I look forward to the Alumni Center as the place where Tritons will return—after we all return…”

A longtime alumni leader reflects on the postponement of the Alumni Center.

Sheldon Engelhorn ’72
Sheldon Engelhorn ’72

I’ve been retired for some time now, so the pandemic’s impact on my life is not as profound as it is for those in the midst of a career or raising a young family. I’m very grateful that my wife, adult children, and their children are all healthy. Our two sons are in jobs considered essential and can work within social distancing requirements; one of our daughters did front office work in a small manufacturing company that has suspended operations for now, while our other daughter and her husband own a small catering company — that’s on hold, and event catering is certain to recover late in the reopening of commerce. We are fortunate to be in a position to help them bridge the gap, should they need it, but some of their employees face real difficulties meeting basic needs, with no back-up available to meet them.

This last point, driven by the pandemic, brings into stark relief an issue that needs a serious national dialogue and effort to mitigate. Far too many people in this wealthy country are already insecure in meeting basic human needs. And we’re about to see a dramatic rise in the number of people who will find themselves in that position. We can, and must, do better than just getting “back to normal.” What that will look like in the details of economic policy, I don’t know — but I’m certain that it starts with compassion.

As alumni, we have a natural role to play in this larger endeavor. UC San Diego, along with the entire UC system, made a commitment to give all qualified undergraduate applicants access to the university, regardless of financial status. 38% of undergraduates admitted to UC San Diego in 2019 are first-generation college attendees, and coming from an underserved community or being the first student in a family to graduate from college has a powerful positive effect on the family and their community. At a great university like ours, engaged alumni provide a key support system for succeeding generations of students of every background. Mentorship, career guidance, financial support, employment opportunities, and networking are among the things we can help provide. And engaging with these bright students is always a very gratifying experience.

Over the years that I’ve been on the Alumni Board, I seen major growth in our campus leadership’s investment in alumni engagement. Chancellor Khosla is a firm believer that engaged alumni are key to UC San Diego’s sustained excellence. We’ve long desired a dedicated Alumni Center to raise the profile of alumni to the campus, and the campus to alumni. To that end, the centerpiece of the forthcoming Triton Pavilion plan is to be an iconic Alumni Center building. I was asked to represent the alumni perspective on the Pavilion building advisory board — it was a fascinating recursive exercise, matching purpose to outcome on all facets: form, function, aesthetics, cost, value, and so many other factors that go into a project of this scale.  

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 shutdown will delay this project, but not too long, I hope. I do believe that it will provide the creative intersection to make a true center for the campus. And I still look forward to the Alumni Center as the place where Tritons will return — after we all return — to make a difference in the lives of students, and make the better world we are all now waiting for. 


Sheldon Engelhorn ’72 was a biology major at Revelle College. He held a variety of positions in various life science companies before he and Richard Chan ’74 co-founded the research tools company NOVEX in 1987. In 2000, the company merged with InVitrogen, which became part of Thermo Fisher. Now retired, Engelhorn remains an avid surfer and proud Triton, as a member of the UC San Diego Alumni Board of Directors.  

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