The year in review at UC Santa Cruz

Talented dancers wowed the crowd at Fiat 50.
Alice Waters called the celebration "the greatest show on earth."
A Sammy the Slug balloon figure was a hit at the downtown parade.
The small campus was full of big ideas this year. For example, the return of the peregrine falcon in California is due in large part to the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, an organization started on the UC Santa Cruz campus. (Photo by Nick Dunlop)
An unprecedented number of hopefuls applied for admission to UC Santa Cruz this year.
UC Santa Cruz researchers did their part to increase understanding of a disease that has decimated bat populations in North America.
UC Santa Cruz alumna Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings took home a Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting at the 2015 Americana Music Awards Sept. 16.
The campus marked its age and its cultural achievement with a special exhibition highlighting 50 artists from five decades.

At UC Santa Cruz, 2015 was a year celebrating our 50th anniversary by advancing knowledge, challenging the status quo, championing across-the-lanes thinking, giving back, and taking risks.Oh, and a giant tent on the East Field.

It was, truly, a year to remember. We look forward to the next 50 great years of UC Santa Cruz. For now, here's a look back at a few of the highlights from this milestone year.

Fiftieth festivities

At its Fiat Fifty spectacular celebration, UC Santa Cruz threw a party like never before. Under a huge tent on the East Field, gravity-defying (and apparently boneless) dancer-gymnast-contortionists from Tandy Beal & Company entertained a crowd of 750, and a beaming Alice Waters, the celebrated chef, author, and sustainable foods champion, gave a rousing keynote. Waters called UC Santa Cruz "an institution that has nurtured me and is really close to my heart, an institution that still expresses so many of the values I cherish and I fight for every day." Waters also gave a candid interview with UC Santa Cruz Review magazine.

Earlier in the day, Waters toured the 33-acre UC Santa Cruz Farm and visited with apprentices in the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Ecological Horticulture program before having lunch at the Alan Chadwick Garden, where an organic agriculture project first began on campus in 1967.

The party had a futuristic look, but the celebrants gestured toward the past with a special reunion for pioneer students and an evocative highlights film during the big-tent party. The lavish gathering took place precisely 50 years to the day when the first UC Santa Cruz students started showing up to campus. And while the luxe celebration showed just how far UC Santa Cruz has come since the early days, it was fitting that the 21,600-square-foot tent went up just a short walk away from the East Field House, one of the oldest buildings on campus, and a social, academic, and athletic nexus for those early students.

“They ate dinner right over there," said Chancellor George Blumenthal, addressing the capacity crowd, pointing in the direction of the nearby East Field House. "And here we are, eating in a tent! But I'm sure they didn't eat as well as we're eating tonight."

The party continued with a gala first-annual Banana Slug Parade in downtown Santa Cruz in October.

Earlier in the year, Alumni Weekend drew record-breaking crowds with lectures, panels, a farm-style lunch, and UC Santa Cruz's famous bay views. And students, staff, and faculty did their very best to bring back the Spirit of ’65 in a history-themed dress-up day. But the campus, for all of the glories of its past, showed that it has lost none of its currency among young scholars, who vied, in unprecedented numbers, for a spot in its fall 2015 undergraduate class.

Distinguished academics

Fifty years is certainly a milestone. But that celebration in the tent was about more than just a number. UC Santa Cruz had many other causes to crow about aside from its age that night. Throughout their history, Slugs could take pride in a small campus where big things happen. And this year was no exception. In the space of one year, UC Santa Cruz’s number of endowed chairs jumped by almost a third, with eight new funded chairs in everything from open software to screenwriting, bringing the grand total to 30 chairs. This is big news, especially considering those chairs drive faculty innovation, risk-taking, and creativity, while helping to retain renowned professors and researchers.

Treading lightly

Throughout the year, Slugs demonstrated their strong commitment to low-impact living. The Music Center was transformed into a "smart" building, reducing its annual carbon imprint by 98 tons. The campus also upped its Earth-friendly credentials by offering a new concentration in agroecology and sustainable food systems, launching a conservation scholars program aimed at increasing diversity, and reducing its dining waste so dramatically that the Environmental Protection Agency took notice. In the same year, UC Santa Cruz physics professor was named Faculty Climate Action Champion for 2015-16. The campus also took part in the University of California system-wide Cool Campus Challenge and earned kudos for drought-related best practices regarding water consumption and savings.


The "big 5-0" was a great time to reflect on some old history on campus, including the picturesque but declining Cowell Ranch Hay Barn, a relic of the campus's previous life as a ranch. These days, it’s looking much more spry, now that it has been rebuilt as headquarters for the Center For Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. A pie potluck and barn dance marked its completion.


UC Santa Cruz was the subject of high-profile headlines in major media outlets this year. The legendary food writer Mark Bittman traveled to UC Santa Cruz to explore "the roots of organic farming" for the New York Times. The Washington Post highlighted UC Santa Cruz research about elephant seal behavior in a colorful and dramatic story called "The Mating Game Secrets and The Bloody Rivalries of the Giant Elephant Seal." And, not surprisingly, the 50-year anniversary celebration also received widespread attention, with big newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, writing up this important year in campus history. 

Caring for others

Slugs are known for caring about others who are struggling with injustice and poverty in all corners of the planet. UC Santa Cruz alumni are truly citizens of the world, so it made sense that one of the most moving and informative stories about women surviving ISIS terrorism—and escaping to tell their story—was written by an alumna, Azadeh Moaveni (Oakes '98, politics,), whose dramatic and detailed Sunday New York Times article about “collaboration, anguish, and escape” was one of the most talked-about stories of the year, garnering more than 1,580 reader comments. Other Slugs got to work trying to save islands, developing an app to help blind photographers, and doing their part to encourage social mobility of students.

Changing the world with research and scientific exploration

UC Santa Cruz’s great minds put their ideas to work, whether they were expanding the world’s know-how about a troubling bat disease, ocean circulation, the AIDs vaccine, the heart rates of big-wave surfers, the mysteries of appetite control, an especially nasty widespread algal bloom, and the detection of the devastating Ebola virus. Scientists on campus shined a light—so to speak—on the various ways a black hole can gulp down stars for breakfast. It was also a year of mighty partnerships. UC Santa Cruz’s Genomics Institute joined forces with Microsoft to accelerate biomedical research. Astronomers even discovered a young and rather Jupiter-ish planet.

The spirit of collaboration

Restricting your thought processes and ideas to just one discipline is so yesterday at UC Santa Cruz, which prides itself on unexpected convergences. The Division of Social Sciences’ third annual Research Frontiers event in early November was a great opportunity to explore the way various interests and areas of expertise can overlap in fascinating and useful ways, whether we’re talking about an economist using biology to analyze New York City crime or a psychologist peering into the realm of street art.

In the public eye

UC Santa Cruz events and activities were anything but low profile in 2015. It was a time to court passionate public discussion. A case in point: Activist, author, and UC Santa Cruz professor emerita Angela Davis drew one of the largest crowds in the three-decade-long history of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation, packing the 1,800-capacity Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium while a crowd of hundreds stood outside the doors and down the block hoping to get in. The last time a convocation drew a comparable response was in 2002 when Alice Walker, author of the bestselling 1982 novel The Color Purple, delivered the keynote.

Creative minds

And speaking of art, this year, alumna Gillian Welch received a Lifetime Achievement Award in songwriting, noted UC Santa Cruz alumni authors reflected on the way the campus changed their lives and gave them "a ha" moments to sustain them well into the future. The successful filmmaker and alumnus Cary Fukunaga, along with a distinguished undergraduate, won the Princess Grace Award for emerging artists. The campus also marked its age and its cultural achievement with a special exhibition highlighting 50 artists from five decades.

A sense of generosity

Slugs gave back this year in ways that have as much to do with heartstrings as purse strings. Alumnus Sage Weil provided $3 million for open research at UC Santa Cruz.  Generosity was a way for Slugs to remember loved ones and sustain their names far into the future, start virtuous cycles, assist ambitious students pursuing their dreams in spite of obstacles, restore a beloved campus landmark to its former glory, and give back to the campus for changing their destinies.

All this giving was part of the ongoing $300 million Campaign for UC Santa Cruz.