Gift funds new Presidential Chair for the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserves

Endowment established by Helen and Will Webster Foundation will broaden opportunities to use the natural reserves as living labs and outdoor classrooms

Alec and Claudia Webster of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

The UCSC Natural Reserves serve as living labs and outdoor classrooms. (Photos courtesy of Gage Dayton)


UC Santa Cruz has received a $500,000 gift from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation, plus matching funds from the UC Regents, to establish a $1 million endowment for the Wilton W. Webster Jr. Presidential Chair for the UC Santa Cruz Natural Reserves.

The gift provides support for research, teaching, and maintenance activities in the natural reserves, as well as for research internships and fellowships for students.

"The reserves serve as living labs and outdoor classrooms, and this endowment will help provide the infrastructure and support we need to maintain the reserves, broaden the opportunities for students to have hands-on experiences in nature, and support graduate student and faculty research," said Gage Dayton, administrative director of the UCSC Natural Reserves.

UC Santa Cruz manages four of the 39 sites in the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS), as well as a campus reserve. The NRS is a network of protected natural areas throughout California encompassing more than 756,000 acres and providing undisturbed environments for research and teaching. The UCSC reserves include Año Nuevo Island Reserve, Fort Ord Natural Reserve, Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve, Younger Lagoon Reserve, and the UCSC Campus Natural Reserve.

"We've been working hard not just to be good stewards of the reserves but to get more students out into the field to take advantage of the fact that UCSC is surrounded by these amazing natural areas," said Donald Croll, faculty director of the UCSC Natural Reserves and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "Experience-based learning is a hallmark of UC Santa Cruz, and the natural reserves are an unparalleled resource for students in ecology and other environmental sciences."

Support for students

According to Dayton, support for infrastructure and maintenance of the reserves will ensure that they can be used effectively for research and teaching activities. In addition, funds from the endowed chair will provide support for students to take classes and conduct research projects in the reserves, including fellowships for graduate students and research internships for undergraduates.

"This endowment will have an immediate impact on the reserves and a lasting impact on the students and faculty who use the reserves," Dayton said. "The Natural Reserve System is the training ground for the next generation of conservation biologists. It is so powerful when students are able to experience the concepts they're learning and apply them in a natural setting."

Increasing support for endowed chairs is a goal of the Campaign for UC Santa Cruz, which has raised more than $210 million for the campus. Croll said this new endowed chair provides recognition for the importance of the Natural Reserve System to the mission of the university.

"The Natural Reserves are a major laboratory and irreplaceable asset for UC Santa Cruz and others," said Alec Webster, co-president and secretary of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation. "They teach problem solving, and their use is interdisciplinary and hands-on, demanding students to actually observe and speculate in a broad, encompassing, and critical manner. Supporting them is essential."

Exceptional impact

The Webster Family has had an exceptional impact on the UC Santa Cruz campus, providing gifts to benefit several areas including the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the Libraries, and the Natural Reserves.

Alec Webster ('02, College Eight) came to UC Santa Cruz in 1987 after attending UC Santa Barbara. He worked for the Santa Cruz Institute of Particle Physics as a machinist and lab technician. That experience transformed him into a serious student with a deep interest in food production, forestry, and social justice issues, which led to a B.A. in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz, with highest honors.

Alec and his wife Claudia (UC Santa Barbara, '75, Art) currently serve on the Social Sciences Dean's Board of Councilors, and Alec is a UC Santa Cruz Foundation trustee. Alec has also served on the South Campus Vision Council, which ignited his passion for the campus historic district and led to the Helen and Will Webster Foundation providing a gift for renovation and programming for the Cowell Hay Barn. The Helen and Will Webster Foundation is dedicated to public education and well-being.

The Campaign for UC Santa Cruz supports excellence across the university through increased private investment in the people and ideas shaping the future. It is bringing critical new resources to each academic division, the library, and to signature initiatives in the student experience, genomics, coastal sustainability, data science, and at the intersection of the arts and sciences.