New traditions

Cowell alumni organize to give back

From left to right: Florence Nelson, Stephen Klein, and Nadene Thorne at Cowell College’s 50th reunion. 

This story has been updated from its original version, first posted July 21, 2022.


UC Santa Cruz alumni Florence Nelson, Stephen Klein, and Nadene Thorne are at the forefront of volunteering at Cowell College. With the goal of setting the foundation for reunions and volunteering at the college, the trio worked together to put on Cowell College’s 50th reunion for the class of 1972 in April of 2022.  

"As members of one of the earliest classes to graduate from Cowell, we felt a responsibility to help establish traditions,” Nelson said. “We are laying the groundwork for what an alumni relationship with the campus could look like because there wasn't a definition of it when we started at UC Santa Cruz.” 

Nelson (Cowell ’72, psychology) graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1972 with a B.A. in psychology and numerous anthropology courses under her belt. While at the university, she worked as a records clerk in the Cowell office, emphasizing that her connection to the college went beyond being a student. After graduating from UCSC, Nelson moved to the east coast and became involved with the New York alumni regional chapter. Since moving back to California she has assisted with organizing multiple reunions and other alumni outreach events.

“Some people are really attached to their high school experience and some people are really attached to something else,” Nelson said. “For me, the time I spent at Cowell was really formative for me and helped me establish a way of looking at the world through a cultural lens as well as an academic lens.” 

It was the organizing of Cowell’s 50th reunion where Nelson, Klein and Thorne  (Cowell ’72, literature) worked closely together for the first time, but their contributions to the college span beyond reunion planning. 

The trio’s connection to the university spans decades, and their intent to support current students and reconnect alumni rings clear. 

“In a very real way, the alumni who are active are crucial to the institutional memory of the college,”  said Cowell College Provost Alan Christy. “Cowell was the first college so we have people from the very first days at UC Santa Cruz; we have an irreplaceable link to the whole history of the college. It's important to remember that college staff, administrators, and faculty come and go, but the alumni stay and it's important that we acquaint ourselves with alumni and come to understand the tremendous value that they bring.”

Nelson, Thorne, and Klein have worked on countless projects including the creation of the Cowell Provost Academic Emergency Fund which provides students with emergency financial support, and gathering readers for Cowell College’s John Dizikes Writing Prize.

“We have students who are food insecure, housing insecure, students finding themselves suddenly in a position where they can't afford textbooks, or something of that nature, and these are the kinds of things that can really impact their success at UCSC,” Thorne said.  “So if students need $100 here or $200 there, it's at the provost’s discretion as to who receives this money.”

Klein (Cowell ’72, religious studies) was asked to run for the alumni council soon after graduating from UCSC, and found himself presented with opportunities to make an impact on students’ experience at the university. 

“When I went to Santa Cruz, the fees were $119.50 a quarter, and a year at Santa Cruz for someone who lived on campus would be about $2,000,” Klein said. “Well, clearly the fees are not $119.50 anymore, and it is certainly more than $2,000 a year to go to school.” 

As a member of the alumni council in the ’90s, Klein worked to launch the Alumni Association Scholarship Fund to support students with the growing cost of higher education. 

“Those facts resonated with alums and people started supporting this scholarship fund very generously because it seemed like a good idea,” Klein said. “It seemed like something that people could do to support the university that had been so important to them.” 

Cowell provost Alan Christy said he is grateful to Nelson, Thorne, and Klein for their longstanding support of the college and the university as whole. 

“It's been great for the students to see active alumni who are interested in learning what students' current situations are like and thinking about how they can be of help to them,” Christy said. “It's nice to be able to point to their active engagement in the college and talk to students about their relationship with the university being something that's potentially lifelong.”

Many UC Santa Cruz alumni, faculty and staff, and community supporters have chosen to include the university in their estate plan. A planned gift can serve as a way to unite philanthropic and financial goals. Find out more about how you can support UC Santa Cruz with planned gifts. 

Alumni Weekend 2023

As Alumni Weekend 2023 approaches, UCSC’s Alumni Engagement team has been hard at work to bring a fresh look to the weeklong celebrations. 

A decades-long tradition, Alumni Weekend was created to welcome alumni back to UC Santa Cruz to reconnect with peers, Santa Cruz, and the campus community. The week-long series of events typically consisted of campus tours, reunions, lectures, and celebrations.

This year, the traditional program will be transformed into two separate weekend events in the spring and summertime. In April, UCSC will host Alumni Reunion Weekend celebrating alumni who graduated 50+ years ago. Then, in August, the University will offer “Return to the Redwoods,” a first-of-its-kind residential campus experience where alumni will be able to stay overnight in residential halls.

With a modernized and re-envisioned program, organizers aim to provide a more meaningful way for alumni to engage in the coming years. 

“This change has been a long time coming,” says Assistant Vice Chancellor of Alumni Engagement John Pine. “Alumni Weekend, in its previous iteration, has been successful in welcoming back a portion of our alumni. However, with this reimagined version of Alumni Weekend, we tried to really listen to what alumni have been asking for.” 

Read more about upcoming alumni weekend programs.