Students "zot zot zot" on first day of class

2021 Year in Review

For UCI, 2021 was a year of renewal and growth. The campus renewed its bustling self by welcoming all students, faculty, staff and visitors back to campus in September. Following safety protocols and requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, classmates and colleagues – who may have not been face-to-face, other than virtually, for 15 months – came together again to learn, to teach, to research and to create.

UCI marked this transition year with one of its most ambitious growth plans in its history. The Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Building opened its doors to diverse teams of researchers; a “topping out” ceremony marked the completion of framing for the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences building complex; and ground was broken on the $1.3 billion, state-of-the-art UCI Medical Center-Irvine on the northern edge of campus.

It was also a year of noteworthy achievements. UCI enjoyed a record number of applications for the fall quarter, maintaining for third consecutive year its status as the top UC of choice for in-state, first-generation students. Speaking of records, fiscal year 2020-21 ended with $592 million in research grants and contracts, the most in school history, and Brilliant Future: The Campaign for UCI, the campus’ most ambitious fundraising effort ever, in April surpassed $1 billion in gifts.

A brilliant future, indeed.

Students gather around Aldrich park on first day of classes, Sept. 2021

Returning to campus

Before the campus restored all on-campus activities in September, a multi-layered health strategy was implemented that included universal masking, daily symptom checks, required vaccines, contact tracing, asymptomatic testing requirements for those exempt from vaccine mandates, and isolation and quarantine support for those who contracted COVID-19.

Students back on campus

Lessons learned

High-quality hybrid programs perfected during the pandemic have been maintained to further extend the reach of in-demand curriculum.

Back to school… safely

Students and employees transitioned back to campus in phases beginning on July 1. UCI was fully operational exactly two months to the day later.

Contact tracing pays dividends

UCI’s leading-edge contact tracing program helped control the spread of the coronavirus.

98% of all students vaccinated

In July, the UC mandated that all students, with few exceptions, must receive the COVID-19 vaccination before returning to campus.

95% of all staff and faculty vaccinated

The vaccination mandate also applies to faculty and staff on campus or in a UC facility or office.

150,000+ COVID-19 tests completed in 2021

In accordance with UC policy, UCI regularly tests all symptomatic and asymptomatic students, faculty and staff.

In praise of vaccinations

On the UCI Podcast, COVID-19 Response Team Director David Souleles discussed how vaccination benefits the individual and the community.

Bernadette Boden-Albala

Public health perspective

Bernadette Boden-Albala, founding dean of the Program in Public Health, discussed how COVID-19 challenged the discipline in ways not seen before.

Arts emerge brighter

Live performances and exhibitions returned to Claire Trevor School of the Arts, where new skills learned during the pandemic made students, faculty and staff more resilient, marketable and creative.

Overcoming COVID

The year started with a massive vaccination effort that allowed a full range of activities to flourish on campus, including vital public health research that benefited the Anteater community, the region, the nation and the world.

Pioneering vaccine site

The Bren Events Center became one of the region’s first vaccination sites, maintaining UCI Health’s status as a leader in Orange County’s fight against COVID-19.

UCI Health personnel are instructed on vaccine preparation at the Bren Events Center vaccination center on Saturday, Jan. 16. Steve Zylius / UCI

Pharmacists on the front lines

When the biggest vaccination effort in world history began, pharmacists from the School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences helped vaccinate our patients and neighbors.

The impact of work stressors on the severity of COVID-19, particularly among essential workers

Coronavirus and work stressors

Workplace safety and health conditions for essential workers should be increased to stem the spread of COVID-19, public health researchers maintain.

Research identifies who is most at risk

Age increases the likelihood of hospitalization and poor outcomes for COVID-19 patients with preexisting conditions, according to a School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences-led study.

County becomes the lab for UCI-led study

Public health researchers examined Orange County’s geography, demography and socioeconomics to determine who is most at risk from COVID-19.

Phillip Felgner honored for vaccination development

The professor in residence in the School of Medicine received Spain’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research for his contributions in the design of COVID-19 vaccines.

Future growth paving the way forward

Brilliant Future: The Campaign for UCI, the most ambitious fundraising effort in school history, passed the halfway mark in April, toward its $2 billion goal. The vision and generosity of UCI leaders and philanthropists also allowed state-of-the-art facilities to rise this year and guaranteed that vital expansion will continue for decades.

UCI Medical Center-Irvine breaks ground

The UC Board of Regents on Jan. 21 approved a world-class, $1.3 billion hospital complex on the north end of campus, where a groundbreaking ceremony was held on Nov. 15.

UCI receives record $592 million in research funding for fiscal 2020-21

ISEB fosters interdisciplinary research

With the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building’s February opening, researchers work together to tackle grand challenges to the health of humans and the planet.

Research funding has record year

By the June 30 end of fiscal 2020-21, UCI had received $592 million in research grants and contracts, the most in campus history.

Mah gift paves way for Medical Innovation Building

The Falling Leaves Foundation Medical Innovation Building project is supported by a $30 million lead gift from Professor Robert A. Mah and Dr. Adeline Yen Mah.

A $10.4 million gift from the Steckler Charitable Fund supports art history students and the creation of the Center for Responsible, Ethical and Accessible Technologies.

Chao family gifts support new cancer center

Gifts announced in June will have the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Ambulatory Care at UCI Medical Center-Irvine expand access to leading-edge care.

College of Health Sciences building “tops out”

A July 2021 “topping out” ceremony marked the completion of framing for the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences complex adjacent to UCI Research Park.

Steckler Charitable Fund seeks to change Silicon Valley

A $10.4 million gift from the Steckler Charitable Fund supports art history students and the creation of the Center for Responsible, Ethical and Accessible Technologies.

In the ranks

UCI this year set a record for fall 2021 applicants, and applications from transfer students were the second-highest number among UC campuses. For the third straight year, UCI was the top UC choice for in-state, first-generation students and first runner-up for in-state applications from underrepresented minorities and low-income families.

Record year for applications

Of the amazing feat, Chancellor Howard Gillman remarked, “The word is out: UCI is a place that welcomes and supports our state’s very best students.”

U.S. News & World Report ranking soars

For the seventh consecutive year, UCI placed in the top 10 among public universities in “Best Colleges” and No. 2 in the country for social mobility.

Campus sustainability prowess recognized

Sierra magazine named UCI No. 2 overall in its annual “Cool Schools” ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges. That’s the 12th time in a row UCI has placed in the top 10 of the widely acclaimed list.

Online criminology, law & society program tops all others

For the second straight year, the nation’s best online criminal justice master’s program is at UCI, according to U.S. News & World Report.

UCI joined 34 other Hispanic-Serving Institutions in being named an inaugural Fulbright HSI Leader by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Pioneering Hispanic-Serving Institution leadership

UCI joined 34 other Hispanic-Serving Institutions in being named an inaugural Fulbright HSI Leader by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

UCI joined the Center for First-generation Student Success as a member of the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort

UCI is a first-gen power player

UCI joined the Center for First-generation Student Success as a member of the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort.

New leadership

For key leadership positions, UCI welcomed new faces and named a new provost. Our newest deans hail from other parts of the country and, in one case, the world.

Hal S. Stern named provost and executive vice chancellor

The acclaimed administrator and scholar dropped the “interim” from the title he assumed in March 2020 as Chancellor Howard Gillman made the appointment permanent in April.

Magnus Egerstedt computes as dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering

After a lengthy academic career at Georgia Institute of Technology, the robotics research leader filled a new role that envisions post-pandemic research and education.

Ian Williamson brings global perspective as dean of the Paul Merage School of Business

Ian Williamson’s academic career has taken him across the U.S. and all over the world, from Australia and Switzerland to Indonesia and, most recently, New Zealand.

Frances Contreras named dean of UCI School of Education

Frances Contreras seeks diversity as School of Education dean

The student equity scholar’s priorities include increasing teacher diversity and educational innovation.

Jon Gould is named dean of UCI’s School of Social Ecology

Jon Gould packs vast experience as School of Social Ecology dean

The leading justice scholar arrived at UCI with years of higher education and federal government achievement.

Mark Lazenby named dean of UCI nursing school

Mark Lazenby is philosophical about becoming dean of the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing

The advanced practice nurse, who is also a professor of philosophy, will seek to increase workforce diversity and address healthcare disparities.

Errol Arkilic is new chief innovation officer, Beall Applied Innovation executive director

Errol Arkilic does double duty to innovate UCI

The nationally recognized leader in technology transfer and entrepreneurship is the new chief innovation officer and executive director of UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

PharmD class makes history

Insights and solutions

Existential threats to democracy, the climate and the healthcare system prompted UCI to open new centers and schools. These pioneering programs will address local community innovation, knowledge sharing and higher education behind bars.

California’s Climate Crisis launches

The online special report shares the stories of UCI’s leading global experts on the environment, energy, oceans and atmosphere in the Golden State.

Free Speech and Elections Center opens in sobering times

The center launched while “American democracy is under increasing strain,” according to Rick Hasen, co-director and Chancellor’s professor of law and political science.

Inaugural Pharm.D. class welcomed at White Coat Ceremony

New PharmD program kicks off

Forty-one students who represent the first Doctor of Pharmacy candidates participated in an inaugural White Coat Ceremony in September.

Fieldwork for a better future

Scientists are working with OC Parks and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy to study how increasingly severe droughts and rising temperatures are impacting local ecosystems.

UCI Beall Applied Innovation is helping make Irvine a growing startup hub

Incubating innovation

Since 2015, 65 startups have been launched by innovative Anteaters who have passed through UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

Building solidarity with communities

UCI researchers – from arts to law to ecology to education and beyond – closely collaborate with local communities to jointly identify challenges and develop solutions.

UCI launches the UC system’s first B.A. program for incarcerated individuals

B.A. program for prisoners is a UC first

UCI worked with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to create the UC’s first in-prison bachelor of arts program.

NSF grants support social sciences

The School of Social Sciences received high-profile National Science Foundation grants for a Convergence Accelerator project and Build and Broaden Program.

UCI had role in landmark infrastructure bill

A fact-finding mission sent U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh to UCI in July, when information about the development of sustainable transportation was shared.

Seen on campus

A national conference was born from a student’s tweet; a professor was elected to a prestigious academy; a former chancellor was immortalized on a street sign; an associate professor gave voice to the voiceless; athletes, coaches and alums went for the gold – and, for the first time, campus police went to the dogs – or a dog, actually.

Angeline Dukes

A tweet by the third-year doctorate candidate in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior led to the creation of the Black in Neuro Week national conference.

Judith Kroll, Distinguished professor of language science was elected a fellow by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, officials announced in April.

Judith Kroll

The Distinguished Professor of language science was elected a fellow by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, officials announced in April.

In recognition of his leadership during an era of unprecedented growth, UCI honored Chancellor Emeritus Michael V. Drake on June 4 by christening Michael Drake Drive.

Michael Drake

In recognition of his leadership during an era of unprecedented growth, UCI honored Chancellor Emeritus Michael V. Drake on June 4 by christening Michael Drake Drive.


UCI Police Department in July welcomed its first canine officer: a 2-year-old, giant chocolate Labrador retriever. “He’s a big, happy dog,” says his human partner.

Juliette Carrillo, associate professor of directing and Cornerstone Theater Company

Juliette Carrillo

The associate professor of directing and Cornerstone Theater Company ensemble member creates and directs plays “about the voice of the voiceless.”

Olympian Anteaters

UCI had 16 representatives at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. At least four former student-athletes have competed in each of the past 12 Olympiads.

Landmarks tour

Campus reps Brian Zeek and Jacqueline Ferrer lead a tour of UCI landmarks.

UCI Podcast banner


The great thing about the UCI Podcast is that it allows our scholars and researchers to explain their remarkable work to the world, in their own words, on one of the most intimate communication platforms.

The legal fallout of the Orange County oil spill

Environmental Law Clinic Director Michael Robinson-Dorn discusses the legal liabilities that might result from the October oil spill off the Orange County coast.

Uncovering the cause of the soil lead crisis in Santa Ana

Juan Manual Rubio, a Mellon Humanities Faculty Fellow, discusses the potential causes of the soil lead crisis in Santa Ana.

Why low-income children suffer the most during remote learning

Pediatric experts Drs. Dan Cooper and Chulie Ulloa maintain that low-income students and families in low-income school districts have suffered the most during the pandemic.

It’s time for a mental health checkup, and honest conversation

Marcelle Hayashida, associate vice chancellor of Wellness, Health and Counseling Services, discusses how the pandemic has affected student mental health, the resources available to the UCI community.

So, why are some people hesitant to get the shot?

Also on UCI Podcast, Suellen Hopfer, assistant professor of public health, explained the reasons behind COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

The perils and benefits of dream incubation

Sara Mednick, professor of cognitive neuroscience, explains dream incubation and discusses how sleep keeps people healthy.

The diverse faces of Latino America

Héctor Tobar, associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies, discusses the many Latino cultures of America that he visited during a 9,000-mile road trip.

The economics of why work from home favors the suburbs

Jan Brueckner, Distinguished Professor of economics, discusses the economic reasons why work-from-home policies might lead to more suburbanization.

A year in photos

Rather than leaving it up to ourselves to curate the best images shot over the past year for UCI Digest and other campus communication sources, we handed the responsibility to the creators: managing producer-director Steve Zylius and Ian Parker, Distinguished Professor of neurobiology & behavior and physiology & biophysics.

  • “This image represents the first glimmer of hope in the long, hard winter of COVID. UCI set up one of the first vaccination sites in the county. In January, we were all hurting for good news about the battle against COVID, and this was a welcome sign of progress.” – Steve Zylius, managing producer-director