A passion for forging connections

“Community,” “intentionality” and “support” are the keywords Alece Alderson uses to describe her approach to supporting students at UCSF. As assistant vice chancellor of student life, she serves students in all professional schools, including the graduate division, with a robust array of programs and resources to promote their academic, personal and professional success.   

“In higher education, many people’s primary approach is to provide a strong infrastructure of resources and support services. I agree that's important, but infrastructure alone cannot create a sense of community,” she says. “Navigating graduate school or a rigorous professional degree program can be isolating and knowing that there is a community that supports one another is everything. I focus on providing intentional connections.”

Alece builds these connections by taking the time to speak with students individually to learn about their backgrounds, challenges and goals. She uses this knowledge to introduce like-minded students to each other, pair them with mentors, and develop programs that address specific needs of both the individual students and their larger communities. 

Meeting — and celebrating — students where they are

Some of Alece’s team’s efforts are more general, such as providing networking opportunities and help seeking out financial support. “Getting an advanced degree is expensive, and if there is any way we can provide scholarships, it lessens the financial burden on students and allows them to focus more on their studies,” Alece says. But she has also developed unique programs that combine multiple aims with great success.  

One example is a recently launched First Gen Scholarship, which recognizes 20 students who actively contribute to the first-gen community at UCSF. Awardees received $3,000 to support their inspiring educational goals, which reflect an array of strategies to promote health equity and education in underserved populations, as well as to support future generations of their peers. To select awardees, Alece’s team reached out to first-gen UCSF alumni and asked them to review the applications. “The scholarship created partnerships across our campus and brought together our alumni. I’m looking forward to its growth in the upcoming years and to seeing the positive impacts it will have on students,” says Alece.

Supporting the military-affiliated and first-gen communities is a point of pride and one of Alece’s favorite aspects of her job. She is impressed by these students’ generosity and compassion. “Many of our first-gen students will go back to the communities they grew up in to become health care providers. In our military-affiliated community, leadership is highly valued, and these students often go over and above when it comes to helping everyone around them. We need more First Gen and military-affiliated students at the UCs and we need to create more opportunities for them to thrive.”

Meet Alece

Name: Alece Alderson

Title: Assistant Vice Chancellor

Department/Unit: Student Life

Location: University of California, San Francisco 

When did you start working for UC? May 2017

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Elevate greatness around me. 

Why do you love working for UC? I first came to UCSF to support first-gen students, and to this day they keep me energized. The students' energy, determination, innovation, passion and enthusiasm drive me to think constantly about how we can better support them. I also feel fortunate to work with so many talented colleagues who are truly invested in our community. We are all highly collaborative, and our ability to enact change quickly and develop programs and services in response to students' needs is extremely rewarding.

What's something people don't know about you? Those who are close to me know I’m a cycologist — I love to cycle! I'm a little obsessed with Strava (an app for runners and cyclists) and pushing the limits on the weekends. Cycling brings balance to my life and provides me with an outlet to clear my head after a long week. It’s the one thing that’s remained normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I get out on my bike almost every day.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? I would like to have a dinner party seven years from now with some of my first-gen students to see where they are in life. I think we would have a lot to laugh and cry about and celebrate together. I would also like my family to attend so that they could see the other half of my life, when I’m not at home with them. My worlds don't easily collide, but bringing everyone together to share a meal would be a great way to bridge them.

What's the best career advice you've ever received? To embrace failure. I can’t remember who taught me this approach years ago, but I frame it as “FAIL = First. Attempt. In. Learning.” And, as one of my mentors in grad school used to say, “If we learn from our mistakes, why are we so afraid to make them?” I try to avoid slip-ups, but if they do occur, I find that when I view them through this mindset, I become an even fiercer advocate for the people and students I serve.