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Mary Walshok

UCSD Extension dean stresses importance of collaboration in lifelong learning

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Mary Walshok loves initiating a link among different sectors of the San Diego community -- from education to the work force to new companies.

“What I am most proud of in terms of the work I do is looking at how research, economic development and work force development intersect,” said Walshok, dean of UCSD Extension and associate vice chancellor of public programs. “And everything I’ve done in life is about connecting the dots -- making sure research creates companies, making sure companies create jobs, then making sure people are qualified for the new jobs that companies are creating. That’s what my life’s work is about.”

With close to a thousand industry advisers helping to build the curriculum, UCSD Extension is itself creating that connection between workers and companies, which Walshok sees as increasingly important. In fact, Walshok recently co-authored a book to be released in January, Closing America’s Job Gap, written for both employees and employers that discusses the increasing importance of all parties investing in -- and collaborating around -- lifelong learning.

“We have 54,000 enrollments annually, and that’s growing about 5 percent per year because people like you and me need this. It’s a very interesting world we’re in, and traditional educators don’t always appreciate the idea of ‘never stop learning.’”

Walshok’s interest in bringing groups together goes back 25 years, when she was one of the co-founders of UCSD CONNECT, which has come to be regarded as one the top programs globally that joins entrepreneurs with potential resources. And Walshok continues this connect-the-dots approach in her day-to-day duties at UCSD Extension. During the past year, especially, UCSD Extension has been able to create new classes to help ameliorate some of the effects of the market downturn.

“As an extension service, we can respond to things quickly and can get new education programs out to people very fast and thereby help people get new jobs -- and keep the jobs they have,” Walshok said. “We’re good in a crisis because we’re nimble and we know everybody, so we can get advice on what programs to create and also help grads find the right jobs in both high-tech and in the more mainstream economy.”

Walshok believes the key to San Diego’s further growth and market success is continuing to focus on the common ground of industry and continuing education, of which she sees UCSD Extension remaining a big part.

“I believe the future of San Diego is continuing to innovate in new product areas, in building new science and tech companies, in creating new jobs, and then in having a work force with the capability to do those jobs because of organizations like Extension to train and re-train,” she said. “You’ve got to have all those characteristics to make a good economy, and I like to think I have been part of creating that capacity in San Diego.”


Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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