Education in Aggie Square

Carolyn Thomas, vice provost and dean for undergraduate education.
Carolyn Thomas, vice provost and dean for undergraduate education.

What might a “Quarter at Aggie Square” look like for UC Davis students? That’s a question that Carolyn Thomas recently discussed.

Thomas, the vice provost and dean for undergraduate education, leads UC Davis’ efforts to design and implement the Quarter at Aggie Square program for undergraduates.

Her first task: Oversee a competitive process that awards planning grants for the most promising ideas.

As civic and business leaders in Sacramento focus on Aggie Square’s potential as an economic engine, UC Davis faculty and administrators also see opportunities to advance the university’s educational mission. Thomas is challenging faculty to develop ideas which take advantage of this new environment.

Faculty members have responded with novel, interdisciplinary approaches that combine classroom teaching with internships, service opportunities and other partnerships. Thomas is particularly excited that they incorporate the best features of the Sacramento campus and the surrounding community.

“UC Davis has two campuses, but we usually only think about one,” Thomas explains. “The key to what makes UC Davis such an amazing research institution is our health campus in Sacramento, but it can take a lot of time for our Davis students to find a way to do research there.”

So far, Thomas has reviewed a wide range of proposals. Some take cues from existing collaborations, like bringing biomedical engineering students to the medical campus to teach them about product innovation. Some want to forge new partnerships, like connecting students in the School of Education with teachers and administrators in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Still others bring faculty from different areas of campus to focus on emerging issues — for example, faculty from science and technology studies, biological sciences, and religious studies might join forces to examine health equity in a large and diverse urban environment.

These proposals also integrate internship opportunities during the quarter, so students can share and compare their experiences with their colleagues and professors as they learn. 

Thomas reports students who have reviewed the proposals share her excitement. “They are saying, ‘If I can do this while completing my degree on time, and get the practical skills I need to get a job, I’m IN.’ They see it as a value-add,” she says. “It’s what education should be — combining the practical with big ideas.”

While Aggie Square construction won’t start until the middle of 2021, Quarter at Aggie Square won’t wait. The program will utilize existing space on the Sacramento campus and is on target to begin in Fall 2020. Thomas will issue another call for proposals to faculty in October; those with questions should contact her via email at