Olivia Graeve '95, Jacobs School of Engineering

The Professor

Olivia Graeve ’95

Olivia Graeve works with extremes—extreme temperatures, pressures, even acidic or radioactive conditions. A professor at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, while also seeking manufacturing processes that are faster and more cost-effective.

Graeve grew up in Tijuana, and when she transferred to UC San Diego as a sophomore to study structural engineering, she found herself entering another extreme—a field of science largely dominated by men. Among only a handful of women as an undergraduate researcher, Graeve found a tremendous amount of support in her professor, Joanna McKittrick. “The experience put me on an excellent path, seeing firsthand what it takes to run a research laboratory,” she says. Now as a professor herself, Graeve mentors underrepresented students and leads outreach programs on both sides of the border. “When you’re the only one, you become a representative for your community,” she says.

Graeve went coast to coast for her graduate work as well as early faculty positions, but ultimately she felt the need to bring her impact back to where she came from. “The opportunity to serve my alma mater and the region in which I grew up is something that is very important to me,” she says. “Coming back to UC San Diego was coming home—who would not want to be home?”

As far as serving her region, Graeve is founder and director of the CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials & Systems, which partners with 19 institutions on both sides of the border to give next-generation global scientists and engineers the cultural understanding needed to serve the CaliBaja region, home to 6.5 million people. Graeve hopes it will inspire more students in Tijuana to consider UC San Diego for their education, just as she did.

“The CaliBaja Center is a great experiment that is going to define the educational opportunities for students in our region, which is our home,” says Graeve. “We are one; we are a community; we have common goals. And we should never lose sight of that.”