Deadwood native reflects on journey to top spot at UC Santa Cruz

Cynthia Larive, of Deadwood, was named University of California Santa Cruz’s 11th chancellor. Courtesy photo 

DEADWOOD – As UC Santa Cruz Magazine put it, Cynthia Larive, University of California (UC) Santa Cruz’s 11th chancellor, has gone from Deadwood to the redwoods.

Starting work as UC Santa Cruz’s top administrator July 1, 2019, Larive grew up in Deadwood and blazed a career path as a distinguished chemist, provost, and executive vice chancellor at UC Riverside, and now, a chancellorship.

Larive said her Deadwood upbringing helped her achieve the great success she enjoys today.

“I met and married my husband Jim Larive in Deadwood. This year we celebrated 40 years of marriage – everything we have done has been as a team,” Larive said. “I also learned a lot growing up in the Hills about the value of community, being good neighbors and pitching in to help each other out, and from my parents Fritz and Gladys Teupel about the importance of hard work, grit and honesty. I have held those values dear throughout my life.” 

So, science and chancellorship. How do the two go together?

“As I scientist I learned how to collaborate with others to address big challenges, skills I use every day as chancellor,” Larive said.

And others agree. She’s good at this stuff.

As Riverside’s provost Larive is credited with bringing two Nobel laureates to the faculty, improving overall diversity, and strengthening UCR’s commitment to shared governance.

UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox praised Larive’s strategic vision, creativity, and exceptional collaborative abilities.

“She understands chemistry — both literally, as an accomplished bioanalytical chemist and metaphorically, as a leader of campus culture,” Wicox said. “Her thoughtful, gracious, authentic brand of leadership has been a distinguishing feature across her many roles at UC Riverside.”

Larive said that while some of her favorite memories of Deadwood include participating in the Days of ’76 parade and rodeo as a member of the Deadwood City Band, she is so proud of the work being done at UC Santa Cruz, the beauty of that area reminding her a lot of her Black Hills roots.

“We were recognized as the No. 2 university in the country by a new US News and World Report ranking for our contributions to social mobility for enrolling and graduating students from the lowest income families,” said Larive, a first-generation college graduate who came from a poor, rural background. “Last year UC Santa Cruz graduated more Pell grant recipients than Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Princeton and Yale combined. And in recognition of our research impact, UC Santa Cruz was elected this fall to the Association of American Universities (AAU) – a group of 65 top research universities in the US and Canada. Santa Cruz is also a very beautiful place and a great community. The natural beauty of the campus reminds me a lot of the Black Hills: trees, deer and wild turkey, and we are on the Monterey Bay.”

So what sparked an interest in science, a strong foundation that has served to propel Larive to the top? 

“Growing up in the post-Sputnik era, there was a national message to young people that science and technology were important for our country, and that we should aspire to these fields,” Larive recalled. “My mother especially encouraged me and I had many good teachers, who supported my curiosity. As a child, one year I got a chemistry set for Christmas that I particularly enjoyed and that sparked my early interest in chemistry. I also learned a lot through 4-H projects and competitions.”

That said, the greatest scientific example or marvel in the Lead-Deadwood area, according to Larive?

“Definitely the Sanford Underground Research Facility,” she said. “I was Homestake surface tour guide in high school and got to take an underground tour of the mine where we saw the neutrino experiment. The chemist who led that project, Ray Davis, was a visionary person. It is so great that work continues.”

Although it has been awhile since Larive has been back to the Hills, she hopes to visit family in the area soon, including her brother John Teupel and husband Jim’s sister Sandy Christianson, who still live in the Hills along with their niece and nephew and their families and several cousins.

Larive attended college at South Dakota State University in the late 1970s and went on to earn a master’s degree from Purdue University in 1982 and a doctorate from UC Riverside.

After obtaining her doctorate at UC Riverside in 1982, she went on to build a name for herself at the University of Kansas with a strong publication record in her filed. In 2005, she started work as a bioanalytical chemistry professor at UC Riverside.

Initially, her work as an administrator was not a matter of choice, as in 2012, it was her turn to become the chair of her department, a role she initially took on with reluctance, but one that revealed a latent talent for leadership.

After moving through a series of leadership positions, Larive took the position of provost and executive vice chancellor at UC Riverside in 2017, shepherding the institution through a tough time.

Asked to describe her communication style, Larive said, “I don’t know if I have a style. I just try to be transparent and authentic.”

And, as evidenced in her seemingly unorthodox and highly accomplished career path, a message to students who may say, “I’m never going to use science. Why do I have to learn this stuff?”

“Science is a way of knowing, of answering questions and solving problems,” Larive said. “The skills that you develop in science classes to ask questions and design experiments to answer them are translatable to most careers and to solving problems in daily life.” 

Additionally, Larive offered several resources for young women interested in attaining her career level in STEM or other administrative areas.

“STEM fields can be very enjoyable and rewarding careers,” she said. “Because there is strong evidence that more diverse teams are also more effective, employers strive to increase the diversity of their workforce. If young women do not have STEM role models immediately available, they should look to the internet and especially to professional societies like the Association for Women in Science (AWIS, www.awis.org) the Society for Women Engineers (SWE, swe.org) and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS, https://www.sacnas.org/). These websites also provide career information for students considering these fields.”

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