Last spring, when their daughter was deciding where to go to college, UCSC graduates Moira and Dency Nelson tried to play it cool and hide their Banana Slug pride. They wanted their daughter, Charlie, to make her own decision.

They made a trip to the East Coast to visit schools like Sarah Lawrence, New York University, Boston College, and Hampshire. They toured Mills College, which had offered Charlie a generous scholarship.

Nevertheless, the Nelsons were "absolutely thrilled" when Charlie picked UCSC, said Dency.

"It looked like it was going to be Mills," he recalled. But something clicked during a spur-of-the-moment return visit to UCSC last April.

"We got to campus and there were kids everywhere, and there was just this energy," he said. "Charlie turned to me and said, 'This feels like the right place for me.' From that point on, it was UCSC."

The Nelsons, of Hermosa Beach, are two of about 240 alumni parents of current students, according to Frankie Melvin, associate director of colleges and parents programs at UCSC. Dency (B.A., theater arts, Porter College, 1974) is a stage manager for television, while Moira (B.A., literature, Cowell College, 1974) is a freelance textbook developer.

"We were really trying to be careful not to tip it, but UCSC is a good place for Charlie," said Dency. "It fits her social sensibility. She really is a 21st-century version of us in the '60s."

For her part, Charlie appreciates that her parents didn't pressure her during the decision-making process. "I think I picked UCSC almost in spite of them, in a way," she said.

"I love living here," said Charlie, who is wrapping up her freshman year. "The school is incredible. I think it's incredibly underestimated academically."

Charlie, a dancer, chose Stevenson College because she was drawn to the core course, Self and Society; the two-quarter class was a highlight of her year. "The core course is the essence of a liberal arts education, and it's a really special part of Santa Cruz," she said.

Another highlight was co-directing "Random With a Purpose," an annual showcase of student choreography and dance. "You can't necessarily do that as a freshman at NYU," said Moira. "I think people underestimate what UCSC can offer in terms of opportunity and support, not to mention the excellence of the institution and faculty."

For the Nelsons, having their daughter attend UCSC has deepened their connection to the campus. As members of the recently formed Parents Council, the Nelsons are enthusiastic supporters of UCSC.

"The values that drew us to UCSC were nurtured and reinforced at UCSC," said Dency. "We wanted to make sure the place we loved was still there, and we realized it's up to us to help keep it alive. We want Charlie to have the experience we did. UCSC is a place to think, to broaden your horizons. To pursue your passions."