News Release

UC San Diego receives $1.6 million to better prepare young adults for engineering and technical careers

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By Debra Bass and Judy Piercey

San Diego, Calif., July 2, 2020 -- Longtime University of California San Diego supporter Buzz Woolley has pledged $1.6 million over the next three years to fund an innovative new initiative that will significantly expand the region’s engineering and technical workforce.

Woolley’s support will help initiate a partnership between UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and UC San Diego Extension to meet the growing need for a talent pool of workers with advanced technical and engineering skills. Woolley is a retired venture capitalist and entrepreneur, with a focus on supporting K-12 programs in San Diego. This philanthropic gift contributes to the Campaign for UC San Diego.

The initiative, provisionally titled Problem-Solving and Skill-Building for the Technical Workplace, promises to increase youth success in entry-level jobs in technical and engineering industries, as well as better prepare them for postsecondary university engineering degrees.

With this support, the Jacobs School and Extension at UC San Diego will develop an immersive course for high school students and first-year undergraduates offering foundations for success in the workplace of the future and in advanced engineering education based on doing, failing and succeeding. Simultaneously, the effort will create professional development opportunities for secondary teachers to support a pipeline of skilled problem-solvers who are ready-to-work, ready-to-learn high school graduates.

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Buzz Woolley. Photo credit: Voice of San Diego

Woolley said that it is crucial for the next generation to have an unprecedented level of comfort, curiosity and proficiency with universal engineering principles. For that to happen, teachers need enhanced teaching skills.

“The times demand accelerated educational opportunities in these rapidly and continually evolving fields,” Woolley said. “Industries need well-trained technical workers and young people deserve good jobs.

Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor for Public Programs and dean of UC San Diego Extension, said that a large number of innovative educational programs at the university have been supported by “angel investors” like Woolley. These are people who have been quietly providing seed money, program capital and scholarship funding to support progressive, often experimental efforts, throughout the university’s rich history, she said.

“We do not take his investment in this joint program lightly,” said Edward Abeyta, associate dean for Education and Community Outreach (ECO), including pre-collegiate programming at UC San Diego Extension. “We consider it an honor and welcome challenge, because we know he’s going to be watching the results closely. Our wide-reaching Pre-College programs have a well-established reputation of exceeding his expectations, and we take pride in his support.”

Given the unique landscape of technical employers in California, and in San Diego particularly, Woolley agreed that UC San Diego is the ideal home for this initiative. He is also excited that the program is committed to expanding inroads into the region’s underrepresented intellectual pool of first-generation students.

“This program will make technical jobs with growth potential accessible to a larger and more diverse group of people in San Diego," said Albert P. Pisano, dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “Technical problem solving is a transferable skill that everyone deserves access to. We will expand this access through new, transformative classes and teaching tools."

Much of the work to create inclusive problem-solving materials for students and teachers will be based in the EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio at UC San Diego.

“Most people have a friend or family member who can take anything apart, make some small adjustments and put it back together so that it works even better than in the beginning. This reverse engineering is a perfect example of a systematic approach to solving a problem and it’s an incredibly valuable and teachable skill,” said Jesse DeWald, director of the EnVison Arts and Engineering Maker Studio at UC San Diego. “These are the kinds of skills that will set you up for success throughout your life, whether in good technical jobs that you can get right out of high school or in engineering courses in college.”

By the end of the first year, hundreds of high school students will benefit from a cohort of up to 40 teachers taking part in the program. Within the initial three-year phase, a total of 2,000 high school students are expected to take part in this dynamic change in instruction.

Abeyta and Jesse Dewald will be joined by assistant dean of ECO Morgan Appel and senior program manager for ECO Maysoon Lehmeidi Dong from UC San Diego Extension; Curt Schurgers, faculty member from electrical engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering, and a new R&D engineer and a curriculum specialist to spearhead the execution of this project.

This generous gift from Buzz Woolley contributes to the Campaign for UC San Diego—a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022. To learn more, visit


Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering