Establishing traditions, Cowell alumni organize to give back

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

UC Santa Cruz alumni Florence Nelson (Cowell ’72, psychology) , Stephen Klein (Cowell ’72, religious studies) and Nadene Thorne (Cowell ’72, literature) 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.  It was the first on-campus reunion Cowell has been able to hold since the pioneer class's reunion (classes of ’65-’69) in 2019.

"As members of one of the earliest classes to graduate from Cowell, we felt a sort of responsibility to help establish traditions,” Nelson said. “We are sort of 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. There weren't very many alumni there [yet].” 

Nelson graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and numerous anthropology courses under her belt. While at the university, she worked as a records clerk in the Cowell office, so 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, but 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,” Nelson said. 

It was the organizing of Cowell’s 50th reunion in April where Nelson, Klein and Thorne 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.”

Christy and Cowell College Academic Manager Alice Folkins have worked closely with Nelson, Thorne, and Klein 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 send students into a tizzy and 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.”

Cowell class of ’72: 50 years later

Nearly 40 Cowell alumni attended the 50th reunion held over alumni weekend in April 2022; for a class made up of only 160 students, the turnout was greater than expected. Nelson, Klein and Thorne all emphasized excitement surrounding the reunion and were overjoyed to reconnect with their classmates and friends. 

“You start talking to these people and you realize that they come with a really similar worldview that makes sense to you because we all came from the same sort of formative experience,” Thorne said. “You can talk to them as if 50 years hadn't gone by, and I've marveled over that over and over. A lot of different things have happened, and so much time has passed, and yet you talk to these people and they just know what you're talking about. These are your people.” 

Referred to by many as a walking rolodex, Klein has stayed in contact with the majority of his classmates from the class of 1972. When organizing Cowell College’s 50th reunion, Klein was in charge of getting in contact with alumni. The trio had learned that outreach is essential to a successful reunion, and that having participants on the reunion planning team who have maintained contact with many class members makes a big difference in reunion turnout. 

Klein wrote about 120 handwritten letters to the Cowell class of ’72 inviting them to the reunion. 

“That made a difference to a number of people,” Klein said. “ I think part of the thing is we are so used to email, so if you take the time to contact people, in a way that shows the human touch, it could have very positive effects.”

Klein graduated from UCSC with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies in 1972 and was asked to run for the alumni council soon after. Klein 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 when we got all the stuff from the admissions office, they said that 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, I think, 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.”

Find out more about how you can get involved and support Cowell College.