It’s hard to believe classes have been underway for nearly a month. As our students, faculty and staff settle into their routines, the campus has an undeniable energy found only at the start of a new academic year. I hope each of you had a fulfilling and enriching summer and are just as eager as I am to engage with one another and make this year our best yet.
Already, we’re off to a terrific start. UCI recently ranked No. 9 among national public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report, and was named a top green university by Sierra magazine for the seventh consecutive year. These rankings are a testament to the unyielding spirit of our Anteater family. We're an eclectic breed: curious, thoughtful, innovative and fun. And when we come together, we do incredible things.
eSports grand opening
As part of UCI’s Welcome Week activities, students, faculty, staff and community members alike supported the launch of our privately funded eSports arena, a physical manifestation of the campus’s renowned academic programs in computer science and computer game science. The new arena will serve as a hub for UCI eSports, an initiative centered on academics, community, entertainment and competition in computer gaming. UCI has been a longtime leader in the field of computer game science. Many of our faculty are involved in research related to computer gaming, and in 2011 the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences established an undergraduate degree in the discipline. With the program’s launch, five students received scholarships to compete on the official UCI “League of Legends” eSports team. Arena coordinator Kathy Chiang ’16, an avid gamer who earned a degree in computer science, said the program offers a unique opportunity for elite gamers who compete professionally to bring their skills to a world-class university and earn a degree. You can learn more about UCI eSports on our website.
Laying the foundation for growth
Recently, we also celebrated the grand opening of two facilities on our main campus that have enabled us to expand our reach into the community and accommodate more students. Mesa Court Towers, our latest addition to student housing, includes more than 250 dorm rooms; 935 beds; a state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot dining hall and coffee house; a fitness center and recreation area; and a comprehensive study space with computers and private meeting rooms. Across campus is the new site of the Division of Continuing Education. The beautifully designed, five-story structure (built entirely without state funds) features 75,000 square feet with more than 20 classrooms, a ballroom and an audiovisual studio. These facilities not only add value to our campus at large, but are major steps toward achieving our plans for growth laid out in our strategic plan.
Another major component of our plan calls for sizable development of our faculty. Exceptional, influential researchers and professors are vital for UCI’s success. These scholars make groundbreaking contributions to their fields that change the way we look at the world. They also help to secure necessary funds to continue important research, bolster our reputation and recruit the best students to our campus. I am pleased to share that this fall UCI welcomed 100 new faculty members to the Anteater family, a milestone in our effort to add 250 permanent faculty members. You can read about some of our new educators here.
Studying childhood health
UCI’s Development, Health & Disease Research Program recently was selected to participate in a $157 million National Institutes of Health initiative to study how environmental influences affect the well-being of children and adolescents. Over the next two years, UCI researchers will receive $3.6 million to examine how a pregnant mother’s immune system modifies her child’s brain development and metabolic and endocrine processes. The recent grant is one of four amounting to nearly $14 million the Development, Health & Disease Research Program has been awarded by the NIH in the last year. Professor Pathik Wadhwa, who leads the program, aims to enhance our understanding of how maternal experiences and environmental exposures during pregnancy and infancy can have long-term effects on a child’s health. Congratulations to Professor Wadhwa and his team!
Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects millions of Americans, from those diagnosed with the illness to those facing financial and emotional burdens while caring for their loved ones. As baby boomers age, the debilitating disease is expected to affect 13.8 million Americans by 2050, making the need for a cure a high priority. Researchers at UCI MIND, Orange County’s only state- and federally designated Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, are doing their part to better comprehend the disease. Joshua Grill, UCI MIND co-director and professor of psychiatry & human behavior, recently received $2 million from the UC Cures for Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative to study the effectiveness of vitamin B3 in reducing brain lesions, a key marker of the illness. Most potential therapies focus on amyloid plaques to combat Alzheimer’s, but Professor Grill hopes that investigating brain tangles may lead to important strides toward improved treatment.
UCI’s involvement in the study of Alzheimer’s isn't solely confined to Orange County. You can learn more about our academic partnership with experts at Israel’s Tel Aviv University in the latest issue of UCI Magazine.
A force for good
UCI students are actively using their talents, passion and education to make an impact in their communities and around the globe. One such student is Lydia Natoolo, a biology major who launched a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for Atutur Hospital in Uganda. Lydia’s inspiration for the group stemmed from an article she read about the hospital in her home country that lacked not only critical medical supplies, but also necessary utilities such as running water. When she visited the hospital, she discovered surgical rooms with deteriorating walls, spotty electricity and water contaminated with pathogens. To date, she has raised $20,000 for solar panels and is launching a farm to supply food for hungry patients. Lydia also is a student ambassador at the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, where she works with other Anteaters and community members to further her cause.
Cultivating student success
UCI is known for serving a diverse group of students from a wide variety of backgrounds. In fact, more than half of our undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college. It’s a tremendous accomplishment that will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the lives of these students and their families. However, when first-generation undergrads arrive on campus, they often feel out of place or overwhelmed by the uncharted territory of academia. That’s why Anita Casavantes Bradford, an associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies, and Davin L. Phoenix, an assistant professor of political science, launched an initiative to connect first-generation students with one another. The First Generation First Quarter Challenge peer-to-peer mentoring program is designed to help new students adjust to university life and cultivate skills for academic success.
Mentors are upperclassmen who have already spent at least one year navigating campus life, such as Harwood Garland, a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps medic veteran and graduate student in the School of Social Sciences. His biggest piece of advice to first-generation students is to build relationships with their professors, who can provide sterling insight and career guidance. Professor Casavantes Bradford concurs and has been working to connect first-generation students with professors who also were the first in their families to attend a university and earn a degree. During Welcome Week, first-generation faculty shared their stories and wore self-identifying buttons and T-shirts in an effort to encourage interaction with new students. Hey, I’ll be wearing my button!
Illuminating arts and culture in Orange County
One of the most important things students can do is expose themselves to new ideas, experiences and ways of thinking. UCI Illuminations, our arts and culture initiative, aims to provide a unique opportunity for undergraduates of any major to explore the creative arts by attending and participating in events on campus and at local venues. Now in its third year, UCI Illuminations has had tremendous success among students, faculty, staff and the community. This quarter, students from across campus are visiting museums, hearing renowned musicians and speaking with award-winning novelists to gain a deeper understanding of how creativity and discovery are ingrained in academic inquiry. I encourage you to learn more about the program and find inspiration in the world around us.
Chancellor Howard Gillman