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Redefining an Accessible Education

At UC San Diego, we have always known that our students depend on us for more than their education, but the current COVID-19 public health crisis demands that we rethink their scope of needs in this time of uncertainty. Before March of this year, many undergraduate and graduate students relied on work-study jobs to make ends meet, campus basic needs services to mitigate food and housing insecurity, and student health and wellness resources to maintain their socio-emotional, psycho-social, and physical health. Today — and for the foreseeable future — it is more important than ever that we continue to support their well-being, as well as their academic and personal success.

As a central tenet of our mission as a public university — and one of Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla’s highest strategic priorities — UC San Diego’s Student Support and Success Initiative is designed to increase access to education for all admitted students and ensure their long-term success in the classroom and beyond. And while our campus’s student-centered focus is the same regardless of whether instruction is delivered in person or via distance learning, our Student Support and Success Initiative has taken on another face as our students and instructors confront new challenges posed by virtual learning and dealing with a pandemic.

Existing resources — from financial support to success programs to learning experiences beyond the classroom — continue to address our students’ needs virtually. And UC San Diego is also finding innovative ways to ensure students receive a rich, high-quality educational experience through all modes of instructional delivery.


As our campus shifts to remote learning for the spring and summer quarters, and potentially the fall, support units across campus are mobilizing their resources to support a top-notch online campus experience.

“I’m grateful for the student-centered efforts made by our colleagues across campus to ensure students continue to engage remotely with campus resources and programs,” said Alysson Satterlund, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “Our UC San Diego community has demonstrated resilience and ingenuity in the face of new challenges.”

Even though most students are away from campus, UC San Diego’s Basic Needs Initiative is mobilizing to help them weather the storm. Undergraduate or graduate students can apply for housing assistance grants, grocery gift cards, and a laptop loaner program to enable remote learning, while those who live locally have access to a new mobile food pantry. All of these programs have also adapted to accommodate best practices for social distancing while continuing to serve the needs of our students.

“Our students are resilient, yet many are faced with uncertainty due to lost wages and changes in housing,” said Basic Needs Coordinator Alicia Magallanes. “We want to reassure students that no matter where they are, we are here for them and have resources that will help them prevail during these challenging times.”

The Teaching + Learning Commons, which provides critical support for students in their academic and co-curricular pursuits, is offering all services online, from tutoring to writing consultations to support for experiential learning, such as internships. The Commons has posted strategies for learning remotely, including brief instructional videos, to help students learn successfully in the online environment. Also personalized, one-on-one remote learning strategies tutoring and workshops are offered to assist students in effectively managing their learning by defining goals and developing skills that are essential to their success.

Another way that UC San Diego is connecting students with resources that previously were available on campus is the new Triton Tools and Tidbits podcast, which was developed in a collaboration between Student Affairs; the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; the Student Health and Well-Being Cluster; and student leaders. Each week, the podcast features various staff from student affairs and students themselves who address how to deal with anxiety, how to connect with your identity, and how to become civically engaged.

Campus supporters Karen and Jeff Silberman are also committed to the ongoing success of UC San Diego students, even on a virtual campus. “Providing someone with an education is like planting a seed — investing in a human being, and from that sprouts wonderful things,” says Karen. Jeff agrees. “After a good education, students tend to return, give back, and serve their home communities,” he says. “They provide a positive role model and inspire hope.”


For many students, including Melissa Medrano, a Ph.D. student in mechanical and aerospace engineering, the transition to remote online instruction this spring quarter brought new challenges. But for Melissa, the Student Success Coaching Program’s academic advising resulted in her feeling more organized and confident in her studies.

“I prefer to see and meet people in person, but I was surprised how well the experience turned out for me,” Melissa said. “I meet with my advisor, Lindsay [Romasanta], every week and even though she’s on the other side of the computer, I feel so comfortable with her, like she is right there talking with me. She not only motivates me but has given me great insight into how to confront the difficulties in my courses and how to improve the structure of my study time.”

With a plethora of online offerings, UC San Diego is meeting the needs of students as the campus temporarily shifts to remote learning to protect the health and safety of the university community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UC San Diego’s Office of Student Retention and Success is another area providing online offerings to meet the needs of students while the campus shifts to remote learning. The office is providing virtual support and services for various student populations at UC San Diego, including those who are first-generation, traditionally underrepresented minority, military-connected, transfer, undocumented, and former foster students.

“We at Student Retention and Success are here for our students, reassuring them and giving them the confidence they need to explore this new space,” said interim Assistant Vice Chancellor Ebonée Williams. “We will continue to host workshops, engage in community building, and offer one-on-one services. We are also working to create remote opportunities to honor our students’ achievements academically and in research environments.”

Jerri-Ann and Gary Jacobs ’79 have long supported students at UC San Diego through scholarships and fellowships, athletic scholarships, and basic needs. And those priorities have taken on new urgency now. “UC San Diego is always vying for the most competitive students,” Jerri-Ann said. “We often hear how we lost a potential future superstar to another university because they were able to offer a better financial package, even though the student really wanted to study with a UC San Diego professor. Scholarships and fellowships provide the additional resources to attract these stellar students.”


Connection is even more important for students who are facing a virtual campus experience. Designed as a home away from home for all students, UC San Diego’s Campus Community Centers continue to offer a welcoming environment, open dialogue, and professional skill-building opportunities via virtual formats. Activities include an online book club with the Women’s Center, culture and language conversations at the Intertribal Resource Center, workshops on topics such as “Time Management in the Age of Zoom” at the Black Resource Center, and more. Programs serve to build inclusion among a diverse population across campus.

“Being an inclusive and welcoming campus involves creating a sense of connectedness within our diverse community, no matter what the circumstances,” said Becky Petitt, vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. “With new remote platforms being used by our community resource centers and other areas across campus, we have learned we can create space for community and co-curricular learning; where students continue to feel connected and supported.”

Alumna Sandra Timmons ’81 agrees that supporting all students is the university’s highest mandate, especially now. “Access to UC San Diego is important,” says Sandra. “Ability doesn’t just happen in high-income areas. It is distributed all over, but access is not. We need to give students with ability the opportunity to access a great education at UC San Diego.”


What might seem surprising is that UC San Diego has created an unconventional, virtual approach to study abroad. While physical study abroad programs are temporarily on hiatus for the entire University of California system, students can still take part in international learning and internship opportunities. For example, “Virtual Europe” study abroad programs allow students to take courses from faculty in Athens, London, Barcelona, and Rome, among other places. And remote internship opportunities are available for programs spread throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, South America, Australia, and more.

“The quick shift that our UC San Diego faculty and departments have made to virtual online learning platforms provided us with the ability to think beyond the traditional model of study abroad,” said Kelly O’Sullivan Sommer, director of UC San Diego’s programs abroad office. “We were able to innovate new, hybrid models that can combine online learning and research here at home with shorter-term, more focused internships or lab work for when students can go abroad.”

As our campus and our world continue to confront the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, UC San Diego is committed to the academic, personal, and health needs of all our students.

Learn more about how you can support Student Support and Success at campaign.ucsd.edu/supportandsuccess.