these affiliations that led to my joining the Cal staff in 1960.

What advice would you give current Cal students?

Be actively involved in planning and having a personal and meaningful educational experience. Take part in the research life of our great university. Get to know your professors through shared academic interests. Make Berkeley smaller through a series of networks that allow you to know people well. Develop new skills and leave your comfort zone. Explore widely. Make wise decisions on how you use your time and energy. Exercise regularly. Remember that your future often will take a series of unforeseen twists and turns. Develop your abilities to read, write, and think critically, as these are the foundations of high level positions in the future. Be ready to make a difference in your world and to support Cal with your time, treasure, and talent as is expected of proud Berkeley graduates.

What was your favorite spot on campus?

The north entrance to California Memorial Stadium has always had an almost sacred hold on me. The stadium’s dedication to our war dead gives it a solemn and reverent aura; the quiet is only broken on game days and then returns to honor the dead.