Alumna Susan Nerton honored for contributions to Crown College

Longtime Crown College volunteer receives Fiat Lux Award

Susan Nerton received the Fiat Lux Award on Oct. 27, 2023. Her peer, Jim Lapsley, received the award on her behalf.

 The Alumni Association at UCSC is proud to present this year’s honorees of the UCSC Alumni Awards. These awards recognize and honor alumni who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements, made distinct contributions to society, provided impactful contributions to UC Santa Cruz, and who have embodied the values and spirit of the university. 

For her contributions, dedication, and efforts to support Crown College, Susan Nerton (Crown ’71, ’87, psychology and computer and information science) was awarded the Fiat Lux Award on Oct. 27, 2023.

“We felt like pioneers,” Susan Nerton says, reflecting on her experience in the early years of Crown College 1967-71. Enrolling as a math major and science appreciator, she knew she wanted to be a part of the Crown College academic community. A fifth generation Californian from the working-class town of Pleasanton, she was the first in her family to attend university.

“Crown College wasn’t fully completed by move-in day. There were ditches. Fortunately, we didn’t lose anyone,” Nerton says. It was an exciting, social and intellectually stimulating environment. She remembers spending time studying in the college lounges and library with actual books. “The classroom building had listening rooms with turntables. There were lots of places where we could meet in groups,” she says. 

She remembers the Core courses required of all first-year students at UCSC. “We would have three or four excellent professors sharing a course, integrating their different disciplines and perspectives around a big idea. The connections they were able to weave together. It was mind blowing,” Nerton says. 

After college, Nerton went on to a fulfilling 25-year career at Cabrillo Community College as a computer science educator and life-long STEM advocate. Having a role in shaping new learning opportunities for students has always been her mission.

In 2017, Crown Provost Camps initiated a campaign to reconfigure the Crown College Library in order to provide critically needed meeting space for students whose dorm lounges had all been converted into dorm housing. “I realized that converting those dorm lounges into housing left the students with nowhere to go. The library was underused, poorly furnished, and had unpredictable Internet connectivity,” Nerton says.

She joined the campaign along with several other Crown alumni who recognized the importance of upgrading the library and returning space to the students. 

Two years later, after raising $75,000 to remodel the library, the alumni friends decided the fireside lounge was next. “The fireside lounge needed a face lift,” Nerton says. They added a better TV, furniture, and lighting to make it more comfortable for students. 

After this second fundraising effort, Nerton was eager to join Provost Camps’ new Provost Advisory Committee (CPAC) made up of seven Crown pioneer alumni.

When the new CPAC contemplated their next project, it became quite clear that one thing they were uniquely positioned to do was raise endowment funds—a permanent source of additional annual funding—for Crown. This idea quickly became linked to the idea of holding Crown’s first 50th reunion.

“The year 2021 would mark 50 years since our graduation from Crown College. We wanted to have a party to celebrate,” Nerton says.

Along with two other committee members, Lisa Rose and Jim Lapsley, Nerton volunteered to organize the first Crown 50th reunion and lead the fundraising campaign.

“UCSC is still so young that there is no history of these legacy events. The idea of highlighting a college 50th reunion hadn’t crossed anyone’s radar quite yet,” Nerton says.

The three of them, Nerton, Rose, and Lapsley put their different skills together to plan and organize the Crown College 50th Reunion including the classes 1968-72. COVID delayed the reunion until April 2022, but the extra planning time was to their benefit.

“There was some pressure to integrate fundraising into the 50th Reunion from the beginning,” Nerton says. However, through multiple planning focus groups, the 50th reunion planning team found that many pioneer alumni did not want fundraising to be a focus. They wanted a party to reconnect with old friends. The planning team decided not to solicit donations during the reunion events. Interestingly enough, by the end of the reunion weekend in April 2022, pioneer alumni were asking us what they could do to further enhance the student experience at Crown College. This led to the Crown College campaign to raise $1 million for the college.

Nerton, Rose, and Lapsley received the Fiat Lux award for their fundraising efforts. 

“I was totally surprised by the whole thing,” Nerton says. “I look at the people who received the award previously and I’m really honored to be included in that group,” she says. Working hard with her alumni friends for five years, she says the work was enjoyable the whole time, despite its challenges. “We have become much better friends in the process. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been due to moving these projects to completion,” she says. 

She is excited to help support an integrated curriculum that “gets people working together,” she says. She hopes the funding goes towards smaller class sizes and community building around big ideas. “When you’re relaxed and feeling trusted you learn better,” she says.