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UC San Diego Response to Pandemic Recognized with National Award

UC San Diego student retrieving a COVID test from a campus vending machine

Over a dozen vending machines were installed across the campus to enable students, faculty and staff to retrieve self-administered COVID-19 tests.

The University of California San Diego has received the 2021 American Council of Education/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation. The campus was recognized for its science-based, real-time approach to maintaining a low infection rate among students, faculty and staff on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“UC San Diego is honored to be recognized by the American Council of Education for the transformative impact of our innovations in managing COVID-19 both on our campus and in our community,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Our collaborative Return to Learn strategy was made possible by the breadth and depth of our faculty’s expertise in immunology, microbiology, public health and our data science. Our instinct to openly share this successful strategy with other organizations is rooted in our vision to be a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public university.”

The ACE/Fidelity Investments Award was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period. It includes a $10,000 prize.

UC San Diego installed several large tents to hold classes outdoors.

Six large outdoor classrooms were installed on campus to enable physically-distanced learning within a well-ventilated space. An additional six outdoor study spaces were also created where students could gather to study.

Like every other university, organization and business last year, UC San Diego was faced with the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Through its transformative, adaptive and multilayered Return to Learn plan, the university was able to bring students back to campus in a safe and strategic manner. The plan was guided by three pillars: risk mitigation, virus detection and intervention. The university engaged students early in the planning process. The three-pronged approach, adaptive nature of the plan, and frequent and transparent communication combined to keep positive case rates low compared to regional and national case rates. UC San Diego maintained a median campus-wide infection positivity rate of 0.28 percent throughout the fall 2020 quarter, while San Diego County’s median was 8.1 percent.

UC San Diego increased the number of students returning to campus each subsequent quarter throughout the 2020-2021 academic year and plans to return to full, on-campus operations in the fall. The Return to Learn plan has served as a model of best practices for other institutions and K-12 school systems regionally and nationally.

ACE invited nominations and applications for the award from any U.S. college or university eligible for ACE membership, divided into two categories, the first for institutions with student populations of 12,001 and more, and the second for institutions with student populations of up to 12,000. Davenport University, Michigan’s second-largest, private, non-profit university, won in the latter category.

“UC San Diego and Davenport University are exemplars of innovation and resilience, and their commitment to their students’ success shines through their accomplishments,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “These awards are well-deserved.”

“The past year has presented new challenges in higher education. UC San Diego and Davenport University found creative and productive ways to respond and lead their institutions forward,” said Debra Frey, head of Analytics and Marketing for Tax-Exempt Solutions, Fidelity Investments. “We are pleased to recognize their accomplishments, and we are honored to present them with this year’s award.”

A video celebrating the award recipients is available on the ACE website.


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