The start of fall quarter has always been my favorite time of year. The excitement of our incoming students beginning their college careers with convocation cheers, the return of our Anteater undergrads and grads from summers spent studying at home and abroad, and the refreshed faces of our faculty and staff ready to take on the new year create a special buzz on campus that can be felt from the plaza through Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway.

Well…. This year, it’s a little different! While the start of this year’s fall quarter is like no other we’ve ever experienced, with the vast majority of us “returning” to campus via Zoom, Google Meets and some really cool online spaces in Second Life, Minecraft and Animal Crossing, I can still feel the energy that the new year brings. And I’m still so happy to welcome you all – remotely – back to campus!

For the second year in a row, UCI is the most popular UC campus among California’s college-bound high school seniors. A total of 72,391 aspiring in-state freshmen applied for fall, up 2,000 from last year and more than applied to any of the other eight UC undergraduate campuses. UCI was also the top choice for first-generation college students and those from low-income families and underrepresented groups – also for the second consecutive year. And as the largest academic unit on campus, social sciences plays a vital role in serving this diverse student population. We’re proud to welcome 785 new freshmen, 749 new transfers, and 105 new grad students to their first year as UCI Anteaters. They join our 5,044 returning undergrads and 409 grad students comprising a total social sciences student population of 7,092.

More than half of our entering first-year undergrads - 59.9% - are the first in their family to go to college, while 40.4% come from a low-income family. With their acceptance to UCI, these students are forging new pathways that will create generational change and I’m so excited that social sciences will play such a critical role in their journey. Here to help are a number of amazing student programs – SSARC, FGFQ and DAC, to name a few – faculty mentors, the undergraduate student affairs office, and outreach programs that, despite the pandemic, are thriving in their remote spaces and finding creative ways to engage and assist our new and returning Anteaters.

Among this year’s new faces are 8 faculty members coming in from universities across the globe, some fresh out of their Ph.D. programs and many in established careers as outstanding researchers and educators. Learn more about their expertise and experience here, and if you’re a member of the soc sci faculty or staff, join us in welcoming them at our annual Zotoberfest on October 8.

As I said earlier, the start of this year is like no other. In addition to the pandemic, we’re also dealing with an unprecedented number and scale of wildfires throughout the state, displacing families and impacting air quality nationwide. We’re facing a national election in November that promises to be unlike any since the founding of the republic. The country – and the world – is undergoing a historic reckoning with racial injustices that have plagued Black communities for centuries. The hate unleashed on Asian and Asian American communities since the pandemic began, and the disparities laid bare by its impact on Black, Indigenous and other communities of color steel our resolve to combat racism in all its forms. In June, we launched our Addressing Anti-Blackness Action Plan to outline our commitment and plan to set in place new durable supports and structural changes that will help us all bring about a university that will truly support Black lives. We are in the middle of Latinx Heritage Month, and social sciences faculty are hosting important workshops and conversations to recognize Latinx communities and to honor our duty as a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution.

I’m also excited about our newly expanded leadership and programming to come from the Office of the Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Diversity. The office, established in 2018 with inaugural associate dean Belinda Robnett, has led innovative programming to build a more inclusive school. Over summer, UC Santa Barbara hired Belinda away to become their campus’s first ever vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. With all that she had done, it became evident that the office needed not just an associate dean, but also a vice associate dean and additional staff support. For academic year 2020-21, Barbara Sarnecka, cognitive sciences, is stepping in as the interim associate dean. Joining her in delivering outstanding programming for our faculty and students is Sabrina Strings, sociology, in the newly created role as vice associate dean of faculty development and diversity. Beginning in 2021-22, Anita Casavantes-Bradford, Chicano/Latino studies, will then take the reins as associate dean. And supporting their efforts, along with other duties in the dean’s office, will be Frances Hom, a new staff member starting in October. I’m looking forward to the remote programs that they will be continuing and launching, and I encourage you to check out their site to stay in the loop about upcoming workshops and talks.

Keeping with tradition, I like using this time each year to highlight some of our outstanding accomplishments from the year past, and because the list always seems to get longer and at risk of missing anyone, I’m only going to hit on a few highlights. As always, you can keep up with our never-ending cycle of excellent news online and via our enews (email or sign up here to be added to our distribution list). And while you’re on our site, check out our running list of soc sci in the media. Last year alone, more than 90 faculty, students and programs were cited and/or featured in more than 400 stories that ran in 205 different media outlets in top venues including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Daily Pilot, NPR, The Conversation, The Guardian, Forbes, Voice of OC, Bloomberg, Scientific American, The Atlantic, Vox, and Yahoo! Finance.

We had another stellar year in securing extramural grant research funds for faculty and graduate students. From a project on sleep’s importance to our mental and physical health, to one on social media’s role in connecting communities in times of crisis, UCI social sciences researchers are demonstrating the social sciences’ crucial contributions. From 2018-19 to 2019-20, our extramurally funded research increased by more than 33 percent, from $6.9 million to $9.2 million. And federally funded research – grants from institutes including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Academy of Education and the like – grew from $2.3 million to $4.8 million, representing a more than 108 percent increase.

Research funding for social sciences in 2019-20 included:

  • 48 new awards.
  • 42 research award recipients.
  • $4.85 million in funding to researchers in the Department of Cognitive Sciences.
  • 48 percent funding from non-federal sources including nonprofits, other government, for profit, state and UC sources.

Our Diversity, Inclusion & Racial Healing Ambassador Program (DIRHA) and Deconstructing Diversity Initiative (DDI), which both seek to build empathy, cultural competency, and reduce stereotypes, are active in 17 Orange County high schools and have collectively reached thousands of teens and young college students with messages of inclusion, hope and healing. These programs and their work – which pivoted quickly to adapt to remote delivery – were cited as laudable racial justice programs by the Association of American Colleges & Universities when they named UCI the site of one of 13 new Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers. And Global Connect and SAEP continue to thrive remotely, along with the First Gen First Quarter Challenge that enhances the educational experience for all of our students while exemplifying our commitment to an inclusive environment on campus as well as outreach to area high schools.

Our alumni and donor community has continued to thrive through engagement opportunities delivered remotely via the Social Sciences Alumni Network be BOLD 2.0 series, the Dean’s Leadership Society Coffee Chats on Zoom and much more. Since the pandemic began, we’ve hosted 20 community-facing events, with over 2,460 participants, including alumni from far-flung regions of the country and from London to Hong Kong. We’re in the middle of UC Irvine’s Brilliant Future fundraising campaign, and to date, our intrepid fundraising team has helped raise $19.88 million.

It has also been an amazing year in terms of honors and awards for our faculty. Rather than list them all and risk missing one, I invite you to check out our featured news highlights showcasing all of our outstanding award winners, grant recipients, researchers, featured colleagues, ground breaking studies and new books published in the last year. You’ll also find listed there a number of undergraduate, graduate and alumni stories highlighting outstanding achievements and awards including our Lauds and Laurels recipients, alumni and community partners making their mark, and outstanding staff honored for service both on and off campus. Kudos to all of our dedicated and hardworking faculty, staff and students who help us each day in achieving our research, teaching and service successes.

Lots more to come as we start the year. As the pandemic continues to shape our lives and daily interactions in 2020, I want to draw your attention to our “Remote” website which contains resources on remote teaching and learning as well as wellness and working in a remote environment. We’re expanding our “Zot Zeries” talks via Zoom where you can listen in to UCI social sciences experts on timely topics relevant to COVID-19. Our next talk is Oct 1 and will feature updates from the four social sciences projects to receive funding under the UCI Office of Inclusive Excellence Confronting Extremism Program’s call to understand how to advance equity in the age of COVID-19. For updates and information on general campus COVID-19 resources, please visit

Keep your eye on email and your attention to your screens on Zoom, Google Meet, or wherever you find your classes, research subject, and friends, as we all work together this year like never before to make our UC Irvine experience brilliant.

Zot, zot, zot!




© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766