Distinguished Social Sciences Alumni Award

The Distinguished Social Sciences Alumni Award is presented annually to a graduate whose career is characterized by sustained and exemplary contributions to society through research, practice, education, policy, or service. The award winners bring enduring honor to their alma mater as practitioners and as citizens.

Our alumni make us proud of their efforts and achievements in the public and private realms, in government, business, the arts, nonprofits, and many forms of education. Many of the division’s former students have built on their UCSC educational experience to implement their ideals and achieve their goals. They have distinguished themselves through their work for social, economic, and political justice and equity or as leaders in industry, technology, law, or other fields. Some have taken paths that could have not been predicted by their academic studies, but which have led to notable attainments in diverse forms of engagement.

Social Sciences alumni, staff, and faculty (including emeriti) are invited to nominate an alumnus/alumna for the Distinguished Social Sciences Alumni Award.

Past recipients of the Distinguished Social Sciences Alumni Award include:

  • Peter Bratt (Cowell ’86, politics) received the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. A trailblazer and champion of underrepresented communities, he is also a Rockefeller Fellow, a Peabody Award winner, an Emmy-nominated film producer, writer, and director, and a community organizer and social justice activist. View photos from the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award event here.
  • Ricky Bluthenthal (Merrill ’86, History and Sociology) received the 2022 Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award. A trailblazer, advocate, and champion of health equity and social justice for disadvantaged and marginalized groups, he currently serves as Associate Dean for Social Justice, Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Professor in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences and the Institute for Prevention Research at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. Watch a video of this event here.
  • Terri McCullough was awarded the Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in 2020-2021. An Oakes '90 politics alumna who is now chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McCullough has been an advocate for women’s leadership at the highest levels throughout her career. 
  • Virginia Espino and Héctor Tobar received the Social Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017-2018. As a documentary-maker and oral historian, and as a journalist, novelist, and educator dealing with the Americas and the American experience, both Virginia Espino and Héctor Tobar shine a light where light is needed, illuminating our lives and times, and represent the ideals of UCSC, from its beginning and into its future.
  • Kris Perry was the 2016-2017 honoree. Perry and her partner Sandy Stier became well known after challenging Proposition 8, California’s controversial ban against same-sex marriage in a lawsuit described as “putting fear and prejudice on trial.” It is thanks to Perry's commitment to social justice that we have equal marriage in California today.
  • The 2015-2016 award was presented to Drummond Pike, the 1970 politics graduate of Stevenson College. Pike was recognized for his accomplishments in combining philanthropy with political activism.
  • The 2014-2015 award was presented to 1979 Cowell College Economics graduate Stephen Bruce, managing director and co-founder of an international asset management group, Alcentra. Bruce was the first Chair of the UC Santa Cruz Social Sciences Board of Councilors and was selected for his leadership, innovations, and dedication to helping students.
  • The 2012-2013 award was presented to 1983 Merrill College Politics graduate Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Sotelo. Sotelo was recognized for his consistent personal and professional dedication, commitment, and civic service combined with exemplary demonstrated leadership resulting in lasting and positive impacts on the field of law, his community, and society.
  • The 2011-2012 award was presented to National Public Radio science correspondent Joe Palca who received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1982. Palca was honored for his scientific knowledge and journalistic skill, professional dedication and service as an adviser, advocate, and educator with a “passion for maintaining and enhancing scientific literacy for Americans with curiosity but little scientific background” (from Professor Bruce Bridgeman's nomination).
  • The 2010-2011 award was presented to 1975 College Eight Environmental Planning graduate Peter Stein, managing director at Lyme Timber Company. Stein was selected for his innovative, and pioneering approaches to and lasting impact on the field of conservation planning and development. 
  • In 2009-2010, this award went to community-builder, advisor, trainer, advocate, and philanthropist, Nancy Berglass, a Community Studies, 1985 alumna and principal of Berglass Community Investment Consulting. Berglass was honored for her impressive prestigious, voluminous, and impactful local, national and international work, her exemplary strategic leadership and expertise, and her personal and professional dedication and service.
  • The 2008-09 award recipient, George Robert Perkovich, was former speechwriter and adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden. A politics, 1981 alumnus and celebrated author, he is one of the most influential voices on international nuclear arms issues. He is currently the vice president for studies and director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • The 2007-08, award recipient was educator and social justice activist Joe Berney, an Economics, 1975 alumnus who also earned his secondary teaching credential within the Education Department.
  • The 2006–07 award recipient was the distinguished California Superior Court Judge, Kelvin Filer, a Politics, 1977 alumnus who argued and won a landmark California State Supreme Court case affecting defendant rights.
  • The first award recipient was journalist, analyst, and author Dana Priest, a Politics, 1981 alumna. Her extraordinary career has included many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and 2008.

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