As UCI celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, the campus isn’t resting on its laurels.

Instead, the university is doing what it has always done: forging ahead with new plans and visions that will expand its worldwide impact.

“While there’s tremendous pride in what we have done to date, there’s also an eagerness to do more: make even stronger contributions in research, education and service; accelerate our ascendency among globally preeminent research universities; marshal our passions, skills and ingenuity to further improve people’s lives,” Chancellor Howard Gillman said at his investiture in March.

“We must continue to strive to be a sought-after destination for the most talented and ambitious faculty, students and staff – reflecting all backgrounds and life experiences – who see that UCI is where they can reach their full potential and do their best work.”

Here are some key areas in which UCI will be focusing its talents and resources to realize its “brilliant future,” as outlined by the chancellor:

  • Increase the size of the permanent faculty by 250 (currently 1,100)
  • Increase the student body to 40,000 (currently 29,000) – in part by boosting online offerings
  • Increase research funding from $300 million a year to $500 million a year
brilliant future chart

“The old models of campus expansion no longer apply,” he said. “The day is past that the state will be our primary supporter. The state will help, but it will also expect us to rely on more self-help and embrace innovation.”

Daring to be different

UCI’s founders planned the campus around a circle – today’s verdant Aldrich Park – with the idea of encouraging interactions across all disciplines and fostering innovation.

Among the many firsts for the campus: the University of California’s first stand-alone school of information and computer sciences; the nation’s first department of Earth system science; and a school of life sciences that dispensed with familiar departments such as botany and physiology and envisioned instead a “new biology.”

In the next 50 years, UCI will continue to explore areas of knowledge that cut across existing schools and structures, noted Gillman, going beyond traditional boundaries of academic disciplines.

For instance, he’ll work with deans and faculty to build a large research and educational facility devoted to the “convergence of science and engineering.”

“Our extraordinary founding faculty did not come to this place in order to copy their way to the top. They came here to do things that were not possible at more established institutions, and they created a culture that embraced the power of ‘different.’ … Our academic planning must take ongoing inspiration from this tradition of excellence through innovation.”

“While we have exciting pockets on campus where these sorts of collaborations take place, we do not have the kind of facility that will allow big-scale research on a broad range of global challenges,” Gillman said. “To my mind, the absence of such a facility on this campus is the single biggest impediment to transformational innovation in our core missions of research, education and service.”

Health & wellness

“Any AAU research university with an academic medical center has an obligation to make innovative contributions to our basic understanding of human health and well-being, and to create the next generation of clinical interventions that will transform the way we keep people healthy and, when necessary, effectively treat their diseases and improve their quality of life,” Gillman said. “We will continue to be the place that brings to the region the future of medicine.”

To that end, the university is committed to expanding the impact of UC Irvine Health throughout the area, as well as launching endeavors to contribute to people’s well-being. The new Family Violence Initiative, for instance, unites community partners with faculty from 20 UCI departments in prevention and intervention efforts.

“We seek to better understand family violence across the lifespan and generations, and we are doing this from an interdisciplinary perspective,” said nursing science professor Ellen Olshansky, who’s leading the initiative. “We’re working with four domestic violence shelters in Orange County, and we’re developing more community partnerships. Our ultimate goal is to create a world where families no longer experience violence.”

K-12 outreach

Recognizing that children are the future, UCI will expand its involvement in public schools, touching the lives of K-12 students through a variety of new programs.

In fall 2014, for example, the university received a $6.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to launch its ESCAPE program, which integrates arts and sciences to help elementary school students learn the basics of Earth, life and physical sciences.

“Our impact on regional schools is felt through writing intervention programs, science education programs and STEM pipeline programs that impact tens of thousands of students, all made possible by multimillion-dollar grants from the federal government and the generous support of inspirational donors such as Stacey Nicholas.”

Saving the world

Named the nation’s No. 1 “Coolest School” by Sierra magazine in 2014 and 2015, UCI prides itself on being a “green” campus, and it will be doing even more to stay “ahead of the curve” (in the words of President Barack Obama) on climate change research, energy efficiency and sustainability.

While the Green Campus Initiative has led the transformation of UCI’s physical campus toward sustainable practices and operations, the new Sustainability Initiative focuses on academic components, including research, education, engagement and philanthropy.

“When it comes to understanding and resolving social challenges, we got off to a great start as a campus when one of our founding faculty members, Sherry Rowland, saved the planet’s ozone layer and, in the words of his Nobel Prize citation, ‘may have saved the world from catastrophe.’ ”

In addition, UCI OCEANS aims to strengthen bonds between the university and the public by focusing on ocean issues. Announced in March, the initiative will include important scientific research, hands-on K-12 educational programs at local beaches, and science cruises for community members interested in collecting data for UCI research projects.

“People really love the ocean,” said Adam Martiny, an associate professor of Earth system science who specializes in ocean plankton and who will lead the initiative. “The UCI OCEANS committee shares this love of the ocean and feels like there are so many things we could do together.”

For more on the campus’s sustainability efforts, visit

Shining a light on the arts

All students, no matter their major, should have serious and meaningful exposure to the creative arts, Gillman said. To that end, he launched Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative in fall 2014.

Led by Julia Lupton, professor of English and associate dean for research in the School of Humanities, Illuminations offers drama, dance, music, film festivals, exhibits and other activities both on and off campus at venues such as Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory. With the creation of a UCI Community Arts Council, the initiative also strengthens the university’s connections with regional arts and cultural institutions.

“I’m really excited about supporting art in unusual places – art installations on Ring Road, biology slides in an art gallery, improv workshops in a nursing class,” Lupton said. “I love seeing art link up different disciplines and spark conversations among students of all backgrounds.”

“This campuswide spirit of innovation and creativity will also be advanced through Illuminations, our arts and culture initiative, which will make arts and creative expression a more pervasive part of the UCI experience.”

This spring, Illuminations-sponsored events turned up all over campus. Students joined in a “Circle Painting” by artist Hiep Nguyen in the Langson Library courtyard. Some found themselves in pop-up performances of “Shaken Shakespeare,” featuring actors who delved into brief scenes by the Bard at random locations. And a giant beach ball even turned up at Humanities Gateway, courtesy of artist Negar Farajiani. The colorful, interactive art piece, “Made in China,” was making a stop at UCI on its world tour.

In August, undergraduates attended a free performance of “Macbeth” at the UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ New Swan Shakespeare Festival. (For upcoming events, visit

Partners in progress

From its early days, UCI has worked with community partners to broaden the impact of discoveries made in its labs and lecture halls.

Many campus entities – including The Don Beall Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the Antrepreneur Center and the Office of Technology Alliances – foster relationships between faculty, students and staff and those in business who share their interest in transforming people’s lives.

“Whatever goals we establish for the years to come are not for us alone to accomplish. We know that working with others makes us better and enhances the impact of our work.”

As the next step in UCI’s evolution, Gillman plans to expand partnerships that develop commercial uses for campus research and expedite the transfer of technology to the marketplace. In 2014, the university established Applied Innovation with support from the Beall Family Foundation. The interdisciplinary center focuses on integrating research, entrepreneurship and technology to create real-world applications that benefit the public and drive the economy.

Gillman told the Orange County Forum: “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.”

Originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of UCI Magazine