Philanthropy Focus: Alums' $1 million gift will further UCSC's efforts in ocean health

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The Holo family

Christine and Rob Holo live far above the ground in a Manhattan high-rise, but they play in the ocean waves every chance they get.

The snow doesn't hold much interest for them. During vacation time, they would much rather lie out on a beach. Christine likes to look at the waves, while Rob enjoys diving into the depths.

It's a beautiful world down there, but its future is far from guaranteed. During their repeated visits to ocean waters across the globe, the Holos have learned about the problems facing marine habitats, including the dangers of plastics and overfishing.

After observing the situation firsthand, Rob and Christine Holo decided to take action, giving $1 million to support the Center for Ocean Health at UCSC's Long Marine Lab, a premier research facility for coastal conservation, policy, and research.

Built entirely with private support, the center opened in 2001 with 23,000 square feet of labs, offices, and classrooms, providing much-needed facilities for faculty, researchers, and students.

A growing number of researchers and students have been attracted to the center, leading to a pressing need for additional space. The Holos met as undergraduates at UCSC in 1987, and have maintained a strong connection to the Santa Cruz area. They credit their time at UCSC with their success in life as well as their environmental consciousness.

"We received a world-class education at a bargain price," says Rob Holo (Crown '87, history), who is a partner in the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. "We feel a sense of wanting to give back to a place that gave so much to us."

The Holos are raising their two children with an appreciation and passion for science and the environment. Their son is attending CalTech in the fall. Their daughter is a junior in high school and has attended summer science camps in the U.S. and around the world.

They credit their daughter for deepening their environmental consciousness.

"Our daughter is really interested in the ocean—she's truly the environmentalist in the family," says Christine Holo (Oakes '90, biology).

When the Holos started researching the needs of UCSC and found an opportunity to contribute to the Center for Ocean Health, they decided it was a perfect fit.

The Center for Ocean Health expansion will provide 16,000 square feet of additional facilities for interdisciplinary research and education focused on marine conservation science and policy. The total cost of the planned expansion is $12 million.

Despite living 3,000 miles from their alma mater, the Holos have maintained strong ties to UCSC, and have recently "reconnected" with the university. They have taken numerous family trips to Santa Cruz, and even celebrated their 20th anniversary in the town where they met. They plan to return in March to visit the Center for Ocean Health.

Christine Holo says she hopes the gift will inspire other alumni to support the university. They are helping to fund a project that will expand an existing classroom into a lecture room that can accommodate larger classes and seminars.

The new lecture room will be named the Holo Family Lecture Room.

"We very much wanted to contribute to education, especially to UC," says Christine Holo. "We hope it will serve an entire generation of students." 

Amy Ettinger is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.