October 31, 2014

Orange County Forum Remarks

Thank you, good afternoon, and Happy Halloween, everyone!

I’m very honored to be with you all today, and I appreciate you being here.

I would like to use this opportunity to give you a bit of an update on the campus – some of our recent facts and figures, some of our recent accomplishments – and then, more importantly, say a few things in particular about the role of AAU research universities in the development of the regions in which they are located.

AAU Research Universities

I suspect many of you do not know the phrase “AAU research universities.” AAU stands for the Association of American Universities. The organization is comprised of 60 of America’s top research-intensive public and private universities, plus two Canadian institutions. Of the thousands and thousands of colleges and universities around the country AAU institutions are the most influential and highest performing in terms of scholarly output and outcome measures of educational success (graduation rates, for example). To become a member of the AAU you must be invited, and the invitation (to quote the AAU’s website) is “based on the high quality of programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate, and professional education in a number of fields, as well as general recognition that a university is outstanding by reason of the excellence of its research and educational programs.”

AAU institutions account for more than half of all U.S. doctoral degrees, meaning that we train leaders who have an impact throughout American higher education. Most members of the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences are affiliated with AAU institutions, as are 71 percent of U.S. Nobel Prize winners. AAU faculty members also receive about 60 percent of all federal research dollars from Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy – you get the idea.

America’s research universities are also a central source of innovation for the United States. By one estimate up to three-quarters of all economic growth in the United States since WWII is a consequence of technological innovation and entrepreneurial activity born and bred in American’s research universities, often driven by federal funding of science and technology. For example, your smartphone would not exist without pioneering federally funded research – the internet, GPS positioning, voice-activated virtual assistants, the touchscreen, CPUs, multi-core processors, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the HTML language, the Google search algorithm – all originating from basic research at AAU institutions.

UCI is still proud to have become the youngest institution ever to be invited to join the AAU, in 1995, when we were just 30 years old but had already generated more than our fair share of Nobel Prize winners (including Sherwood Rowland for his work discovering the harmful effects of CFCs on the ozone layer and Frederick Reines for discovering the neutrino), National Academy members, and leading academic and research programs, including (for example) the very first department of Earth Systems Science. Currently our faculty includes 40 members of the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and more than 120 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hundreds more have received other national and international recognitions for contributions to their fields.  It is a very impressive group, as you would expect, because it is not easy becoming a faculty member at UCI or at any leading research university. You really have to be a star who is making ongoing contributions to your field.

I emphasize the point about AAU research universities because these institutions are tremendous, and distinctive, assets for their regions.  The 28 American states that have leading research universities benefit enormously from the presence of such institutions.

And so as the leader of the only AAU research university in Orange County I want to talk a bit about the special role that UCI plays in our region, and the special obligations we have to our community.

The jumping off point for my remarks today are remarks I made to the Regents of the University of California last month on the occasion of my formal appointment. I identified five initial areas of focus and interest for us, and in one of those points I emphasized the need for the campus to “expand the conversations and partnerships between the university and the region more generally.” I expressed the view that UCI is a “vitally important anchoring institution for Orange County, perhaps the most important anchoring institution.” I said “I am convinced that the future of Orange County is inextricably linked to the ongoing development of UCI ….” And so these are the statements on which I would like to elaborate today.

By anchoring institutions I don’t just mean that we are one of the largest employers in Orange County (with about 22,000 full- and part-time employees). Rather, given the scope of our mission – to educate the brightest young people, to create the next generation of researchers, scholars, and professionals, to explore the frontiers of knowledge, to be an engine of innovation, to fight disease and improve human health, to understand and resolve the most serious challenges facing our community and our world – we have unique contributions to make as Orange County continues to develop as a world-class metropolitan area.

Recent Campus Highlights

To give you a feel for the depth and breadth of our activity let me start by giving you some facts and figures, and highlight some developments on the campus just over the last year.

UCI’s annual budget is currently around $2.4 billion, and our impact on the local economy is on the order of about $4.3 billion. State appropriations account for only 8 percent of our income, and most of those dollars focus on allowing California residents to have affordable access to a world-class university education. We at UCI know that there will be no return to the days when our growth and expansion will be driven by dramatic increases in state support, and so in order for us to have an even stronger and more positive impact on our community and our nation we must be as nimble, innovative, bold, and entrepreneurial as any private institution of higher education.

We had a record number of student applications this year (almost 83,000), which puts us in the top 10 of all universities around the country, and which makes the campus even more selective at the freshman level, with a 37.5 percent admit rate and higher SAT scores and GPAs (3.94 average) for our freshman class. Our applications increased almost 10 percent compared to the prior year, making UCI the fastest-growing UC campus in terms of applications. We are also the fourth most selective UC campus (behind UCLA, Berkeley, and UCSD). We enroll about 5,400 students in our freshman class (plus 2,000 transfer students), and we are especially proud that we achieve excellent results with a class that reflects a true commitment to social mobility and access for all talented young people – with half of our students being first generation college students and 36 percent from low-income backgrounds.  We continue to have one of the highest graduation rates of any public research university in the country.  Money Magazine’s just ranked us number two in the country for “value added,” which examines how well our students do after graduation, adjusted for the demographics of our student body.

Oh, and our new students just sent a world record for the largest pillow fight, fielding 4,200 participants.

What have we been doing lately? Let me just tick off a few examples. There’s too much to mention, but this will give you a taste.

We were recently awarded $8 million from the National Institutes of Health to establish one of six national centers dedicated to creating a database of brain cell activity in motor neuron disorders, such as ALS. This nationwide effort is led by UCI Professor Leslie Thompson, and will be instrumental in developing new treatments for these devastating diseases. In this effort we will work alongside five other renowned medical centers and institutes, including UCSF, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Cedars-Sinai, and the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease.

This year we opened the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, a leading center for the preservation of sight – and the first UCI structure to be funded entirely through private donations, which is the new normal for us. The Orange County Register noted that “Orange County is the Silicon Valley of vision,” and the new Gavin Herbert Eye Institute is now a regional focal point for that ecosystem.

Just this year we made a $20 million investment to create one of the leading institutes of materials science in the country, thus enabling our faculty to better understand the internal structure of a material’s atoms. The research conducted in the institute could lead to better solar cells, or sustainable batteries and semiconductors, or new and more effective treatments for bacterial and viral infections.

Our Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit (known as CaSTL) received $20 million from the National Science Foundation for its work on observing chemical processes at the atomic level in real time – in other words, recording movies of chemical reactions.

Eight of our faculty were involved with the research that discovered the Higgs boson.

We recently announced that UCI and UCLA are partners in an $8 million grant to establish a CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic “center of excellence” to conduct clinical trials for investigational stem cell therapies and provide critical resources and expertise in clinical research. This will expand access to patients and accelerate the pipeline of clinical trials.

Our medical center has been ranked among the nation’s best hospitals for the 14th consecutive year, is Orange County’s top hospital, and is 4th best among Los Angeles-area medical centers. We are also the county’s only Level I trauma center and National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center (one of only 41 in the country). We are opening new primary care centers in Tustin and Orange. And I hope it is fair to say that as the region’s only academic medical center we are the hospital of choice for the treatment of serious and complex cases.  When there are concerns about serious threats to public health, such as the very unlikely threat of Ebola, officials turn first to UCI as best prepared to safeguard the well-being of our neighbors.

Our still-young law school was granted full ABA accreditation at the earliest possible time under ABA rules, was ranked third in the country for placing students in prestigious judicial clerkships (behind Yale and Stanford and just ahead of Harvard), was ranked seventh in the country for scholarly impact – and this spring when it gets its first ranking by U.S. News, we believe it will be a top 25 law school.

The Merage School of Business had its full-time MBA program ranked among the top 25 business schools. It also welcomed a fantastic new dean, Eric Spangenberg, and will soon open up a new 80,000 square foot state-of-the-art building.

Our summer Shakespeare Festival at our award-winning New Swan Theater is becoming one of the most preeminent and successful cultural events in Orange County.

This year we also received the EPA’s 2014 Climate Leadership Award for reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change. We have more green buildings than any other campus in the country – in fact, we consume 23 percent less energy in 2013 than we did in 2008 – and in August we were recognized by the Sierra Club as the number one university in the country for issues relating to sustainability.

Just in the last few months we have seen stories on the work of our faculty making important contributions to addressing California’s water crisis, our understanding of epilepsy, severe flood risk in Newport Beach, memory improvement, fuel cells, the melting of the glaciers in West Antarctica, stem cell treatments, Alzheimer’s breakthroughs, new breast cancer therapies, evidence for dark matter at the Milky Way’s core – the list is endless.

You can imagine how truly inspiring it is to be associated with an institution where every day, in every area of exploration or creative expression or professional practice, there are new innovations, new contributions to fundamental knowledge, new solutions to social problems, new paths to promote human well-being.

And if you like sports: our women’s water polo team won its fifth Big West Conference title and finished sixth in the NCAA championship; the baseball team advanced to the Division I College World Series for the second time in history; men’s basketball won the Big West Conference regular season title; men’s soccer won the Big West Tournament; a delegation of UCI’s last four men’s volleyball national championship teams visited the White House – and overall, six UCI teams were ranked in the nation’s top 20 (women’s water polo, men’s volleyball, men’s water polo, men’s soccer, baseball, and men’s basketball [mid-major top 25 poll]).

Oh, and after almost 50 years, we remain undefeated in football.

So that’s a taste of some of what we’ve been up to. I think the stories arising out of our campus are among the most interesting and inspiring news items in our region, and so if you currently are not in the habit of keeping up with the work of our faculty and students I hope this piques your interest enough to learn more about what happens at UCI.

UCI and Orange County

But I mention these items mostly to set the stage for comments on the role of AAU research universities for their regions.

Given the breadth and depth of talent at a large research university it is easy to see how most of the issues we care about relating to the future of our region can be addressed more productively, and with greater positive impact, if we partner the passion and expertise of UCI’s faculty, students, and staff with the passion and expertise of others who share our commitment to making the world a better place.

Tech Transfer and Commercialization

Consider, for example, issues relating to economic development, commercialization, tech transfer, and the innovation economy. UCI is, after all, a $2.4 billion innovation machine, and while a lot of our most important discoveries and innovations focus on fundamental knowledge rather than short-term real world applications, we do have increasing numbers of faculty members and students who are committed to innovations that have important real-world impacts.

UC Irvine has been working with partners for years to expedite technology transfer and develop commercial uses for our research. Let me highlight just a few of these activities. At the UCI branch of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (known as CalIT2) more than 200 faculty and students work with more than 100 local and regional businesses to develop innovative information technology-based products and services. TechPortal, the business technology incubator at Calit2, serves as a gateway to commercial viability for UCI-based startup companies. Our Beckman Laser Institute also provides incubator space as a way of translating the extraordinary innovations of our students and faculty into companies and products. Similar activity occurs, of course, in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences. The Don Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship within The Paul Merage School of Business provides in-depth research and expertise in innovation studies, education, and consulting. It disseminates the newest and most influential approaches to strategic innovation and entrepreneurship, and our “ANTrepreneur Center” and the Blackstone LaunchPad assist students in becoming successful entrepreneurs through education, consultation, and mentorship.

Still, in order to realize our full potential, I decided last year that the university needed to take the next step, and that is why we created our new Institute for Innovation. Our goal is for the institute to be a regional catalyst, an epicenter of innovation for Orange County, a convener of the county’s disparate energies, with a focus on building an appropriate innovation ecosystem that puts promising research into relationship with entrepreneurs and investors. For the campus it will be the single point of contact for business leaders and corporate partners, whether they are interested in exploring new research opportunities, working with UC Irvine’s spin-off companies, or licensing UCI technology for commercial use. But our ambitions lie beyond the campus: we would like to do what no one local government entity or incubator or venture capitalist can do alone. We are very grateful to the Beall Family Foundation for supporting this institute with an initial endowment of $5 million, but we intend to be very aggressive about finding other supporters and partners, eventually leading to a much larger naming gift for this important endeavor.

Over the summer we announced the appointment of the founding executive director of this institute, Richard Sudek. He is a force of nature, and you will hear more about our plans in 2015, so stay tuned.

Arts and Culture

Still, there is more to the future of Orange County than commercialization and tech transfer. One of the characteristics of a world-renowned region is the strength of its arts and culture infrastructure. We are enriched by outstanding and inspiring cultural institutions in Orange County; at the same time, exposure to the arts, and innovations in creative expression, are central to our mission as a university.

With that in mind I announced two weeks ago my first initiative as chancellor, an arts and culture initiative we call “Illuminations.” For the members of our campus community our goal is to ensure that every student is enriched by exposure to creative expression – both for its own sake and also as a way of highlighting the fundamental contributions made by the creative arts to our understanding of the world and our place in it. We will see art, dance, drama, and music occurring at various locations across the campus that is themed toward different disciplines.

But we also want to ensure that our Anteater community – 30,000 strong – is introduced to the dynamic range of cultural venues in Orange County. And so a vital part of Illuminations is the creation of a UCI Community Arts Council which includes the leadership of the Segerstrom Center, the Pacific Symphony, the Bowers Museum, the Orange County School of the Arts, the Irvine Barclay Theater, the Orange County Museum of Art, Arts Orange County, South Coast Repertory, the Laguna Art Museum, and the Irvine Art Museum. Through partnerships with these amazing institutions we will work to create six-eight high visibility events each year that will enrich, not just our campus community, but everyone in Orange County. And as we deepen conversations between the campus and these great institutions I am confident that we will discover other exciting and mutually beneficial programs and activities.

OC’s Education Infrastructure

The future of our region also depends vitally, not just on the state of higher education, but on the strength of our K-12 schools. Like many other colleges and universities UCI has a strong commitment to partnering with our local school districts when we think our faculty and students have something special to offer.

Faculty from our Claire Trevor School work with high schools in Santa Ana to ensure enhanced experiences in music education.

Since 1999 The Henry Samueli School of Engineering has had a program entitled Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (e.g., MESA) that does systematic outreach to educationally disadvantaged students in our region’s elementary, middle, and high schools, with the goal of enhancing math and science skills and exploring career opportunities in STEM fields. In 2013-14, working with Chapman, this program served 1,800 students. MESA also runs summer camps that bring 143 students to our campus for more immersive experiences. We also have active projects with Irvine Valley College, Santa Ana College, and Saddleback College.

Our Academic Innovation and Research in Engineering Program (AIRE) just received a $5 million gift from Stacey Nicholas to further enhance our efforts to conduct K-12 and community college outreach that promotes interest in STEM fields.

Our students in the School of Social Ecology mentor local high school students, encouraging them to aspire to college; they currently serve about 1,000 students in 10 classrooms at six schools.

Under “Global Connect” our social sciences faculty, staff, and students translate university-level concepts and knowledge into a curriculum that is age appropriate for high school students; they host nine year-long classes in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

Our UCI Writing Project has trained 800 teachers and consultants from 85 local school districts, and has reached more than 20,000 teachers via conferences and in-service programs. We were the first California Writing Project site to create a summer youth program, which has grown from 35 students and two teachers in 1984 to more than 2,500 students and 200 teachers in 2013.

And just this year Carol Booth Olson from our School of Education received an $11.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand and test her innovative teacher professional development program, involving 300 teachers, four school districts, and 100,000 students in Southern California.

There is more to mention, but also more to do, and in the coming months we will be exploring other ways in which the campus that work with our local school districts to improve and enhance the overall quality of education in Orange County.


Orange County is also known as a center for best practices and innovations in sustainability – and UCI, as the number one school in the country with respect to this mission, is actively involved with our community partners.

We know that the Irvine Ranch Water District is one of the most progressive water districts in the country, having established an amazing infrastructure of reusing and distributing reclaimed water throughout the city. For the past six months we have been working with the IRWD to create a world-class research platform. A few weeks ago the Department of Energy awarded UCI one of the six initial major research contracts in microgrid technology, and IRWD was a partner in the research along with Edison and two Irvine companies.

UCI is also a founding partner in the nation’s most progressive Natural Community Conservation Plan, a program that applies science to the management and long-term sustainability of endangered species in Orange County and helps manage the county’s biodiversity. UCI Law continues this legacy today as a convener of the major policy experts involved in biodiversity conservation programs across the country.

Toyota chose UCI’s National Fuel Cell Research Center to test the nation’s first commercially ready hydrogen-powered fuel cell car. This partnership has led to California’s global leadership in hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell vehicle introduction in the marketplace, which, in turn, has led to new start-up companies and other positive economic impact on our region.

FloodRISE is a UC Irvine-led research project to promote resilience to coastal flooding in southern California. The project uses advanced computer models to map flooding hazards on a house-by-house basis, and flood risk information is made accessible to residents, businesses, and civic leaders through innovative communication strategies. The goal is to enhance flood risk planning and policies and to promote cost effective interventions.

UCI’s Center for Environmental Biology trains undergraduate interns to bring findings from our laboratories on campus to informal learning centers, such as Crystal Cove State Park, where our students provide lectures, hands-on experiences, and educational experiences to K-12 students and members of the public on topics of sustainability.

In general more than 200 faculty members conduct research and provide instruction on such topics as conservation biology, ocean health and water resource management; atmospheric chemistry and global systems modeling; energy conservation, power generation and transportation; climate change-related famine, disease, and poverty; and land-use planning, environmental law, and public health.

Wellness and Health

In areas of human health promotion and disease prevention there are too many examples to mention of how our university serves the local community, and so instead I’ll highlight a less obvious recent example.

A few weeks we announced that our new Interdisciplinary Center on Family Violence will be working with community partners throughout Orange County to improve family violence prevention and intervention. The new center brings together expertise in biological and physical sciences, engineering, information and computer science, art, law, medicine and health sciences, social sciences, and social ecology, with the goal of being a premier site for research, education, clinical care, and community collaboration – precisely the sort of impact one expects when large and diverse research universities bring together knowledge from many fields and apply them to important issues facing our community.

And so, whether you have an interest or a passion for regional economic development, arts and culture, K-12 (and especially enhanced opportunities for disadvantaged children), human health, sustainability, or any one of myriad other issues that are vital for the ongoing development of our region, I hope I have persuasively illustrated the importance of having an AAU research university in our midst.

I will end by pointing out that this was no accident. When it was first decided to put a University of California campus on the rolling hills of the Irvine Ranch there was a hope that by creating (in the words of Edward Carter, then-chair of the UC Board of Regents) one of the “truly great centers of higher learning in the land” we would catalyze the development of this region and enhance the quality of life of the people of Orange County.

In our first 50 years we did much to be true to that original vision. As we move into a period where we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary we do so, not so much looking back at what we’ve accomplished, but looking forward toward all the important work still to do … and we look, not inward like members of a winning team giving ourselves a pat on the back, but outward, to all of you, reaching out our hands, with gratitude for your support, and with a renewed determination to building those relationships and establishing those partnerships that will enable one of the truly great centers of higher learning in the hand to better serve our region, our state, our nation, and our world.

Here’s to all the great work we will be doing together in the months and years to come.