The regents of the University of California met at UC Riverside on Friday, Jan. 27, in a day-long series of meetings that highlighted the campus’s role in driving economic growth through technological development, agricultural innovation and public health.
The Board of Regents heard from campus leaders, researchers, students and community leaders about UCR’s vital role in transforming the region in multiple areas and were urged to continue or expand their support. They also toured the Multidisciplinary Research Building, where they met with entrepreneurs developing technology for new startups in the Life Sciences Incubator.
During the morning session, the Regents’ Special Committee on Transfer of Innovation and Entrepreneurship focused on UCR’s role as an economic engine for the region. In the afternoon, the Regents’ Community Engagement and Development Committee discussed how the School of Medicine is working to reduce health disparities.
The last time the regents met collectively on campus was in 2020, when the board held town halls during the UC presidential search. The last regular meeting of the regents on campus was in 2012.
Regent Lark Park, chair of the Regents’ Special Committee on Transfer of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, praised the progress UCR has made on several fronts, from leading the nation in student social mobility to new capital improvement projects completed or underway, such as the new Faculty of Medicine and School of Business Buildings.
“This is a veritable army of transformation and innovation that will have incredible, far-reaching impact,” she said.
“We are all so proud of what the campus has accomplished over the past decade,” Lark added.
Regent Janet Riley, chair of the Community Engagement and Development Committee, said it is exciting and valuable to see and hear how UCR is developing solutions to regional problems. Those discussions will inform how the regents can help support the campus, she said.
“There’s an energy on this campus that’s unique, and I really feel like there’s a pioneering spirit,” she said. “There is this real drive and excitement about what the future holds. I’m always energized when I come here.”
Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox welcomed the Regents and joined Rodolfo Torres, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, and Rosibel Ochoa, Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology Partnerships, for a presentation on the Office of Technology Partnerships’ work with students, faculty, businesses , and the community.
“It means a lot to us to show what’s going on,” Wilcox said. “It’s a team sport and I want to credit you for where we are.”
Wilcox noted that the campus’s economic influence predates UCR’s founding when its land was a citrus experimental station. He said the influence has grown in the decades since. For example, Tango, developed by UCR researchers, is now sold in over 50 countries and is among UC’s most profitable inventions.
The campus is pursuing future areas of innovation in agriculture, air quality and clean energy in a way that is inclusive, environmentally and economically sustainable and builds on its research heritage, Wilcox said.
“Now we have a chance in growth areas to change what the future looks like,” he said.
Planned UCR projects include the OASIS Clean Technology Park near the new California Air Resources Board facility and the Northside Agricultural Innovation Center, which will develop climate-smart solutions in agriculture. The Palm Desert campus will soon have a training lab to analyze lithium and other critical minerals for electric vehicle batteries and other clean technologies.
Torres described how the Office of Technology Partnerships works with students, faculty members and entrepreneurs to support new technology research through its on- and off-campus incubators, proof-of-concept grants and training programs.
“We are leveraging our region’s assets and talent to develop, attract and commercialize innovation right here in the Inland Empire to help shape the future of California and beyond,” Torres said. “With limited resources, in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, we have identified solutions to many of our regional problems.”
In public health, the regents heard about how the School of Medicine, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is addressing the region’s physician shortage by training future physicians. Construction is underway on the state-funded Medical School Building II, which will be open by the fall and will allow for an increase in the number of students being taught.
“We enroll students who live in the Inland Empire, who have lived here at some point and are returning to the Inland Empire,” said Dr. Deborah Deas, vice chancellor for health sciences and Mark and Pam Rubin dean of the UCR School of Medicine.
But both Deas and state Sen. Richard Roth, a strong supporter of the School of Medicine, spoke of the need for medical school students to have expanded access to clinical training as enrollment grows. Although the school has affiliations with local hospitals and clinics at 17 locations, it faces increased competition for those spots, Deas said.
Roth said he would like to continue to stabilize the school to better fulfill its mission of serving the underserved and transforming the workforce.
“We have built a strong foundation for development and community engagement, but there is more to do,” he said.
Finally, the regents heard how the UCR Science to Policy program places science students in internships and fellowships with legislators so they can influence public policy. The program, which began with five students in 2018, now has 40 participants annually.
“We need scientists who can communicate the impact of science to the wider public and policymakers,” said Susan Hackwood, director of the program. Hackwood is professor emeritus of computer and electrical engineering and founding dean of the Bourns College of Engineering.