A year of generosity

In 2020, UCSC donors demonstrated how giving can make a positive difference even in a period of turmoil

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UC Santa Cruz Dining Services staff members prepare bagged meals for campus evacuees at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Sunroom in August 2020. (Photo by Nick Gonzales)

Last year often seemed like 365 days of calamity. In many cases, though, the year’s adversity drove the activities of UCSC researchers and donors. Like characters in a superhero movie, they ran toward the trouble even as most people were just trying to find safety.

Though it disrupted schedules, the pandemic didn’t hamper 2020’s Giving Day, which raised one of its highest-ever totals—providing direct funding for nearly 100 student groups and academic programs. Meanwhile, generosity poured in to help Slug Support ensure the pandemic wouldn’t derail students' academic goals. Donors responded again after August’s CZU Lightning Complex fires when numerous staff, faculty, and students saw their homes burned to the ground

“Donors truly rose to the challenges 2020 presented,” said Associate Vice Chancellor of Development Jeff Shilling. “The generosity and dedication of the UCSC community was on full display.”

Researchers and donors earned widespread praise for contributions to the fight against COVID-19. In early February the Genomics Institute created the SARS CoV-2 Genome Browser, which has become a critical tool for scientists worldwide. Private support has been instrumental in the browser’s development.

In April, a group of scientists, with support from key donors, uprighted a diagnostic lab in a temporary space to meet Santa Cruz County’s urgent need for COVID-19 testing. In December, thanks to a significant gift from Bud and Rebecca Colligan, the lab found a permanent home. When the need for virus testing subsides, the lab's genetic sequencing capacity will be devoted to identifying effective treatments for persistent cancers. 

Growing support for research and scholarship

With a $2.6 million grant, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation renewed its support for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars—two-year conservation-focused preparation for environmental and science careers. Faculty director Erika Zavaleta says an emphasis on inclusion aims to improve the variety of backgrounds represented in those fields. 

“Our scholars and alumni are already becoming leaders and influencers in conservation and beginning to bring to fruition the program’s vision of a diverse group of future conservation leaders,” Zavaleta said.

A new endowment from the Hellman Fellows Fund established permanent funding for the highly effective awards to early-career professors. Past recipients have used their funds to pilot work that later earned significant independent or federal grants. The innovative endowment will match new gifts, creating opportunities for additional donors to establish and name endowments with doubled impact. 

Grants from the Heising-Simons Foundation further empowered UCSC astronomers and astrophysicists with funding for new instruments specialized to build our understanding planets beyond the solar system and their potential to harbor life. The foundation also made an emergency grant, joining numerous other supporters, to help Lick Observatory recover from wildfire damage. 

Significant support from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation convened the inaugural Deep Read with an intensive exploration of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, culminating in a fascinating virtual conversation between Atwood and bestselling author Kate Schatz (Stevenson '01, women's studies and creative writing). 

The research arm of French insurance firm AXA funded a five-year academic chairship for marine scientist Mike Beck to further his research into the benefits to coastal settlements of restoring reefs and wetlands.

Professor Anne Kapuschinski’s largely donor-supported aquaculture research yielded a significantly more environment-friendly feed for farm-raised fish. 

Extraordinary private contributions

Private gifts also supported:

• The new, $1 million William Wallace Campbell Director’s Fund at Lick Observatory, permanently funding public education and research on Mount Hamilton

• A study that will use strontium isotope analysis to map the transatlantic slave trade

• An online pandemic-safe version of the celebrated UCSC Opera

• Digital archiving of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music

• Research to improve the artificial intelligence systems that make movie or other suggestions to consumers 

Graduate fellowships in the sciences