By Stephanie Stevens
When you speak with Mary Walshok about her work, she will tell you one of the things she loves most about her job is that it changes every decade she's at UC San Diego. Her path to the university began with giving a groundbreaking keynote speech at a conference on the changing role of women at the Nixon White House, La Casa Pacifica, in San Clemente in 1972. Afterward, both the event and her speech made the front page of the Los Angeles Times.
"I'm of that generation of women in American society who benefited when closed doors began to open," she notes.
That year was an important turning point in the Women's Movement. Title IX had just passed, and there was a surge in the creation of organizations for women by women. There was also a surge of growth of women in the workplace (from 18.4 million in 1950 to 73.5 million in 2015) and in academia. The number of women between 25-34 who earned a bachelor's degree dramatically increased from 3.8% in 1940 to 35.3% in 2018. The landscape of the American workplace – and educational institutions – was changing rapidly.
After hearing her speak, a colleague of her husband's suggested she would be a good fit for a new position with UCSD Extension, serving as the Director of Women's Studies. She got the job and quickly established herself as an authority on the status of women in the workforce, writing her first book on the integration of women into blue-collar jobs while working with organizations like General Motors Corporation, the San Diego Police Department and the U.S. Navy.
She also served as director of UCSD Extension's arts and science programs, as assistant dean for academic programs, and as director of a project on working women that was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1980, she replaced Martin Chamberlain, Extension's founding dean, and began her four-decade tenure leading UC San Diego Extension. She stepped away from the Dean's office in 2021 but has continued her work with the university by establishing the programming and groundwork for the new Park & Market location.
What's made Walshok successful throughout her career is her ability to see potential. When she came to San Diego, it was a quiet military town known for the San Diego Zoo and not much else. In her years at the helm of Extension, she has helped UC San Diego develop a national reputation for excellence and innovation by forging one of the nation's first startup accelerators, CONNECT, with entrepreneur William W. Otterson in 1985.
Mary Walshok has cultivated an impressive list of professional accomplishments, authoring six books, more than 100 articles, reports, and contributing book chapters on regional innovation, workforce development and the role of research institutions in regional economies. As an industrial social scientist, she has consistently focused on regional economic development and transformation. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Kellogg Foundation's Leadership Fellowship, and was inducted into Sweden's Royal Order of the Polar Star.
Today, her focus is still on re-thinking how we value work and sees possibility in every industry. When considering the need for talent, she notes that we should consider not only science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) positions – classic white-collar jobs – but also celebrate and create blue-collar jobs. The key is in doing so, she says, is by way of HEART: Hands-on learning, Engaging challenges, Applied projects, Relevant experiences, and Training programs.
Nearly five decades later, she continues to lead through innovation, offering both a powerful example of how women lead successfully and how to keep continuing education relevant in a rapidly-changing world.
Sociologist sees region assuming 21st century "smart city" mantle - San Diego Union-Tribune
Four Staff Members Recognized for 40 Years of Service as part of Awards Ceremony - UC San Diego News
UC San Diego Extension: Lifelong Learning Fulfills Educator's Vision - Voice of San Diego
Dr. Mary L. Walshok named dean of University Extension - UC San Diego Library
San Diego Technology Archive: Mary Walshok – June 13, 2014 - UC San Diego Library