Donors Claudia and Alec Webster support PICA's vision of social change

Alum Alec Webster appreciates the satisfaction of hands-on work and the creative process. That's part of why he and his wife Claudia support the Program in Community and Agroecology (PICA).

"You never see people smile as much as when they hold up something they've made," said Webster (B.A. environmental studies, College Eight, 2002), an engineer and former machinist with the Santa Cruz Institute of Particle Physics.

For years, Alec and Claudia Webster, a former K-12 art teacher, have embraced PICA and supported it with generous grants from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation.

"One of the things we want PICA to do is create environmental educators," said Webster. "We want to help create a base of college students who will go out into the world and get involved."

As an undergraduate re-entry student, Alec Webster took Steve Gliessman's classes on agroecology and soil. The two men reconnected at a UCSC alumni event, and the Websters embraced Gliessman's vision of social change through a small living-and-learning community focused around food.

"Claudia and I talk a lot about how people don't know how anything is made anymore, where anything comes from, or where anything goes when we're done with it," said Webster. "Agroecology is a good tool because people learn where food is grown, how to prepare it, and how to transform food waste into compost. We support hands-on, experience-based learning, because we don't think young people get virtually any of that anymore--certainly not enough. They're all learning how to take tests now."

The Websters also support the Life Lab Science Program, the Community Agroecology Network (CAN), and the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture.

"What happened to our generation?" wondered Webster, 58. "We were going to make all these changes, but we didn't do it. Things have gotten worse."

By instilling a vision of sustainable living and providing hands-on learning opportunities, PICA supports UCSC students who want to make a change in the world. The Websters hope their support will raise the profile of PICA on campus and make the program available to more students.

"These people still have the energy to make change, and we'd like UCSC to stay the kind of place where people are encouraged to think and try to make a difference," said Webster. "As a society, we have tremendous issues. This is where we're going to make changes--with people."