Learning doesn’t end with a degree. We all develop new skills and gain new knowledge throughout the course of our lives.

So why not allow the public—and not just college students—to take advantage of a top university’s brightest minds? And how about also serving as a catalyst to help a community evolve into an intellectual powerhouse with a worldwide reputation?

UCSD Building Exterior
UC San Diego Extension Building

This is the vision of Mary Walshok, the dean of UC San Diego Extension. It’s also the reality she’s helped create throughout the past four decades of converting UC San Diego Extension into a cherished part of San Diego’s education scene.

Mary Walshok, UC San Diego Extension dean

Born to Swedish parents, Walshok was raised in a progressive household where her father encouraged her to attend law school. However, Walshok turned to education with a goal of finding a way to blend the worlds of work and academia.

She started her tenure as UC San Diego Extension’s women’s studies director and became dean in 1981. She inherited a program that was “basically night school for people working on part-time degrees and those who wanted to take the occasional course.”

UC San Diego Extension continues to offer a wide variety of classes on topics from art history to acting to computer technology. Throughout the years, tens of thousands of people have learned new skills—many of them crucial to their jobs—and discovered unknown talents.

Walshok has pushed for a greater role for UC San Diego Extension. “A big research university can help a community understand and interpret the forces that are changing our lives,” Walshok said.

One of her first tasks was to establish an advisory committee comprised of local leaders who would collaborate on creating curriculum for certification programs. Today, committee members include professionals from Sempra Energy, Qualcomm and Pfizer.

In addition to the career development programs, Walshok believes there are four spheres that research universities have to embrace: economic development, workforce development, international affairs, and civic culture. She highlights these frontiers in her latest book, “Invention and Reinvention: The Evolution of San Diego’s Innovation Economy.” Published last year by Stanford University Press and co-written with Abraham Shragge, the book explores San Diego’s century of transition into a world-class city that rewards innovation and reinvention.

As a result, she established public programs that would benefit the community. These programs are:

  • Executive Program for Scientists and Engineers: A place for top-notch scientists and engineers to learn in a fast-paced environment where they can advance into leadership positions and network with others in their fields. The program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has graduated more than 800 senior-level experts.
  • The San Diego Dialogue: A cross-border forum where members meet to discuss the advancement of both communities in the fields of education, economy, health and innovation. After The San Diego Dialogues conducted a research study on frequent border crossers, a special fast lane, also known as SENTRI, was created to speed up the process for daily commuters.
  • CONNECT: A platform for inventors to meet businesspeople to give them the necessary tools and resources to succeed. In the past 30 years, CONNECT has helped jump-start more than 3,000 companies.  According to Walshok, it has been a “vital catalyst in growing the new economy.”
  • UC SAN DIEGO TV: This university-based television channel airs lectures, events, poetry readings and performances on Cox, Time Warner, AT&T U-verse and online (UC San Diego.tv/wheretowatch/). UC San Diego has been recognized as YouTube’s first university-run original channel.

YouTube video

Walshok believes that all four of these programs are “the platform on what everything today (at UC San Diego Extension) is built.” Her vision for UC San Diego Extension continues to be a place for people with core values to solve problems and continue making a difference in their communities.

For information, visit extension.UC San Diego.edu

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.