UCSC Science building hallway

Academic Priority Areas

Strategic Academic Plan


Academic Priority Areas

Earth FuturesJustice in a Changing World, and Digital Interventions – on which to focus its strategic efforts and provide an infusion of resources through 2023.

By focusing on these major areas of cross-disciplinary research, the university will build on its strengths as it imagines new avenues for creation, analysis, invention, and discovery.

The academic priority areas were created with input from faculty, students and other campus constituents through insight surveys, focus groups and open forums. The three areas selected will help the campus prioritize funding and development.

However, it is understood that UCSC will remain a comprehensive research university with a broad range of valuable programs and that academic planning must be ongoing; even as we evolve in new directions, we will continue to support the the full range of programs essential to a R1 university.

Earth Futures

Taking a uniquely long view of the Earth and humanity – not just over the next decades, but over hundreds and thousands of years, UC Santa Cruz examines the scientific, philosophical, and practical question of the Earth’s future. Exploring the terrain between the temporally immediate and distant, our faculty pose pressing questions, both ethical and scientific, and propose strategic practices to lead to our desired global outcomes.

Why Earth Futures matters

Exploring possible futures for humanity and our planet requires rigorous intellectual inquiry, careful planning, and coordinated action.

In order to inspire and motivate humanity to tackle current and impending ethical and moral issues, we must examine, explore, and understand the complex relationships between biogeophysical nature and human culture, along with possible pathways to achieve desired future states. We will advance the nexus of ecological and social well-being, addressing linked social-environmental challenges.

Our work will help global citizens to understand climate change, its ties to energy use, its impact on hydrologic cycles, and how those impact ecosystems and society. It will aid us in conceptualizing the long-term future of agriculture and food. It will help us to develop an understanding of our choices associated with planetary management of the land, sea, air, plants and, animals; genetic engineering; and artificial intelligence.

The people that will comprise Earth Futures

Earth Futures employs the energy of natural scientists and their expertise on materials impacts in the here and now, as well as our long future.

Social scientists supply a keen understanding of the relationship between cultures and the physical world around us, while engineers assess big data to project and understand these complex scenarios.

Artists help conceive of these futures creatively, and humanists help address the complex ethical questions emerge around these issues.

Justice in a Changing World

Our world’s landscape is rapidly changing — environmentally, demographically, and politically. UC Santa Cruz offers a nimble, critical, and interdisciplinary approach to understanding this change, rather than reading it as a static construct on which to apply theories or ask questions. This approach can provide more meaningful responses to the question “How can we serve justice in the world?”

Why Justice in a Changing World matters

Justice issues and the material landscapes they inhabit are complex. As the speed of information—and misinformation—accelerates in our rapidly changing world, it also intensifies. Our contribution is to analyze, assess, and respond to these issues, including social justice, unequal citizenship, racial equity, and criminal justice in the face of evolving politics, economies, and technologies.

We take action on unequal economic opportunity in America and rising trends across the world in economic development. Our work will change food production, food cultures, and the social effects of agriculture and food interventions. We drive health and health policy as populations age, as biotechnology improves, and as we see the increasing viability and use of telehealth.

The critical work around these topics are important at multiple levels, from our local communities, to our nation, and the world. By engaging in this work, we will be contributing towards fostering productive dialogue and debate at a time of growing partisanship and the rapid rise of social media’s influence on our society.

The people that will comprise Justice in a Changing World

Our social scientists, artists, and humanists have been doing leading-edge work on these questions for decades with academic programs that have blazed new pathways in higher education.

The efforts of our engineers and scientists working on climate change, genomics and personalized medicine, and the impacts of our actions on humans and other species have become a critical part of these conversations.

Together, we will advance new ways of thinking that will help shape a better world.

Digital Interventions

Digital Interventions examines how the digital world interacts with and shapes our lives. Makers, artists, critics, and data scientists come together to develop inventions and propose novel means of interacting with and theorizing culture and the future. UC Santa Cruz hosts a broad range of scholars engaged in critically building or analyzing the digital world and its impact on human beings. Digital Interventions challenges us to imagine how advances in technology or analyses of technology can transform our minds and the world in which we live.

Why Digital Interventions matters

Technology increasingly dominates our lives, but, without broad interdisciplinary engagement, we risk being channeled into and limited by what exists. This academic priority area focuses on analyzing the digital world, understanding its implications, and shaping it to match our needs.

Our faculty create and study the impact of games, fostering new understanding of critical cultural issues. We develop innovative digital art and analyze media’s effects on people and society. In digital humanities, we use digital tools and methodologies to explore how meaning is made and to offer new analyses of text, culture, and technology. Data science applications address real world concerns. Our technologies integrate computational algorithms, artificial intelligence, and physical components such as self-driving cars and smart power grids. Computing also allows us to understand how genomes, proteins, and RNA affect health.

Digital Interventions also includes research in building the digital world to enable interventions, such as materials for low-power electronics and quantum computing.

Equally important is our faculty’s thoughtful study of the ethical use of data and data science and understanding the impact digital technology has on our psychological, material, and social well-being.

The people that will comprise Digital Interventions

As trailblazers in new technologies and their human interface, our faculty innovate as scientists, engineers, and artists. We analyze as social scientists and humanists. Ruptures in the boundaries between disciplines produces new approaches that sometimes invert and sometimes layer these processes, with humanists and social scientists acting as creators of new digital interventions and scientists, engineers, and artists offer critical analyses.

The new synergies possible with these disruptions provide us with new ways of thinking and responding to the technological world around us.