UC San Diego Extension at 50: A constant in a changing world

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. UC San Diego Extension has embodied that truth for more than 50 years, constantly inventing and re-inventing its educational offerings and community-serving activities to respond to an ever-evolving world.


Mary L. Walshok, Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Programs and Dean, UC San Diego Extension

The changing nature of the San Diego economy and workplace is reflected in the pages of Extension’s quarterly course catalog across the years, providing a unique window into San Diego’s history and its zeitgeist for the previous half century. The catalog also serves as a significant window into how science and technology, much of it pioneered at UC San Diego, as well as globalization have reshaped the industries that anchor the San Diego economy.

In the 1960s, there were lectures on the effectiveness of nonviolence. Courses for women entering the workforce dotted the catalogs of the 1970s. The 1980s offered classes in word processing and other software programs. Courses demystifying the World Wide Web began to appear in the 1990s. The early 2000s brought courses in wireless engineering for smartphones. The most recent catalogs have focused on big data and biotech.

For Mary Walshok, a sociologist and Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Programs and Dean of UC San Diego Extension, this constant reinvention is how the larger university is able to ensure it is woven into the fabric of the region, improving people’s lives and spurring on the local economy.

“We are the embodiment of the notion that the research university is embedded in the community,” she said. “We are here to help grow the regional economy by providing people with the skills businesses need, but we also serve a role in enriching people’s lives and contributing to the discourse on issues of civic importance.”

The idea that a research university such as UC San Diego should reflect and advance the aspirations of a community is not a new one, Walshok said. It is the very foundation of UC San Diego Extension’s mission.

“I see us as a civic partner and a catalyst for change,” she said.

Industry insider

UC San Diego Extension, Walshok explained, is built on the 150-year tradition of land-grant universities and their historical role in contributing to the agricultural and industrial prowess of the United States economy.

In the past, the university would listen to the farmer or the factory manager about their needs and then return to the university to engage in applied research and design education and skill-development programs to address those workplace challenges and opportunities.

Since the 1960s, UC San Diego Extension has assured that conversation continued, working with the business and professional sectors that are most critical to San Diego’s regional economic competitiveness.

These include, for example, a flourishing program in biofuels to support the region’s growing cluster of alternative-fuel companies that are working to convert green algae into a variety of industrial and energy uses.

bio.jpgUC San Diego Extension also is an essential talent-development partner for the region’s world-renowned biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors, offering industry-recognized certificates in biotechnology-manufacturing practices, regulatory issues, clinical research, and clinical-trials management.

Extension also offers certificates and programs in digital media arts and online marketing as well as in the growing wireless-applications field, all of which connect to the skill and knowledge needs of regional employers from industry giants such as Qualcomm to smaller digital marketing firms in Downtown San Diego.

“We do the hard work of identifying what skills are needed in partnership with industry,” Walshok said.

The connection and conversation with companies and business leaders are unique attributes of UC San Diego Extension, and they are ones Walshok started cultivating early on.

Within her first nine months as dean of Extension, Walshok started the popular and now much-replicated Executive Perspective for Scientists and Engineers. To market it, she held a cocktail party at the chancellor’s house. The response and the attendance were overwhelming.

“I was greeting people at the door, and they just kept coming and coming,” Walshok recalled. “It was clear that our innovation economy needed a place where it could secure advanced scientific, technological, and leadership skills,” she said.
Don’t chase markets, make markets

Creating programs to deliver these advanced, and often time niche, skills is easier said than done.

“Very early on, we realized there were emerging fields where there were no agreed-upon standards,” Walshok said.

To define emerging fields and benchmark the skills needed, UC San Diego Extension continued its dialogue with scientists, innovators, and industry, linking their needs with the offerings on campus.

Walshok constantly pairs business leaders with academics at the university, and then asks the employers: what are the five things you need in an employee?

“That conversation gives rise to what skills and competencies are really in demand,” she said. “It helps identify the right professor on campus as well as the right practitioners in the community to help guide the content.”

From there, it becomes a matter of creating and vetting that educational content and identifying metrics of success.

It is through that process that UC San Diego Extension is often the first to recognize and help codify a new field of study, such as predictive analytics, clinical-trials management, or health care information technology.

tim-mcconell.jpgTim McConnell, VP of engineering, MicroPower Technologies, enjoys a drone demo at the 2014 Continuing Education Showcase.

Throughout the years, those groundbreaking educational offerings and certificates have become accepted and replicated at research universities throughout the country.

“A friend once said: ‘Don’t ever chase markets. Make markets.’ I like to think we make markets,” Walshok said. “Extension is a little bit like the canary in the coal mine.”

Connecting the community

Despite UC San Diego Extension’s critical role in helping train the region’s workforce, Walshok still sees the organization as having a much broader mission — one that focuses on enriching  civic life through community engagement and cultural offerings.

Again, she said, history is a guide in that mission. More than 100 years ago, University of California, Berkeley professors in history and literature would travel to nearby communities, such as Fresno, to offer courses in Shakespeare.

“Universities have long believed that access to knowledge and discourse on ideas is a benefit to a community’s quality of life,” Walshok said.

With that tradition in mind, UC San Diego Extension has spent much of the last 50 years developing programs designed not only to educate, but also engage.

The Helen Edison Lecture Series, which was developed with a bequest from a generous philanthropist, has hosted such noted speakers as Al Gore, John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Luis Valdez, and Toni Morrison for evenings that aim to be “entertaining and enlightening.”

UC San Diego Extension’s efforts to help prepare students of all ages for the rigors of a college education — with a special focus on the region’s most underserved communities — is also part of this larger mission. These programs include summer college prep courses as well as classes in STEAM — the acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — in such communities as Southeast San Diego and Barrio Logan.

UC San Diego Extension recently developed low-cost, high-quality test prep instruction for the SAT and ACT and is partnering with San Diego Unified School District to improve access to those exams, especially for economically disadvantaged students.

The mission to better the lives of San Diegans also is what led Walshok in 1974 to create the Institute for Continued Learning, now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, to offer a wide variety of educational opportunities — from classes to tours to lectures — targeted at those 50 and up to help foster a community of learning among intellectually curious retirees.

“Everything we do is based on the value we see in lifelong learning and providing educational avenues at every stage of life,” Walshok said.

Through Extension, Walshok also has looked to shape the civic dialogue about the regional economy. In 1985, she was a co-founder of UC San Diego CONNECT to help accelerate San Diego’s innovation economy, a thriving organization still today thanks to the early leadership of Bill Otterson. Extension also engaged community leaders throughout the region to help identify San Diego’s competitive advantage.

“It was a discussion of how do you think about regional assets and geography to give San Diego a competitive advantage,” she said.
In 1991, UC San Diego Extension also launched the first cross-border research and leadership forum San Diego Dialogue under the able leadership of Chuck Nathanson. Those discussions helped spur cross-border collaboration to develop a thriving binational economy.

“Dialogue changed the way people thought about our region,” Walshok said.

UC San Diego Extension continued to push the envelope of change in the 1990s when it launched UCSD-TV with just a low-power television license.  Since then, the small TV station has grown to become UCTV, which has one of the most significant university online presences in the United States. On a monthly basis, UCTV garners 6 million broadcast viewers and more than 12 million downloads on such channels as The STEAM Channel, Brain Channel, and The Career Channel.

What’s new

As the pace of innovation and globalization continue to speed up, it will mean further changes for the San Diego region and for UC San Diego Extension.

One obvious change is the end of the quarterly course catalog that UC San Diego Extension has produced for the past 50 years. In an increasingly digital world, the choice to provide course offerings exclusively online was an easy one, and Extension plans to launch a redesigned quarterly magazine and website that will reflect both the organization’s and the region’s evolution in 2016.

This move to a digital experience is part of a larger trend that is remaking the educational experience, Walshok said. The growing ability to access increasing information online is allowing people to personalize their education and learning in ways never available before.

“We are entering the age of the autodidact,” Walshok said. “The popularity of hybrid courses, which offer both online and classroom learning, tells us where education and knowledge are going.”

In fact, more than 20,000 of UC San Diego Extension’s 60,000 annual enrollments are currently online.

While people can access lots of good information online, she said, no one should undersell the importance of face-to-face learning.

“Mastery comes not just from technical and academic information but also from interactive environments with input from peers and oversight from instructors,” Walshok said.

Education and training in this new era will still demand that there be organizations like UC San Diego Extension to cultivate, curate, and evaluate the knowledge and skills people are looking to obtain.

“We will adapt as employers and educators tell us what they need,” Walshok said. “It may make for abrupt changes, but for us that is neither frightening nor negative. Our mantra is to be fluid and dynamic. As the saying goes: the only constant is change.”

Posted: 12/15/2015 12:00:00 AM by UC San Diego Extension | with 0 comments
Filed under: Careers, Catalog-cover-story, Continuing-education, Mary-walshok, Uc-san-diego, Uc-san-diego-extension, Ucsd, Ucsd-extension

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