Highlighting academic excellence

To: UCSC Community

From: Lori Kletzer Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Welcome to our 2021-22 academic year and fall quarter. It is wonderful to see so many of you back on campus and in our classrooms, labs, libraries and gathering spaces. What you’re reading here is the first of what will be a quarterly communication from me, highlighting academic news from around campus. Keeping our community informed about the programs that are at the core of our mission is my goal, and I hope this information helps us strengthen our community.

Three weeks into the academic year is a good time to step back, take a breath, and appreciate all that we have accomplished in our return to primarily in-person instruction this fall quarter. Nineteen months ago, in the face of an emerging global pandemic, we pivoted in just one week to remote operation. It wasn’t possible to undertake significant course redesign at that time, but we spent the summer of 2020 supporting instructors to redesign courses, knowing we would likely be remote all last year. Efforts to upright our curriculum, over six remote quarters, were significant, and we should not undervalue this achievement.

Our adoption of new technology and teaching practices continues to benefit our entire community now that we have returned to in-person instruction. I am deeply grateful to Jody Greene and the team at our Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning. CITL led the charge on educating our educators on the latest research and developments in teaching. The Keep Learning and Keep Teaching websites CITL spearheaded remain remarkable resources for our community.

Campus voted into prestigious library association

Last week, University Librarian Elizabeth Cowell and I shared the news that we had been invited to join the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a nonprofit organization comprising roughly 125 libraries and archives at major public and private universities, federal government agencies, and large public institutions in North America. It is a great honor; invitations are limited,and they are coveted in the research community.

The initiatives the ARL undertakes on behalf of members will benefit us greatly. ARL affiliates are leading institutions that attract millions of users annually, leaving them uniquely positioned to proactively address the information challenges and opportunities facing the research and learning community. The group fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise, a practice we wholeheartedly embrace as a research university.

The UCSC University Library punches above its weight class as a research library. It has grown responsively alongside campus, adopting innovative approaches and new information technologies, strengthening our academic and research enterprises through a wide range of information resources. Our library is versatile and innovative, deep in technological expertise, and this honor reflects that. Congratulations to Elizabeth, who is already a leading voice in state and national advocacy efforts on behalf of university libraries. This is a richly deserved honor for her and her team — and something we should all take great pride in.

Ramirez-Ruiz honored for innovations in mentoring

Kudos to Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, who was recently chosen as the recipient of the American Physical Society’s 2021 Dwight Nicholson Medal for Outreach. Enrico was recognized for innovations in mentoring that have demonstrated how members of historically marginalized populations can thrive and advance scientific enterprise in astronomy and related fields.

Enrico holds the Vera Rubin Presidential Chair for Diversity in Astronomy. He established the Lamat Institute (“star” in Mayan) a decade ago to give undergraduates the opportunity to work with faculty and graduate students on computational astrophysics projects. Two-thirds of the program’s participants belong to historically marginalized groups in STEM, and two-thirds are first-generation college students. All of the program’s participants have graduated with STEM degrees, and 74 percent have gone on to graduate school.

This honor is well-deserved, and an example of the pioneering efforts being undertaken on our campus to prepare and inspire our students for professional and personal success. Congratulations, Enrico!

Mellon grant funds inclusion in national Latinx studies initiative

Our campus learned late this past summer it would be part of a national initiative in Latinx studies called “Crossing Latinidades: Emerging Scholars and New Comparative Directions,” funded through a three-year, $5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Led by the University of Illinois Chicago, this initiative involves 16 Hispanic-Serving Institutions that also have R1 designations. A key component of the project will be the creation of a yearly summer institute on Latinx studies as well as a mentorship program that aims to boost the research skills, intellectual curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking of rising scholars. In years two and three of the grant, 10 research working groups will be funded that will include senior and junior Latinx studies scholars as well as graduate students.

This is a wonderful opportunity for our scholars in training to collaborate with experts in the field and with their peers at institutions nationwide, amplifying the importance of Latinx studies, and I’m grateful for the Mellon support.

‘Visualizing Abolition’ initiative receives $2 million grant

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has also been extremely generous to our campus on another front, awarding nearly $2 million to our “Visualizing Abolition” initiative, the nation’s most ambitious and sustained art and prison-abolition effort. It is led by Gina Dent, Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, and Dr. Rachel Nelson, Director of our Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

The initiative, first launched in fall 2020 to examine the ways people understand issues of mass incarceration, detention, and policing, aims to foster creative research and to shift the perception of prisons through the use of art and education. The funding will support the development of new work by artists, musicians, humanists, and other researchers. Gina and Rachel’s collaboration has been a great success to date, and through this funding the initiative will continue to evolve and expand. The Institute of the Arts and Sciences was created with collaborations as a goal, and it’s wonderful to see the attention “Visualizing Abolition” is garnering, with a social justice effort — something that defines our campus — at its core.

Expanding support for graduate students

To support our graduate students, UC Santa Cruz over the past two years has created additional and enhanced programs focused on housing, student success, and family support. The programs are designed to be responsive to the specific concerns graduate students have raised about the challenges they face living, learning and working in our community. The effort is a good start, and represents an open dialogue and shared problem-solving effort between our graduate students and campus leaders.

Our population of graduate students dipped this past academic year, when COVID-19 impacts were being felt most acutely. This year’s cohort is back to pre-pandemic enrollment, with 656 total students, 382 of them master’s candidates, and 274 seeking doctoral degrees.

Roxanne Beltran wins prestigious Packard Fellowship

Congratulations to Roxanne Beltran, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who last week was awarded a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship for Science and Engineering. The fellowships support young scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise and creativity. The $875,000 fellowship will allow Roxanne to continue her research using migrating elephant seals as “smart sensors” for monitoring ocean ecosystems.

The Packard Foundation put together a wonderful video announcing its 2021 fellows class, complete with clips of some of the winners being notified. Roxanne’s video is wonderful, and really speaks to her dedication and commitment as a scientist. It’s truly touching, and I’d encourage everyone to watch it. Congratulations again, Roxanne, and thank you to all on our campus who bring this kind of passion and joy to their work. We are a remarkable university, made up of remarkable people dedicated to making the world a better place. I am immensely proud to be a part of that.