Director Larry Smarr Encourages Incoming Students to Think Green, Get Involved

By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

San Diego, CA, Sept. 24, 2009 — During his keynote address at UC San Diego's 2009 Welcome Week Convocation — the inaugural academic event of the year — Internet pioneer Larry Smarr reminded a crowd of more than 4,000 freshmen and transfer students that they will be on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges of our time: Global climate disruption, which could lead to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels by the end of this century.

Larry Smarr (at podium) delivers Convocation speech
Calit2 Director Larry Smarr (at podium) in front of more than 4.000 freshmen and transfer students at UC San Diego's 2009 Welcome Week Convocation. Read the full text of Smarr's speech here.  To watch a streaming video of Smarr's speech to the Convocation audience, click here. [Windows Media player and broadband connection requiredLength: 16:37

Smarr, who is the founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), challenged the students assembled on RIMAC field to join the more than 3,000 researchers around the world who are investigating the science and societal implications of global climate disruption.

"So what's the good news?" Smarr asked. "The good news is you."

"I don't know of any other single problem in the world that has this many scientists and researchers focused as a single team," he remarked, adding that it was a video created by undergraduates at UC San Diego titled "UC San Diego Living Laboratory" that inspired him to redouble his efforts as a scientist to focus on global climate change. Those efforts have manifested in the building of new Calit2 cross-disciplinary teams to address regional responses to global climate disruption, as well as developing the two Calit2 campuses, UCSD and UCI, as "Living Laboratories of the Greener Future."

Larry Smarr and Convocation audience
Smarr encouraged the students in the audience to play a personal role in tackling the challenges the world will face in the years to come.

Smarr reminded the students that it was UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography that started making detailed time series of the level of CO2 in the atmosphere fifty years ago.  This famous "Keeling Curve" has become a visual icon of how rapidly human activity is filling the Earth's atmosphere with climate disrupting greenhouse gases.

"Regardless of your major," he told the students, "every one of you can have a personal role while at UCSD in tackling these huge challenges the world faces." He cited a number of UCSD programs that take a "green" multidisciplinary approach, including the UC San Diego Green Campus Program which supports student interns and numerous student club members who collaborate with staff and administration to make UCSD more sustainable. 

At Calit2, Smarr noted, undergraduates recently completed the ninth year of its Undergraduate Summer Scholar program, which awarded scholarships to two dozen students to spend the summer doing research with faculty advisors from 14 different departments.

UCSD's current Associated Students President Utsav Gupta, who also spoke at the Convocation, is intimately familiar with the Undergraduate Summer Scholar Program. Gupta, a bioengineering/biotechnology major, spent last summer conducting research in UCSD's Cartilage Tissue Engineering Laboratory as part of the program, where he assisted bioengineering professor Dr. Robert Sah with research into image processing methods for cartilage tissue engineering.

Utsav Gupta
Associated Students President Utsav Gupta (one of the Convocation speakers) spent last summer conducting research on cartilage tissue engineering as part of Calit2's Undergraduate Summer Scholar Program.

Gupta's advice to those assembled for Convocation was simple: "Keep your eyes open and take advantage of every single moment. Don't ever close them. I know and I'm confident that each of you will do something amazing on this campus."

"UC San Diego encourages undergraduates to participate in research from very early on, to understand how new ideas are created that can be used throughout our society," Smarr remarked in his address. "By working together, they expose each other to their own disciplines and often form cross-disciplinary teams. Many of the great challenges facing society today can only be overcome by getting researchers — and students — to work together on solutions."

In addition to the Summer Scholars program, Smarr noted that Calit2 employs dozens of undergraduates year-round to work on different research projects, "and it's not uncommon to have a political science major working alongside an electrical engineering undergrad as well as a biologist."

Smarr's "think green, get involved" message resonated with Convocation attendee Victoria Walton, a freshman from Wrightwood, Calif., who will be studying literature. 

Victoria Walton
UCSD Freshman Victoria Walton (second from left) from Wrightwood, Calif., will be the first in her family to achieve a Bachelor's Degree.

"Environmentalism is a really big thing for me," Walton said. "I want to do something that will help people, and have a career that's fulfilling and will make a positive change in the world."

Simply by applying to and being accepted to UCSD, Walton says she's made a positive change in her own life and the life of her family. Although she has three older half-sisters, all had children while still in high school and were consequently unable to get their diplomas. Upon graduation, Walton (who says it's always been her "destiny" to go to college) will be the first in her family to achieve a Bachelor's degree.

And Walton isn't alone. As Smarr noted in his speech, one out of three incoming students to UC San Diego this year will be the first in their immediate family to go to college.

Larry Smarr at UCSD Convocation 2009
The 'blending together' of students from many walks of life is one of the unsung success stories of UCSD, noted Smarr.

"My father's generation was the first in our family's history to graduate from college and I was the first in my family to get a Ph.D," he noted. "This blending together of students from many walks of life is one of the great, unsung success stories of the University of California in general, and of UC San Diego in particular."

Other speakers at the Convocation included keynote speaker UCSD alumna Alejandra Sotelo-Solis (class of '01), who is now a member of the National City City Council, as well as Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Paul Drake, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Penny Rue, and Associate Chancellor for Diversity Glynda Davis.

Media Contacts

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links

2009 Welcome Week
UC San Diego Green Campus Program
UC San Diego Associated Students
UC San Diego Cartilage Tissue Engineering Laboratory
Calit2 Undergraduate Summer Scholars Program