When students from the College of Creative Studies were invited to assist a soundcheck at an Andrew Bird concert, CCS interim dean Kathleen Foltz attributed the opportunity to the college’s doctrine of “learning by doing.”
Today, as the college celebrates its 50th anniversary, Foltz says that principle has not changed.
CCS was founded by English professor Marvin Mudrick in 1967 in an attempt to create a place where students can “take risks and go outside their comfort zone,” Foltz said.
Mudrick, who entered college at the age of 15, proposed the idea of a separate college at UC Santa Barbara for students who demonstrated talent for “original” work in art or science, according to the CCS website.
“Late 1960s was a time of experimentation in general, and the UC was investigating new models of education,” Foltz said.
CCS was one of several planned undergraduate colleges at UCSB, but Bruce Tiffney, professor of plant paleobiology and former CCS dean, said the university never created the other colleges after former California Governor Ronald Reagan cut the University of California budget in 1967.
The college is especially proud of its alumni achievements, such as when CCS biology alumna Carol Greider won a Nobel Prize in 2009, Foltz said.
Greider, along with molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and Harvard geneticist Jack Szostak, earned a Nobel Prize for their research in the duplication of chromosomes during cell division, according to the official Nobel Prize website.
Over the last 50 years, Tiffney says, the college has changed its curriculum to match UCSB’s other academic departments.
“CCS was intended as a college for highly motivated students, who would create their own curriculum,” Tiffney said. “Over time it has evolved from this 1960s approach to become a partner with departments across campus.”
In 2014, CCS froze admissions for the literature major to realign its curriculum with the English department at UCSB. The college reopened admissions in 2015 and the major was renamed “writing and literature.”
Foltz said, however, the college has not strayed from its original purpose: to provide a hands-on education for motivated students.
She said the college would like to add new majors to the current eight available but said the college does not plan to increase its number of students. She added that the college is currently reviewing a proposal to add a marine science major.
There are currently about 400 students in CCS and over 20,000 total undergraduate students at UCSB.
CCS students are rewarded in units instead of grades and do not have the option to take courses for pass or fail. Foltz said the system works because most students take their core introductory classes in CCS and then take their other courses through the other departments at UCSB.
“If an arts student is interested in physics, they can take it within CCS without the risk of damaging their GPA,” Foltz said.
Anoop Praturu, a third-year CCS physics major, said the college is “conducive for people to work together and collaborate.” He said the college fosters the idea of working together instead of competing.
Foltz says CCS draws in students who have a “strong sense” of the disciplines they want to master.
“There is a lot of pressure since the students have to commit to and immerse in a discipline right away, even though they can still explore,” she said. “We are working on ways to make sure any student feels like this can be an option for them.”
Tiffney said while CCS has gained a reputation for being a “college for geniuses” among students or potential students, he sees the college as a place for intelligent students to collaborate and share knowledge.
“It is not ‘the college for geniuses,’ as I have heard some say, but rather the college for highly focused, passionate students, students who are ‘super nerds,’ ” Tiffney added.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, CCS will be hosting a variety of events throughout this school year that are open to the public, including workshops with alumni in the fall, an alumni career panel in the winter and a CCS original musical in the spring.