The Regents of the University of California met at UC Riverside on Friday, Jan. 27, in a daylong series of meetings that highlighted the campus’s role in spurring economic growth through technology 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 Innovation Transfer and Entrepreneurship focused on UCR’s role as an economic engine for the region. In the afternoon, the regent’s Public Engagement and Development Committee discussed how the School of Medicine is working to reduce health inequities.
The regents last collectively met on campus in 2020, when the board held town halls during the UC president search. The regents’ last regular meeting on campus was in 2012.
Regent Lark Park, chair of the Regents Special Committee on Innovation Transfer and Entrepreneurship, praised the progress made by UCR on several fronts, from leading the nation in social mobility for students to new capital improvements projects completed or underway such as the new School of Medicine and School of Business buildings.
“This is a veritable army of transformation and innovation that is going to have incredible, far-reaching impact,” she said.
“We’re all so proud of what the campus has accomplished over the last decade,” Lark added.
Regent Janet Reilly, chair of the Public Engagement and Development Committee, said it was exciting and valuable to see and hear how UCR is developing solutions to regional issues. Those discussions will inform how the regents can help support the campus, she said.
“There is an energy on this campus that is unique, and I really get the feeling of a pioneering spirit,” she said. “There is this real drive and excitement for 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 been going on,” Wilcox said. “It’s a team sport and I want to give you credit for where we are.”
Wilcox noted that the campus’ economic influence predates UCR’s founding, when its land was a citrus experimentation station. He said that influence has grown in the decades since. For example, the Tango mandarin, developed by UCR researchers, is now sold in over 50 countries and is among the highest-earning UC 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 legacy of research, Wilcox said.
“We have a chance in the areas of growth now to change what the future looks like,” he said.
Planned UCR projects include the OASIS clean technology park in proximity to the new California Air Resources Board facility and the Northside Agricultural Innovation Center, which will develop climate smart solutions in farming. The Palm Desert campus will soon have a training laboratory for analyzing lithium and other critical minerals for batteries for electric vehicles and other clean technology.
Torres described how the Office of Technology Partnerships is working with students, faculty members, and entrepreneurs to support new technology research through its incubators on and off campus, 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, collaborating with multiple stakeholders, we have identified solutions to many of our regional issues.”
In the area of public health, regents heard about how the School of Medicine, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is addressing the region’s physician shortage by training future doctors. Construction is underway on the state-funded School of Medicine’s Education Building II that will open by fall and allow it to increase the number of students trained.
“We are enrolling 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 of health sciences and the 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 about 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 in 17 locations, it is facing increased competition for those slots, Deas said.
Roth said he’d like to continue to stabilize the school to better fulfill its mission of serving the underserved and transform the workforce.
“We’ve built a strong foundation for development and community engagement, but there’s still more to be done,” he said.
Lastly, the regents heard how the UCR Science to Policy program is placing science students in internships and fellowships with legislators so they can make an impact on public policy. The program, which began with five students in 2018, now has 40 participants a year.
“We need scientists who can communicate the impact of science to the wider public and policy makers,” said Susan Hackwood, director of the programme. Hackwood is a professor emerita of computer and electrical engineering, and the founding dean of the Bourns College of Engineering.
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