Meet Kathryn Uhrich, the dean of UCR’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
By Kris Lovekin
Kathryn Uhrich started as the dean of UCR’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences on Jan. 1. Her research links chemistry with life sciences and engineering to create new materials and devices to improve human health. An entrepreneur with 70 U.S. and international patents, Uhrich looks back at her first six months on campus.
How did you first get interested in science?
My mom tells a story of how I took the vacuum cleaner apart and put it back together. I was always asking, “How does this work?” In high school, my chemistry teacher told us that there was a summer research opportunity at the Human Nutrition Laboratory in Grand Forks, North Dakota (my hometown). I got the job, which was to prepare a diet for rats, and look for the interaction of cysteine, vanadium, and iron. I was a 16-year-old girl who had no idea what science really was — and I totally dug it.
What about your current research?
My recent research has been focused on biodegradable polymers or plastics for human use, replacing tissue and bone, and for drug delivery in the body. In the past few years, those same concepts morphed into biodegradable food wraps and plastics that do not harm the environment.
What drew you to UCR?
I was a teacher, researcher, and administrator at Rutgers University for 20 years and was very happy, but I wanted to contribute more. I had been following Kim Wilcox’s career, and his vision for UCR really resonated with me. I had worked with vice chancellor for research Michael Pazzani, who asked me to consider UCR. Like a lot of UCR students, I’m the first person in my family to go to college, which was made possible through Pell grants. I felt a close connection to UCR’s mission and became really excited to work with the administration and faculty to drive college access and promote excellence.
What are some highlights of your first months on campus?
The biggest highlight has been learning about UCR. Meetings with the dedicated staff, enthusiastic students, energetic faculty, visionary administrators, and passionate alumni have confirmed that UCR is the place. An outcome of these meetings was a decision to move our dean’s office from the edge of campus to the center of campus. As a dean, my job is to serve the faculty, so we should be where they are. A seemingly strange highlight was brainstorming with faculty about our strengths and weaknesses. One of my goals was to create a strategic plan for fundraising, but before one can ask for support, one needs to have a great story to tell and find the right people to tell that story to. From those brainstorming meetings, I learned so much about CNAS. For example, we are the only college in the United States that spans all sciences — from statistics to particle physics to monitoring air quality, or from genes to plant biology to growing lemons.
What are some of your goals for the future of CNAS?
I want to better trumpet our successes. Our faculty here deserve even more accolades on the national and international stage. This means working to nominate faculty for awards, international committees, and grants. Relatedly, we should enhance our research funding from government agencies, like NIH, as well as our corporate partners. Getting research and teaching dollars is another type of accolade from our peers. A third goal is to increase our college’s geographical inclusivity. I really look forward to enriching our students’ educational experience by ensuring a rich diversity of backgrounds.