George Kraw: Solidifying a long-lasting impact

Alumnus George Kraw is a longtime supporter of UC Santa Cruz

George Kraw (Cowell ’71, history and Russian studies) speaking at a 2017 Kraw Lecture.
George Kraw playing rugby as a student at UCSC.

Pioneer alumnus George Kraw (Cowell ’71, history and Russian studies) is a longstanding donor of UC Santa Cruz, a champion of scientific truth-telling, an advocate of student success, and a supporter of UCSC rugby. 

The gifts George and his wife Rafe, a Santa Cruz mom, have made to UCSC—which include the Kraw Lecture Series, the East Field lights, and many more—have positively impacted the experiences of students, faculty, and alumni. 

“Whatever success I’ve had in life started with UC Santa Cruz,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to help support the university, especially since I went to college at a time when it cost hardly anything to go to a UC. I really feel obliged to give back to UCSC for all the help it’s given me.”

Attending and graduating UCSC 

Growing up in Berkeley, Kraw decided to stay local when choosing colleges. He chose UCSC because of its small class sizes and the unique collaboration between faculty and students. 

“UC Santa Cruz was just the right place for me,” Kraw said. “I knew it would be a place for quiet contemplation of interesting ideas, and that’s what I was looking for.” 

Kraw said he got plenty of close attention from professors as a student. So when he decided to create an independent study in Russian art history, Jasper Rose, a founding faculty member of UCSC and second-ever Cowell College Provost, happily mentored Kraw. 

When the first sports club on campus was formed, Kraw began playing rugby—coached by physics professors Dave Dorfan and Ron Ruby. Kraw typically played in the “lock” and “breakaway” positions and was on the first team ever formed. He says rugby was integral to his time at UCSC and is still heavily connected to the current team—who just finished their historic first-ever season in D1A. In 2017, Kraw donated the stadium lights to the East Field to support UCSC’s rugby teams.

“A world-class university deserves a world-class rugby team,” Kraw says with a smile “It’s just been wonderful to see the growth of UCSC rugby over the years.” .

Kraw graduated from UCSC in 1971 with a B.A. in history and Russian studies. He then pursued his M.A. in history and J.D. in law from UC Berkeley. While in law school, Kraw was determined to become his own person, and after working and leaving two post-graduation jobs, he opened a law firm specializing in corporate finance and litigation for start-up companies, before later focusing on financial issues for Taft-Hartley employee benefit plans. 

“I love doing the type of work that I do,” Kraw said. “At its most fundamental level, I chiefly represent union pension and health and welfare funds. I also work with apprenticeship and vacation funds. These funds are the core of  a number of unionized industries.”

Kraw currently practices in the same firm as his wife Rafe, who has her own long-standing practice with Taft-Hartley funds and labor organizations. 

Gifts making an impact

Kraw’s reach can be felt across campus through his gifts to various programs and organizations. 

George and Rafe Kraw established the Kraw Lecture Series in 2017 to amplify scientific truth-telling and showcase underappreciated scientific research at UCSC. During a tense and demoralizing period for science, the Kraw Lectures were an impassioned defense for scientific inquiry in a series that prided itself on open access to the results of scientific inquiry. During the pandemic, the lectures moved to a virtual format, enabling many hundreds of people to participate virtually and in-person over nearly 6 years.

The Kraw talks are always free and open to the public and cover topics ranging from astrophysics and planetary discovery and the extraordinary advances of the UCSC genomic browser to the Antarctic in a time of climate change and the possibility of self-driving cars creating massive future gridlock. 

The most recent lecture in the Kraw Series featured Daniel Kim  discussing how latest developments in RNA "liquid biopsy" technology will help advance the future of precision health for everyone.   

“Clear and open communication about science and technology is critically important,” Kraw said in a previous article. “I have been interested in the pernicious effects of political ideology and zealotry on science since my undergraduate days at Cowell College.”

Out of his many gifts to UCSC, Kraw says that his most treasured gift is the gift to faculty-led labs offering course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental (MCD) Biology. 

Principal investigator Jeremy Sanford, professor of MCD biology, and co-principal investigator and teaching professor in MCD biology, Guido Bordignon, head the CURE labs. In addition to Kraw’s gift, the project received a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2022 specifically geared towards improving undergraduate education at Hispanic Serving Institutions. They’ve used the funds to implement an expansion of CURE labs and study their impact on student success.  

Kraw says that his gift to the CURE lab is one of his favorites because of its direct impact on student research and education. 

“The students, rather than just doing lab coursework, are working in research labs,” Kraw said. “I’m pleased about my gift because it led to larger gifts being given to this program, and it’s gotten much more recognition since.” 

Sanford–the principal lead of CURE lab and Rugby Head Coach— says that George and Rafe Kraw’s gift to the CURE Lab set a course for amplifying undergraduate research opportunities at UCSC.

“The gift from George and Rafe gave me the opportunity to equip a laboratory space specifically for CUREs students and launch a large-scale undergraduate research project,” Sanford said. “Starting in Fall of 2017, I was able to experiment with different approaches for the lab and develop an optimal framework for the student experience. Over the next five years I worked with over 120 undergrad students on the Toxic RNA project. Without a CUREs lab that number would have been closer to 6.”

MCD Biology is one of the most sought after majors at UCSC. Each year the department graduates about 550 students with degrees aligned with MCD Biology. The department’s students are nearly 50 percent first generation college students and nearly 40 percent are from historically underrepresented groups. The growth and expansion of CURE labs at UCSC have given students hands-on experience in undergraduate research they will carry with them for the rest of their careers.

“Without George and Rafe, we would not have been able to begin this project,” Sanford added. “They’ve had a huge impact on the lives and careers of our life science students." 

Kraw is hopeful that sharing his reasons for making gifts to UC Santa Cruz will encourage others to do the same. 

“As alumni we—if we have the means to do so—have the potential to make a transformative difference for current students at UC Santa Cruz,” Kraw said. “There are opportunities all over the place at UCSC, whether in the sciences or arts, there’s so much talent we can support.”