June 7, 2019

Passing of Chancellor Emerita Laurel Wilkening

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Chancellor Emerita Laurel L. Wilkening. UCI’s third chancellor, she led this university from 1993 to 1998.

Laurel Wilkening received her bachelor’s degree, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1966 from Reed College in Oregon and earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, San Diego, in 1970.

A renowned planetary scientist and expert on comets and meteorites, Wilkening’s academic career began at the University of Arizona, where her first appointment was as professor of geological chemistry in 1970. She later served as director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and as dean and vice president for research, among other prominent leadership roles. From 1988 to 1993 she was provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Wilkening came to UCI in 1993 to succeed Jack Peltason as chancellor. During her five-year tenure the campus received its first two Nobel Prizes, contributed more than $1 billion per year to the local economy, completed 250,000 square-feet of construction, and attracted increased private, state and federal funding. UCI also achieved Wilkening’s goal of moving into the ranks of America’s top 50 research universities (1995) and was elected to membership in the prestigious American Association of Universities (1996).

Wilkening also served on various NASA committees and boards during the 1990s: vice chair of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Programs; vice chair of the National Commission on Space; and chair of the Space Policy Advisory Board.

Upon her retirement, then-UC President Richard Atkinson lauded Laurel Wilkening as a “brilliant scientist and extraordinary administrator...(who) has infused the campus with her intellectual vigor and bold imagination, and has taken UCI to new heights of national recognition for its impressive growth in academic quality.”

In spring 2005 Chancellor Ralph Cicerone dedicated the Laurel L. Wilkening Rose Garden in front of the Barclay Theatre in her honor. In 2009 she was awarded the UCI Medal, our campus’s highest honor, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the advancement of this institution.

We extend our condolences to her family.

Chancellor Howard Gillman