Focus on the Future

Juanita LaHaye (Extension) left, and Kim Newin (Chancellor’s Office) take part
in the kick-off event for Volunteer50: The Chancellor’s Call to Service

Wise and Caring Citizens: UC San Diego Gives Back

As UC San Diego celebrates fifty years of visionaries, innovators, and overachievers, it is also celebrating its remarkable legacy of community service. Washington Monthly, in its 2010 rankings measuring “what colleges are doing for the country,” recognized UC San Diego as the top college in the nation for service. The magazine honored the campus for producing cutting-edge research, wise and knowledgeable citizens, and workers who focus on giving back.

This commitment to public service begins at the undergraduate level. UC San Diego students reach out to local, national, and global communities on a range of issues, including poverty, homelessness, and environmental justice. In 2009, nearly 14,000 students engaged in some form of helping activity.

The campus has more than 500 student organizations—92 of which are dedicated to service, including UC San Diego Cares, Alternative Breaks @ UCSD, and the Associated Students Volunteer Connection. Alternative Breaks are national or international service and learning trips that cultivate lifelong socially active and globally conscious leaders through direct service, education, diversity, reflection, and investigation of social-justice issues.

UC San Diego alumni have a long tradition of serving others through programs such as the Peace Corps. Since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961, 630 UC San Diego alumni have served overseas as Peace Corps volunteers to promote better understanding between Americans and the people of the various host countries.

Giving back is a philosophy embraced in Chancellor Marye Anne Fox’s Volunteer50: The Chancellor’s Call to Service, a key component of the university’s 50th Anniversary celebration. The initiative encourages the entire campus community, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and university friends, to perform fifty hours of volunteer service during the 2010–11 academic year. Fox has set the challenge of reaching at least 50,000 cumulative volunteer hours during this milestone year.

Interactions among a complex web of genes and proteins underlie the biological responses to stress, which is a research interest at the new Biological Systems Center.

UC San Diego student Veronica Fuog, second from left during her monthlong visit to Tanzania, where she volunteered for the nonprofit organization Faraja (courage in Swahili) Woman Empowerment. Others show, left to right: Faraja director Sister Felly; Joseph, a translator; and Sister Theresa, a teacher at Faraja's school.


Early UC San Diego campus leaders, such as Roger Revelle, Harold Urey, Herbert York, and Maria Mayer, set an interdisciplinary course—and UC San Diego continues to be a place where intellectual pioneers redefine fields of knowledge. A prime example is the newly established Center for Systems Biology in the Division of Physical Sciences, which brings together experts in biochemistry, genetics, and computation to study the regulation of complex biological systems. The initiative is funded by a $15.4 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Systems biology, a relatively new branch of science, maps interactions between regulatory modules such as genes, proteins, and biochemical reactions, and models how complex biological systems work. This twenty-first-century systems approach to studying biological forms and functions emerged as a result of the Human Genome Project and is aided by the Internet’s ability to store and distribute vast amounts of information.

The UC San Diego center will focus on interactions involved in cells’ responses to stress. A major goal is to link two research approaches—functional genomics and synthetic biology—to derive insights into human health and disease. Synthetic biology is a scientific field that engineers novel genetic systems ranging in complexity from simple genetic circuits to entire synthetic genomes.

The Center for Systems Biology builds on other major campus initiatives, including the BioCircuits Institute, which will house two of the center’s core facilities, and UC San Diego’s interdisciplinary program in bioinformatics and systems biology. Codirectors of the new center are Alexander Hoffman, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Trey Ideker, Ph.D., chief of genetics at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, member of the Institute for Genomic Medicine, and professor of medicine and bioengineering; and Jeff Hasty, Ph.D., director of the BioCircuits Institute and professor of biology and bioengineering. Working across disciplines, these leaders will forge a new approach to understanding stress.