La Jolla Heroines: Mary Walshok built on her relationships to thrive as an “Academic Entrepreneur”


Much of La Jolla’s early advances were driven by prolific philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. But many more women followed who became major benefactors of La Jolla. This new series from the Light highlights local women who have worked for decades to advance the development of La Jolla and its surroundings.

Mary Walshok, who describes herself as an “academic entrepreneur,” has had an interest in human resource development and regional economic growth for decades, and has built her success on the relationships she has built.

Despite living in Del Mar, she says that she actually spent more hours in La Jolla. She retired in June after 40 years as dean of the UC San Diego Extension, a program that under her leadership has expanded to currently 80,000 annual participants in more than 4,400 courses. UCSD Extension offers continuing education, certificate and degree related programs and community initiatives.

Walshok’s dean’s office also marked the start of UCSD-TV, which 35 years later is “the most watched university channel on Google and YouTube,” she said. Several programs have also been launched, including the San Diego Dialogue, a public policy research center for binational issues in the region.

Walshok answered questions about their success and what’s next for the community:

Q. What did you talk about UCSD Extension? Discuss your efforts there.

A. “Primary and advanced training schools across the country made it easier for women to return to work for the first time [into the workforce] – women who did not graduate because they might have married and started a family, [or] Women who have made careers [then] stayed at home. I was hired to focus on programs aimed at this generation of women returning to school or returning to work.

“I fell completely in love with it. … I developed a whole kind of curriculum to enable bright, ambitious women to return to work or school. “

When she took over the Dean’s office, then-Chancellor of UCSD Richard Atkinson asked, “Why aren’t we doing more training for engineers and business leaders and managers?” Said Walshok. “He set an agenda for how important enlargement would be for the regional economy.”

In the past five years, with the support of the current Federal Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, we have “put a lot of energy into building pipeline programs for children of the first generation and underrepresented children,” said Walshok. “I feel like I’m retired and have left an extraordinary platform on which all kinds of programs and new opportunities can be built.”

Q. What contributed to your success in promoting the reach of UCSD in La Jolla and beyond?

A. “I really want to underline the importance of my friendships and professional relationships with women. When I got my Ph.D. Program, there just weren’t that many lawyers, doctors [or] Women received their PhDs in the 1960s. We all knew each other somehow.

“I was also connected to a group of women who were involved in the arts, youth social utilities, and advocacy for foster children who were really smart and energetic. These friendships … really gave me the confidence and connections.

“I met many important men in San Diego through the network of aspiring power women in which I became a part. … what got me the job [as Extension dean] is that I knew so many people and so much about the local economy and the aspirations of many citizen leaders. I learned all of this through women. “

In addition, “UCSD was able to recognize and use talented women for professional roles in extension”.

Mary Walshok presents the Philanthropy in Peacemaking Award to longtime Ombudsman Malin Burnham in 2019.

Mary Walshok, then Dean of the UC San Diego Extension, presented longtime citizen leader Malin Burnham with the National Conflict Resolution Center’s Philanthropy in Peacemaking Award in 2019.


Q. What is your advice to the next generation of women leaders?

A. “Reputation exceeds position. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, if I just get this position … people will respect me and work with me.’

“You have to earn respect, partnerships and support by doing a good job. Even if I “only” spent my life as dean of enlargement … my reputation, regionally, nationally and internationally, is much greater because from this position in this very entrepreneurial environment it was possible to do unique things in order to be unique create value that deserves respect.

“The second thing I would say is, relationships are everything. Everyone has something of value to share. The wider your network of relationships, the more advantages you can use as a person and as a manager.

“The third is, I want to make a distinction [between] Mentors and sponsors. Atkinson was a role model, but he was also a sponsor. He had me represent him at meetings, he invited me to take part in discussions about the future of the university. And that is sponsorship. He increased my skills and my reputation.

“It’s okay to have mentors, but you need to be in tune with people … who enjoy your success, not just use you for their success.”

Q. What do residents have to consider? What are you worried about?

A. “I think my generation and tribe, the academic community, are too preoccupied with technical solutions to problems that have a deep social and cultural component.

“I believe that the paradox of UCSD in this very well educated community is that we think, ‘Well, science and technology is there; it’s obvious, ”but we haven’t done enough to understand that a Muslim, Catholic, or Lutheran can approach problems in a different way. I also think that in our passion for environmental protection, climate change and sustainability we are sometimes insensitive to the negative consequences for poorer and working people.

“That worries me a lot because I care about the environment. Equitable health care is important to me, and equality, diversity and inclusion are certainly important to me. Sometimes at university we think, ‘Oh, we just invite them to campus and they fall in love with us.’ I think maybe the campus has to go where the people are, embed itself in the community. “

Q. Talk about your next project for UCSD, the new facility in downtown San Diego. What do you like about it?

A. “It’s in Park and Market, on the tram line. [Its] The mission is to connect the university in all its dimensions with the community in all its diversity, so that conversations and mutual understanding can arise.

“That means that we – the university and our faculty – have to learn as much from the community as the community has to learn from us. and [this building] … will be a place where conversations and experiences are shared rather than separated and hopefully create more common ground in terms of implementing social change.

“In a way, this center can model this more integrated, cultural and societal society that we will need if we want to apply all of these technical and scientific solutions in everyday life.”

Q. What do you want your legacy to be?

A. “I want my legacy to be that I have been respected as a link and bridge builder in multiple communities. Because I believe that through connections and bridging, people can find common ground and develop respect for one another. ”◆

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