Road Trip: "Aha!" Moments at UC Santa Cruz

A quick trip to Northern California took me to two equally environmentally friendly University of California campuses with completely different atmospheres: UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. UC Santa Cruz, small for a UC with nearly 17,000 undergraduate students, is nestled among redwoods overlooking Monterey Bay. It is a large and meandering campus, second only to UC Davis in acreage, with meadows in the lower part of campus, residential and classroom buildings in the central part of campus, and Aha! the upper campus is full of hiking trails.  However the paths between the redwoods on our way from a residential college and the art department to the McHenry Library were remarkably lush trails as well.

I had always thought of UCSC as an ultra-environmental campus, so I was surprised to learn that Aha! the most popular major is Computer Science.  In fact, UCSC is fortunate among the UCs to have no impacted majors—with the exception of Computer Science. Computer Game Design is a major area of study as well—with two majors, one from the Art perspective and one from the Computer Science perspective. Silicon Valley is relatively close and their companies visit UCSC to recruit and UCSC is in the top twenty colleges where you are likely to land a job in Silicon Valley (2015 Business Insider).

Looking at UCSC’s list of sixty-six majors quickly confirms that though computers may be popular, UCSC is, Aha!, in fact a highly environmentally focused school.  Twelve of the sixty-six majors were related to the environment.  Many majors require internships, frequently done through the university, and the volume of marine related internships on the UCSC website was substantial.  The Marine Science Institute and the Long Marine Lab on Monterey Bay, home to some of the most diverse marine life, is definitely a plus for those interested in Marine Sciences or related fields.   UCSC also has a 30-acre organic farm, which provides about 20% of the food for their dining facilities.  And, UCSC is the most “vegan-friendly” in the US as accorded by PETA.  Consistent with the environmental theme…UCSC’s mascot, the banana slug, was profusely present as we walked through campus on a relatively wet day.

I noticed too that three of UCSC’s sixty-six majors are Latin American / Latino related majors.  In 2014, identified UCSC as the #1 College for Hispanic Students.  Approximately 30% of students are Chicano/Latino (a slightly lesser percentage is Asian / Pacific Islander and a slightly higher percent European American).

Though UC Santa Clara has reasonable academic entrance requirements and is a research university, I was surprised to consistently hear, for every department discussed and by both the tour guide and admissions officer, that research is so prevalent.  Aha! 70% of UCSC undergrads participate in research and UCSC is recognized as 3rd or 4th in the world for “research influence” meaning that UCSC professors were referenced in research.  Academic support appears to be significant – ACE for STEM students provides additional support, as does a Summer Academy program before freshman year classes begin where courses can be taken for college credit.

UCSC describes themselves as centered around residential colleges rather than majors.  They emphasize the dominance of the residential college system where students select residences by themes (e.g.: Science, Tech, and Society; International and Global Perspectives; Environment and Society).  There are ten themed colleges and your major is does not need to correspond with the theme.  82% receive their first choice residence college.  The concept is to build neighborhoods within a larger university.  

Of interest to potential lawyers, UCSC has a 3+3 program that guarantees entrance to Berkeley’s Hastings Law School. 

Consider UC Santa Cruz if you love the redwoods, the ocean and fervently care about our environment.  If your high school academic performance was solid and you are ready to dive into research, UCSC is worth a look.  If marine science your thing, even better!