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Up Front May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

During the Alumni Weekend celebrations in June, I had the pleasure of scripting two videos, based on interviews with alumni. Each of the alumni I interviewed praised UC San Diego for having taught them how to think, and valued the fact that they had learned to creatively solve problems. In their eyes, UCSD had stimulated them to look beyond the narrow confines of their primary disciplines for innovative answers in their careers and in the world. As one of them said, UCSD challenged him to think, and it wasn't always easy.

Indeed, thinking isn't easy. It takes time, and can be painful as we face new challenges and shed safe but old beliefs. As I listened during the interview, I thought of a summer I spent when I was seven, bouncing around the countryside in the back of an old delivery van. My grandfather collected and delivered laundry in the fishing villages, farms and isolated cottages in the countryside. I loved Tuesdays, when we drove to the small port of Donaghadee, where Giuseppi Nardini, with his exotic beret and strange accent, ruled over an ice cream emporium of glass tables and marble counters. Over the summer, as I downed many free ice cream cones, I learned that Nardini had been a teacher in Italy, and had fled someone called Mussolini. He had arrived in Northern Ireland penniless, and sold ice cream from a bicycle cart. Then during World War II, he bought a fleet of trucks to sell ice cream to American troops quartered nearby. "That wee fella has his wits about him," my grandfather would say every Tuesday as we drove out of town.

I was reminded of that phrase, to have your wits about you, during the video interviews. Our alumni praised UCSD for having taught them to think creatively, something that was essential in a world where we are confronting fundamental challenges. Our systems of energy production and our old habits of consumption are facing radical change. Genetics is overturning notions of who we are, and how we treat disease. In the burgeoning digital world, time and distance are shrinking at a nail-biting pace. And our politics and social systems are confronting a revolution in what work means and who is employable. Many of our alumni feared that these challenges were stretching our social fabric to its limits and that if we were to find solutions we needed new ways of thinking.

But keeping our wits about us is, of course, a much more complicated task in this discombobulating era of digital and biotech revolutions. And so an education that cultivates such deep thinking and encourages creative decision-making is, in the words of the credit card company, "priceless." What I discovered in these interviews was how deeply these alumni believed in this place, UCSD, because for them their education was, and is, at the core of their ability to solve problems. That "priceless" education was challenging and sometimes painful—as all thinking can be, but these alumni so valued the education they had received here that they are determined UCSD will survive to nourish the next generation of thinkers and problem-solvers. They believe that their philanthropy is not just supporting a place or individual students, but that it is necessary to nurture a social legacy—the legacy of creative thinking. As one said to me, "It's not a matter of giving back, it's essential for our survival on this planet. It is really giving forward."

In my grandfather's words, we need "fellas" who have their wits about them.

Raymond Hardie, Editor

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A c c o l a d e s

Excuse this brief interruption while we take a moment to congratulate ourselves. The UCSD Alumni Association was recognized in three different categories by the Council for the Advance­ment and Support of Education (CASE) at the CASE District VII conference in San Francisco, in November.

The Association won three Awards of Excellence for its creative use of technology, new programs and general interest magazine. It received a gold medal award for its innovative “AlumnIdea” crowdsourcing microsite that allows alumni to give interactive feedback; a gold medal award for the “Discovery Ambassador Initiative,” a program that reconnects alumni with the University; and a silver medal award for the magazine, which we hope you are happily perusing.