Founders Celebration 2016: Worlds collide

Annual recognition of excellence to be held on October 22, highlighting “collision space,” the place where technology, information, and ideas come together to support dynamic exploration

Julie Snyder, this year's Alumni Achievement Award honoree, has made broadcasting history with the "Serial" podcast.
Sandra Chung, professor of linguistics, who has been recognized for her contributions to teaching and research in linguistics; advancing syntax through insights from under-studied languages, notably Chamorro; and engaging minority communities in linguistic research.
The philanthropy of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation is making an exceptional impact on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Imagine throwing a big party in the middle of a library.

That is exactly what will happen this Saturday when a group of revelers and honored guests converge at the Science & Engineering Library in honor of Founders Celebration, a time to recognize excellence, forward-thinking vision, intellectual adventure, and generosity at UC Santa Cruz.

Guests will get an exclusive sneak preview of photos from the Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch Collection, a photographic archive recently given to UC Santa Cruz—the largest single gift in the campus’s history, with an estimated value of $32 million—that documents the people, landscape, and politics of California in the mid-20th century.

Among this year’s group of honored guests will be Julie Snyder (Kresge ’95, politics), co-creator of the record-setting, ground-breaking, and insanely addictive podcast Serial, who will receive this year’s Alumni Achievement Award. 

Snyder is being recognized for outstanding personal achievement in radio broadcasting, storytelling, and podcasting, along with lasting contributions to her field.

The library venue is appropriate, considering that the theme of this year’s Founders Celebration is “collision space,” the place where technology, information, and ideas come together to support dynamic exploration.

“Collision space” also refers to the fact that the library has been evolving into a place that combines “wired" accessibility, face-to-face meetings, quiet study, and classroom learning.

The “collision space” theme applies well to the work of Snyder, who, along with fellow former This American Life staffer Sarah Koenig, has created and overseen what may very well be the most listened-to and influential podcast of all time; Snyder and Koenig’s work is a thoughtful “collision” of old-fashioned storytelling and reporting with state-of-the-art podcasting technology, which allowed them to produce their program without having to convince radio stations to shoehorn it into their programming schedule.

This year’s celebration will be a homecoming for Snyder, who first became immersed in the potentials of journalism, storytelling, and broadcasting while at UC Santa Cruz. Her time at the campus’s radio station, KZSC-FM, was an apprenticeship in its own right.

“We were flirting with disaster, constantly,” Snyder recalled. “At the time, I think we did a 15-minute newscast every night before the hour-long (KPFA-FM) news feed, and it was awful. We basically stole the stories out of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, but the fact is, I never thought anyone was listening and it didn’t even really matter. Then I met someone who said she listened to it all the time because it was really funny. She waited to see when and how we were going to mess it up.”

Other honorees include UC Santa Cruz linguistics professor Sandra Chung, who will receive this year’s Faculty Research Award for her work focusing on 1,200 related languages spoken on Pacific island archipelagos—especially Chamorro, an understudied language of the Mariana Islands—and the Helen and Will Webster Foundation, which will be honored with the Fiat Lux Award. Claudia and Alec Webster (Rachel Carson College '02, environmental studies) help steward the foundation.

The Websters have been newsmakers on campus for their generosity and vision. Their philanthropy named and endowed the newly rededicated Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight), and established five endowed chairs.

The Websters are also known for their intervention to save the picturesque but foundering Cowell Ranch Hay Barn, which was on the verge of collapse before they funded an ambitious rebuilding project. The barn is now a center for UC Santa Cruz’s environmental and sustainability programs, home to the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and a campus and community hub.

Tickets are now available for the Founders Celebration. Revelers have options. They may purchase individual tickets, buy a deluxe package, or purchase a table.

This event is part of the Campaign for UC Santa Cruz, which supports excellence across the university through increased private investment in the people and ideas shaping the future. To date, the campaign has raised $286 million toward a $300 million goal.