My May newsletter

May 17, 2016

Dear friends and colleagues:

One of the most invigorating aspects of my job is the opportunity to connect directly with California’s bright students.

Since February, I’ve been traveling up and down the state — from Eureka to Los Angeles and to places in between — to speak personally with students at high schools and community colleges. In June, I will meet with the heads of the community colleges in the San Diego region.

These visits are both an opportunity for me to understand the challenges our young people face, and also to help students, teachers, counselors and administrators understand that a UC education is an excellent — and affordable — college option.

My message is simple: Whatever your background, gaining admission to a UC campus is not some distant pipe dream. And, a UC education is much more affordable than one might assume.

We are working hard to increase college access and we are prepared to enroll an additional 10,000 California freshmen and transfer students by 2018, starting with 5,000 undergraduates this fall. This will be spread out among our nine undergraduate campuses.

We offer robust financial aid programs so that all students, including students from historically underrepresented communities, can afford a quality UC education. About half our California undergraduates pay no tuition, and roughly two-thirds receive some form of financial aid.

Half of our students graduate with no debt. Of those who take out loans, the average student loan debt at graduation was about $20,000, less than the national average.

We’re also committed to boosting the number of transfers from community colleges. We offer Transfer Pathways for 21 of the most popular majors to help students better plan their coursework to prepare them for transfer to a UC campus.

I hope students take my message to heart. A college degree is a game changer that opens the doors to better, bigger career opportunities and improves their quality of life. You can read more of my thoughts on this subject in my latest LinkedIn piece.

Grad students showcase the gift of the gab

There are ample examples of what can happen when our young people are given the opportunity to unleash their natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

UC’s Grad Slam on April 22 is an excellent example. In this friendly competition, graduate students from around the UC system boiled years of complex research into succinct three-minute presentations, free of jargon and technical lingo. To be sure, this is no simple feat.

UC Riverside doctoral student Peter Byrley, who is working to create smaller, more powerful microprocessors using graphene instead of silicon, won the contest to claim the “Slammy,” as our top prize is affectionately known. I was incredibly impressed with his presentation as well as that of the other grad students.

Grad Slam allows our emerging researchers and scholars to hone and practice a core skill: communicating the value of their research to the public in a way that is relevant and accessible.

Being able to explain their work to a lay audience will go a long way toward securing grant funding and advancing their careers. And on a larger level, it will enable them to contribute to the public dialogue around solving the pressing problems we face globally.

Grad Slam also offered a glimpse into the incredible and varied research happening every day at our campuses, labs and medical centers.

Advancing innovation

The climate of innovation at UC campuses pays off for California, its economy and its people. UC research produces on average five inventions a day. Nearly 1,000 startups have been formed from the university’s patents since 1980, supporting over 20,000 jobs and bringing in over $14 billion in annual revenue.

Beyond the positive economic impact, these inventions improve our quality of life in myriad ways, allowing us to live longer, diagnose and treat illnesses earlier and more effectively, farm more efficiently, communicate more easily, and better understand the world around us.

We showcased some of the latest innovations spawned by student work and backed by venture capital firms — from a robotic exoskeleton that allows paralyzed people to walk again to a urine test capable of detecting early-stage breast cancer — as part of UC Innovation Day in Sacramento on Tuesday, May 10. UC leaders and students spent the day meeting with State legislators to push for state funding for UC programs.

To further boost our entrepreneurial efforts, the UC Board of Regents has appointed Christine Gulbranson as Senior Vice President for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Office of the President. Christine, who most recently has been CEO of the strategic advisory firm Christalis, will lead a dynamic team focused on increasing the innovation and entrepreneurial capabilities of the UC system. She will also be responsible for forging alliances in government, private and philanthropic sectors to create new opportunities for research and economic growth.

I’m excited to have Christine on board, and am confident that her leadership and extensive experience will enable us to further strengthen our research and innovation arm.

Don’t forget that you can keep up with the latest UC news, research discoveries and innovations by subscribing to our Fiat Lux weekly e-newsletter. Fiat Lux highlights the latest research from around the UC system, showing how UC’s faculty and researchers are pushing the boundaries of knowledge, making new discoveries and shining a light on what’s possible.

Thanks for reading and please email me at if you’d like to share an idea or comment. Feel free to pass this letter onto friends and colleagues and to encourage them to sign up for future newsletters if they’d like.

Yours very truly,
Janet Napolitano