From a small teachers’ college to an elite research institution with sustained rankings as a top ten public university. Now in its 75th anniversary year as part of the University of California, UC Santa Barbara has been creating connections, breaking barriers and shaping the future for three-quarters of a century.
The campus is in the vanguard, from the humanities and fine arts to the sciences and social sciences, and in 2020 was ranked the country’s No. 8 public university. UC Santa Barbara is also a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the first member of the prestigious Association of American Universities to be so designated.
Its faculty past and present includes winners of the Nobel Prize, the Breakthrough Prize, the Millennium Technology Prize, the Oscar, the Fields Medal, the Pulitzer, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow- ships — to name just a fraction of their prestigious accolades.
Equally successful are UC Santa Barbara’s distinguished alumni, which includes celebrated artists and musicians; prominent entrepreneurs and executives; notable policymakers, newsmakers and philanthropists; preeminent researchers; Olympians; a Nobel Prize winner; and an astronaut.
As with the swelling number of honors for the university as a whole, the depth and diversity of plaudits for members of its community — professors, researchers, students, staff and alumni alike — are
a reflection of a campus driven to, and renowned for, pushing boundaries and effecting change.
At the academic forefront of the modern environmental movement, UC Santa Barbara boasts one of the nation’s largest and most successful interdisciplinary environmental studies programs, currently in its 50th anniversary year. It is home to top programs in dozens of disciplines, from marine science and materials, to economics and communications, to media and film studies, to theater and dance, among many others.
A global leader in the sciences and at the forefront of scholarship in the humanities and fine arts, the campus has wide-ranging impact to match its ambitions. UC Santa Barbara is advancing energy efficiency and sustainability, preserving American history and culture, improving lives and the environment through ecology, fostering elite artists and performers, and innovating treatment for autism.
UC Santa Barbara is one of the original four nodes of ARPANET, making the campus a key, early player in developing the ubiquitous internet of today. Filament LED light- bulbs — known as “Edison” bulbs for their vintage appearance and favored for their efficiency — were borne of technological innovations achieved by UC Santa Barbara researchers. Leading academic research into all things quantum, the campus in 2019 was named the site of the nation’s first-ever Quantum Foundry, with major funding from the National Science Foundation.
With a history of spinning out startup companies dating back to the late 1980s formation of Digital Instruments, UC Santa Barbara also has long, rich track record of cultivating entrepreneurs — and fostering entrepreneurship. The campus now is sowing the seeds of the next major tech ecosystem, translating research into cutting-edge innovations in areas such as bioengineering, solid-state lighting and materials. That, coupled with its strong emphasis on tech entrepreneurship, have resulted in more than 100 startups by both faculty and students. The vast majority —such as Inogen, Apeel Sciences, Eucalyptus Systems, Soraa, Inc. — continue to operate today.
But research and academics aren’t the only realms in which the university is making a mark. The campus has long been a hub for social activism as well.
When a group of 12 Black students in 1968 took over UC Santa Barbara’s North Hall to protest unequal treatment and passive-aggressive racism, their act of civil disobedience sparked a process of institutional change that soon resulted in the founding of the Department of Black Studies and the Center for Black Studies Research — one of their core demands.
The event had a cascading effect. A conference held on campus in 1969 resulted in El Plan de Santa Bárbara, a landmark document of the Chicano Movement that became a catalyst for Chicano/a studies programs at UC Santa Barbara — the first of its kind in the UC system — and on campuses nationwide. Departments in Asian American studies and women’s studies (now the Department of Feminist Studies) were soon to follow, as were the launch of other research areas that examine inequality and a multicultural world.
It’s been a slow and steady rise since 1944 — and the university’s roots actually go back even further. They can in fact be traced to 1891, to a basement in downtown Santa Barbara, original home of antecedent institution, the Anna S.C. Blake Manual Training School. From there it grew into the California State Normal School of Manual Arts and Home Economics, and later, Santa Barbara State Teachers College. As curriculum started shifting toward liberal arts and four-year degrees were introduced, the school in 1935 was renamed Santa Barbara State College.
It wasn’t long before the UC came calling, incorporating the institution and giving it a new name — Santa Barbara College of the University of California — on July 1, 1944.
Envisioned as a small liberal arts college meant to complement the larger research campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles, Santa Barbara College of the University of California initially was located in the city’s Riviera neighborhood. The present-day site of UC Santa Barbara was purchased for $10 in 1948, when the War Department offered the UC Regents the residential portion of a decommissioned Marine base. In fall 1954, with a total enrollment of 1,883 students, Santa Barbara College relocated to Goleta.
The Regents made it official only four years later, designating it a general campus of the UC system. The next several decades brought expansion in spaces, programs, students and scholarship, as UC Santa Barbara evolved from a liberal arts college into a world-class research institution known for innovation and collaboration across the disciplines.
The dynamic landscape of today’s UC Santa Barbara — rigorous and ambitious, multicultural and inclusive, socially engaged and globally-focused — is more than its celebrated and breathtaking location.
Yet the university’s scholars and students surely draw endless inspiration from their surroundings, exploring and thriving in the campus’s unparalleled learning environment.
Happy anniversary, UC Santa Barbara.