A helping hand from Retirees Association

UC Santa Cruz Retirees Association Silver Slug scholarships benefit UC Santa Cruz staff or their children

Silver Slug awardees with Retirees Association members
Front Row: Silver Slug Award Recipients, Koa Kiefer, Katharina Pierini, Elizabeth Anne Howard and Retirees Association President Ilse Lopes. Back Row: Silver Slug Award Committee members Mary Wells and Sharon Dirnberger. Photo couretesy Retirees Association.
Melody Litt-Louris with Koa Keifer
Koa Kiefer hiking with his mother UC Santa Cruz staff member Melody Litt-Louris. Photo courtesy of Melody Litt-Louris.
In its second year offering the scholarship, the UC Santa Cruz Retirees Association gave three Silver Slug Awards, two to students who are also staff members and one to a child of a staff member.

The Silver Slug Award was established in 2018 to help staff with education expenses either for themselves or family members. Awardees must be staff of UC Santa Cruz or dependents of staff.

Love of language

Katharina Pierini is nearing completion of a BA in Applied Linguistics and Multilingualism. She grew up in Europe, speaking multiple languages and had always loved linguistics. Pierini (Kresge ‘21, applied linguistics) enrolled at UC Santa Cruz in 1994 but her education was interrupted and she went on to earn an associate degree in horticulture from Cabrillo College.

Eventually she returned to Kresge as a groundskeeper. And this year she resumed her studies, 25 years after she first affiliated with Kresge. The scholarship is very helpful, she said.

“I feel like I got a huge raise,” Pierini said. “I’m very excited and feel really fortunate.”

She’s also grateful to her department for accommodating her schedule so she can take her classes.

Doctor of outdoors

Elizabeth Howard, director of the Younger Lagoon Reserve, is working toward a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology. A Kresge alumna, Howard (Ph.D. ‘22, ecology and evolutionary biology) earned her BA in 2001 in environmental studies and biology.

Her doctoral work arose from a habitat restoration project she has been supervising at the reserve. To compare outcomes, she is working in collaboration with the Coastal Commission to examine records of restoration projects statewide. Her analysis will help commission staff evaluate whether future projects are likely to meet expectations.

Howard hopes her degree will help her build her career options. She eventually wants to pursue roles with more decision-making authority.

Receiving a scholarship from the Retirees Association was especially meaningful, she said, because of the help she has received from UC Santa Cruz staff throughout her career.

“I’m extremely grateful, especially because this scholarship is given by retired staff,” she said. “Staff helped me get into school and to navigate once I was enrolled.”

When she was growing up in northwest Florida and later in the Bay Area, her parents encouraged her to spend time outdoors, and Howard has always worked outdoors. Initially she thought she might become an organic farmer. Restoration ecology is “like gardening in the natural world,” she says.

Future psychology researcher

Koa Kiefer (Crown 20’, psychology) transferred to UC Santa Cruz from Cabrillo College with a major in psychology.

Kiefer’s mother, Melody Litt-Louris, director of business and resource management for the Department of Student Achievement and Equity Innovation has worked for the university for 15 years.

“I was so excited and proud of Koa when I learned he was chosen to receive the Silver Slug scholarship,” she said. “I was happy to hear Koa wanted to attend UCSC. He basically grew up living close and coming up to campus frequently.”

Kiefer has worked continuously to support his education. He is the first in his family to attend college. He plans to pursue a career researching cognitive neuropsychology or human-robotic interaction.

The education cost struggle

The idea for the Silver Slug award came about when Retirees Association members Mary Wells and Sharon Dirnberger were discussing their estate plans. As employees in the Admissions Office, they had both seen the challenges fellow staff faced with education expenses.

Together with fellow member David Kirk, they began aggressively fundraising. The Silver Slug award fund reached the $25,000 minimum to establish an endowment in time to present their first scholarship in 2018.

Fundraising continues. They hope to build the endowment to the point where it can make at least three $2,000 scholarships each year. In the meantime, annual fundraising continues to directly support current scholarships as well as the endowment.

Sally Lester, who has helped with fundraising and selecting awardees, said the award is a way to honor the ambitions of staff or their dependents who are completing or seeking an education. She noted that while some universities offer employee scholarships, UC Santa Cruz did not until the Silver Slug award was established.

“We figured, ‘OK, We’re going to do that,’” Lester said. ”Staff keep the university’s engine running. It’s important to acknowledge and reward that.”

To contribute to the Silver Slug scholarship, visit the online donation page.