Cynthia Larive got her doctorate from UC Riverside in 1992. This year she will replace George Blumenthal as UCSC chancellor. Photo by Yvonne Gonzalez.

When she was 9 years old, Cynthia, or Cindy, Larive got her first chemistry set for Christmas. She ended up setting her bedspread on fire, but that gift led her on a journey to becoming UC Santa Cruz’s next chancellor. 

After her first chemistry set, Larive went on to get a doctorate in chemistry from UC Riverside, teach at the University of Kansas and become the chemistry department dean at UCR in 2012. She serves as UCR’s campus provost and executive vice chancellor.

“I avoided [administration] for a very long time,” Larive said, “but then became department chair at Riverside in 2012 and then found out that I actually liked being able to help solve problems and make good things happen.”

The UC regents approved Larive as the next chancellor on May 16, ending an almost year-long search led by UC President Janet Napolitano. Larive will receive a base salary of $425,000 — a $7,000 increase from Chancellor Blumenthal’s base salary. 

In the fall, UCSC students demonstrated at a chancellor search committee meeting demanding the next chancellor be one who listens to student organizations and increases support for underrepresented students. Larive intends to be the chancellor students asked for.

“I see that Chancellor Blumenthal has done great work in diversifying the faculty and the student body,” Larive said, “but I think there’s much more that we can do there.” 

Larive was a first-generation undergraduate student and entered her doctorate program with two kids. She plans to cater to the needs of students like her, recognizing that nontraditional students and transfers have different needs from those who enter as freshmen. She also wants to support student research and extracurricular activities because being involved in hands-on learning was important to her college career. 

In her vice chancellorship at UCR, Larive helped increase graduation rates by 20 percent in 10 years through a task force. As chancellor at UCSC, she hopes to support students so they can stay in college.

“My goal would be to meet often with  students and to hear from you,” Larive said. “[…] It’s sometimes simplest to listen to people in smaller groups, so I hope to be able to seek out students where they are and be able to have listening opportunities.”

Larive wants to take input from students while she’s adjusting to her new role, though she recognizes she won’t be able to please everyone with solutions that are also simple and affordable.

“I hope that in the first year, I can have people feel that they trust me, and that I am transparent and committed to the success of everybody on the campus. That’s students, faculty and staff,” Larive said. “After that, I think we’ll together set goals for the university.”