loading animation

— Education

Reflections on Philanthropy in a Time of Crisis

Together, we have navigated the immense challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have had the privilege to be a part of some much-needed moments of hope in my role as associate vice chancellor for Health Sciences Advancement. Even in the face of uncertainty and unrest, there has been an outpouring of philanthropic support.

What stands out to me more than any dollar amount was the commitment of our community to our tripartite mission — comprising research, education and care — and the community’s dedication to ensuring UC San Diego was equipped to rise to the challenge of COVID-19 in addition to maintaining its incredible portfolio of projects spanning every facet of the health sciences.

Research has been a central focus of much of our work over the past year. With the onset of COVID-19, we knew that there were few places equipped to contribute to battling this new illness quite like UC San Diego. Thanks to the gifts of philanthropists such as the Tu Foundation — which gave $1 million in support of Dr. Davey Smith’s efforts to develop new diagnostics, therapies and ways to track the virus — we were able to immediately begin understanding and pushing back against COVID-19.

An anonymous donor made a significant gift in support of Dr. Lars Bode’s work, which was central to providing global guidance on COVID and breast milk, helping new families navigate caring for a newborn amidst a pandemic.

Philanthropy also allowed us to be a leader in the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines, which we knew would be the key to beating this disease. Many others invested in our COVID-19 efforts, and not only to research.

As a public university, and one of the top in the nation for health sciences, education lies at the heart of our mission. With the emergence of COVID-19, we pivoted to online learning, but early on we knew that eventually, we would need to bring our students and faculty back to campus to continue their learning and research.

Return to Learn was a comprehensive program that allowed us to reopen campus safely.
Philanthropy was central to that. Even prior to the pandemic, the philanthropy of Dr. Herbert Wertheim, Vanessa Wertheim and the Wertheim family established The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science which helped lead the way for Return to Learn.

Through a three-part strategy encompassing risk mitigation, viral detection and clinical intervention, we made sure that as we welcomed people back on campus, we limited their risk of exposure to the virus, kept an eye out for anywhere the virus might be present and supported students with COVID-19 so that their needs were met until they recovered.

UC San Diego Foundation Trustee Dene Oliver and his wife Elizabeth made the first major gift to our COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which expanded testing and diagnostics, advanced clinical trials and supported members of the UC San Diego community — including students — who faced various challenges due to COVID-19.

Gary and Jean Shekhter supported the San Diego Epidemiology and Research for COVID-19 Health (SEARCH) alliance, a collaborative study co-led by UC San Diego, Scripps Research and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego aimed at helping local businesses and employees return to work safely. Working together was central to continuing operations on campus and beyond.

“As an academic medical center, we are committed to providing the very best health care to our community.”

Philanthropy played a critical role in our clinical response. From the very earliest days of the pandemic, we knew that in order to rise to the challenge of COVID-19, we would need to increase our capacity to care for people with the disease.

To that end, philanthropists such as Joe Tsai and Clara Wu, as well as the Conrad Prebys Foundation, made gifts that supported acquisition of resources for our care staff so that they were protected as they worked on the front lines.

The generosity of our community also allowed us to open La Jolla Family House, normally reserved for patients’ families, as an on-campus housing area for medical staff so that they could care for patients without endangering loved ones at home.

And when the day came when vaccines were finally available, philanthropy allowed us to distribute them quickly and efficiently. A partnership between us, the San Diego Padres, the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego allowed UC San Diego Health to establish a vaccine superstation in the parking lot of Petco Park. At its peak, the site was administering more than 5,000 doses per day — roughly 225,000 in total.

However, we also recognize that COVID-19 has had an outsized impact on communities of color and underserved neighborhoods. The Hood Family Foundation stepped in to support mobile vaccine clinics, pop-up sites in the neighborhoods where disparity was most prevalent, so that the people there had access to a lifesaving intervention.
But our donors remained cognizant of many other illnesses that weren’t taking a break because COVID-19 appeared.

made truly transformational gifts such as:

  • Hanna and Mark Gleiberman who helped establish Gleiberman Head and Neck Cancer Center, part of Moores Cancer Center, to redefine the way we understand and treat head and neck cancers.

  • Steven Strauss and Lise Wilson made a gift to the Cardiovascular Institute establishing the Strauss Wilson Center for Cardiomyopathy, allowing us to redefine care for heart disease.

  • Several families, including Iris and Matthew Strauss, Sally and John Hood, Karen and Don Cohn and Humberto and Czarina Lopez, all supported the creation of new endowed chairs across several health sciences areas.

  • Kristin Farmer, founder and CEO of ACES, made a gift to establish the Autism Comprehensive Educational Services (ACES) Innovation Project, advancing autism diagnosis research.

These and more, far more than a single article could do justice to, ensured that we continued battling old diseases even in the face of new ones. Philanthropy has been a vital part of every facet of UC San Diego Health and UC San Diego Health Sciences. The proof is in the thousands of gifts made — and the countless lives those gifts have impacted — in our region and around the world.

We are excited for what’s to come, but we cannot sustain and grow the level of achievement our physician-scientists, clinicians and students attain without the continued partnership of our community. You have brought us this far; we are eager to move forward with you at our side. Thank you.