Science instruction & research in the time of COVID-19

Mar 31, 2020 | From the Dean

To: Division of Physical & Biological Sciences & Friends
From: Dean Paul L. Koch
Subject: Science instruction & research in the time of COVID-19

Dear Friends of UC Santa Cruz Science,

The last month has been a whirlwind on campus and in our community. The COVID-19 pandemic, and our regional and state government’s aggressive response to counter its spread, has dramatically changed our daily lives. 

Santa Cruz issued a “shelter in place” order on March 17—just days before the end of winter quarter classes. Yet, while our world has changed, our mission at the Division of Physical & Biological Sciences has not wavered. We remain committed to serving the world and our students with high-impact science instruction and research.

Our faculty have pivoted to move all instruction to remote platforms in a matter of days—a vastly complex achievement to meet the needs of nearly 24,250 course enrollments for spring quarter. Many of our faculty and graduate students are also offering online labs and field trips.

Our student advising and support teams are tirelessly helping our students as they scramble to find new classes, navigate their unexpected moves back home (or shelter in place on campus), adapt to remote learning, and cope with the reality of the pandemic.

Our researchers have spun down all non-essential work, idling labs to skeleton crews so we can maintain the plants, animals, cell lines, and high-tech equipment that make our research possible—we will bounce back to full productivity once it is safe to return to work. 

Our Banana Slug community is also rising to the occasion to address the greater challenge of the pandemic across the country and world. For example: 

  • Our science and engineering faculty are collaborating to understand how the coronavirus is causing illness and how to stop it. 
  • We are partnering with government agencies, municipalities, and local hospitals. 
  • We are establishing a local surveillance and clinical testing lab to understand the impact of COVID-19 in Santa Cruz County. 
  • We are working to increase the supply of personal protective gear to health workers by fabricating new gear or decontaminating and repairing existing medical gear.
  • Students from our Science Communication Program are supporting local media outlets to cover COVID-19 by tracking outbreak data and keeping communities informed.
  • Our alumni, such as Dr. Jon Mark Hirshon and Dr. Sarah Ashley, are playing heroic parts on the medical front lines. 
  • Our alumni are also racing to develop coronavirus vaccines and continuing to warn our country about the threats of emerging diseases and urging real change to combat them (thank you, Laurie Garrett).

I am immensely proud of the grit and ingenuity that our faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni have shown and I appreciate all of you for rising to the challenge. Our resilience is likely to be tested more in the coming months by the health crisis and the economic turmoil it has caused.

Students who have been thrown into personal or financial crises by the pandemic are an immediate concern. In response, the campus has launched the COVID-19 Slug Support Campaign, to build on our existing Slug Support Fund—a vital resource for students to help bridge financial gaps during periods of distress. Please give to the fund if you want to have an immediate impact on our most vulnerable students.

My monthly messages through the Impact Report will continue, but we will add a new section called “Slugs Rising” to showcase how our campus, alumni, and supporters are meeting the challenge of the pandemic. If you are a Banana Slug, I strongly encourage you to send us updates on how you are rising to the challenge in your communities by visiting

Best wishes and stay well. Fiat Slug!

Paul L. Koch
Dean, Division of Physical & Biological Sciences

For the latest UC Santa Cruz information on COVID-19, please visit

If you have any questions or comments, please contact