December 17, 2018, By Dan White

At UC Santa Cruz, 2018 was a banner year for stargazers, social justice advocates, literary lights, cancer researchers, and students taking to the streets to provide data for a sweeping survey on housing.
It was also the first official UC Santa Cruz “Year of Alumni,” celebrating the success and influence of Banana Slugs across the globe.

This year was a time of big change on campus, with the announcement of an ambitious renewal project aiming to update iconic Kresge College, knitting beloved landmarks with new upgrades to continue a legacy while accommodating today’s student body.

Other major changes were bittersweet. This fall, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal announced his plans to retire.

“I have decided that the time is right for me to step aside and allow someone else to assume the leadership of this remarkable institution,” he said.

UC President Janet Napolitano praised and thanked Blumenthal for his years of service and his “exceptional career at the University of California [that] has spanned more than 46 years.”

Speaking of extraordinary service, J. Herman Blake, the beloved founding provost of Oakes College, was back on campus for the rededication of the Oakes Provost House, which was named after Blake during an emotional ceremony. Blake was “overwhelmed” to hear about this honor.

“In the provost house, we saw it all. It reflected the extraordinary natural setting of UC Santa Cruz—the redwoods, the view of the bay, and all of nature—human nature, intellectual nature, and the social bond. All these things came together there,” Blake said. Listen to this special podcastincluding Blake’s remarks at the renaming ceremony.

Generosity, preservation, and a “gonzo” donation

There were no dull moments on UC Santa Cruz’s busy campus calendar. In any given day, something big was happening. The year started off with an impressive burst of philanthropy, when UC Santa Cruz’s Giving Day,  a 24-hour online festival of giving, smashed previous records, with donors kicking in $520,000 for 122 worthy projects. Giving Day 2018 yielded more than $600,000 with more than 6,300 gifts for 160 projects, according to preliminary tallies.

In this action-packed year, UC Santa Cruz’s Library system proved once again that it is far more than a peaceful place for books and contemplation. Its staff painstakingly digitized over 6,000 photos from the Pirkle Jones/Ruth-Marion Baruch collection and gratefully accepted an impressive new collection of pioneering gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson books and papers.

Science in the news: stars, genes, fruit flies, and more

This was a banner year for scientific exploration and innovation at UC Santa Cruz. Astronomers explored the potentials of “face recognition for galaxies,” with artificial intelligence bringing new tools to astronomy. The Kepler telescope examined a star in its death throes.

Scientists pushed the frontiers of genetics. Using technology pioneered at UC Santa Cruz, researchers were able to sequence a human genome using a pocket-sized device. Also, UC Santa Cruz researchers examined the link between genetics and human brain size. A set of three nearly identical genes found only in humans appear to play a critical role in the development of our large brains, according to the study led by researchers at UC Santa Cruz.

Also on the genes front, data science researchers tackled privacy challenges associated with genomics.  Computer scientist Abhradeep Guha Thakurta won National Science Foundation funding to investigate ways to protect the privacy of individuals while allowing access to large genomic data sets.

This year the Physical & Biological Sciences distinguished themselves yet again at UC Santa Cruz. Biologist Beth Shapiro was selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Scientists took on many initiatives that benefited the public good, from fruit fly research leading to a potential new drug for diseases afflicting millions, including “river blindness,” to a groundwater recharge project informing statewide sustainability efforts.

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