In Memoriam: Maria Kerschen (1955–2020)

To: UC Santa Cruz Community

From: Paul Koch, Dean of Physical & Biological Sciences

Maria Kerschen
Maria Kerschen

With a heavy heart, I write to share the news that Maria Kerschen, who retired as assistant dean of planning and resource management from the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences just three years ago, passed away on May 22 in Eugene, Oregon. Maria was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer last August. Her sister Becky, also of Oregon, said she was doing relatively well but slipped away suddenly over the course of a week.

Maria worked for the University of California for 27 years. From 1990 to 1998, she rose through a series of positions at UC San Francisco, from an administrative assistant in the Department of Anatomy to the senior administrative analyst in the Cardiovascular Research Institute, overseeing a budget of $30 million. She moved to UC Santa Cruz in 1998 and worked in University Relations, ultimately as director of finance and information systems.

It was to the great benefit of our students, staff, and faculty that Maria accepted a position in the dean’s office in 2005. I first met her when I was a department chair and found her clear-headed, creative, and dedicated. When I was fortunate enough to be selected as dean of physical and biological sciences in 2011, I stepped into a high-functioning team with Maria and the other assistant deans, Kathie Kenyon and Nicolle Laird, and our acting director of development Lynne Stoops. This crew of powerful women was the only reason I figured out how to lead an organization as complicated as the science division. Dedicated staff and faculty at UC Santa Cruz who internalize, act on, and are energized by our mission to combine at-the-edge research with teaching that changes lives are the heart of this place. Maria embodied that ethos as much as anyone I’ve met in my nearly 25 years here.

Maria was passionate, driven, and incredibly effective when on the case, and everyone in the division was lucky we were one of her causes. She was hilarious and became more so as her retirement approached and some of her filters dropped in the face of typical university bureaucracy.

Maria had a colorful past that I only had glimpses of. She would drop enigmatic comments about her punk rock days in San Francisco in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was Jerry Brown’s personal assistant when he was chairman of the California Democratic Party in the late 1980s, and perhaps unsurprisingly, she was an outspoken liberal. Her Buddhist practice stabilized her through life’s inevitable challenges. Her rich experiences shone through in her interactions with her friends and colleagues. I loved talking with Maria about gardens, food, books, art, music, cats and dogs, politics, being a mom, and so much more.

Maria was looking forward to raising hell over the things that mattered to her once she retired, and she began to do that in Oregon. She was active in combating gun violence. I just wish she had been given more time.

All of us here in the dean’s office send our condolences to Maria’s daughter Katherine, her sister Becky, the rest of her family, and to all of those who knew and loved her.

If you wish to make a gift in Maria’s memory, you could support Moms Demand Action (an anti-gun violence organization) or the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.