Few among even the
most fervent followers of UC San Diego
Athletics would know that one of the most important members of the Triton
Athletic staff actually works in the UCSD Chemistry Department. Dr. Cliff
Kubiak, part of the faculty at UCSD since 1998 and Chairman of the Department
of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 2002-06, is UCSD's Faculty Athletic
Representative (FAR). In that role, he serves as the primary liaison between
the athletic program and the faculty. A graduate of Brown University with a
Ph.D. from University of Rochester, Kubiak has done some of his most
significant work in the field of renewable energy, especially converting
atmospheric carbon dioxide back to liquid fuel. He has been UCSD's FAR since
2007. "Cliff has a valued role in our department with his oversight of academic
integrity, his relationships with faculty on campus and the leadership he's
provided in our conference," said UCSD's Director of Athletics Earl W. Edwards.
"From a personal perspective, I consider him a good friend and colleague and
hope he'll be with us for a long time." Kubiak took time recently to discuss
the responsibilities of his position and share his views on the unique athletic
environment at UC San Diego.
Q: What type of
experiences did you have with UC San Diego student-athletes prior to accepting
your current position?
KUBIAK: I have
taught General Chemistry, CHEM 6C at UCSD since 1999, and over the years I got
to know many student-athletes who were taking the course. This got my
attention, because before I came to UCSD, I was on the faculty at Purdue University
for 16 years, and I can only recall one student-athlete who took my general
chemistry course there over the many years that I taught there.
At UCSD, I got to know some of the student-athletes because
they came to speak to me about the need for excused absences from classes or
exams that conflicted with scheduled competitions. I was reluctant to grant
"special consideration" to the student-athletes. However, as I got to know them
better as students, I couldn't help but notice how well many were doing (CHEM
6C has never been regarded as an easy class). Aware of their dual roles as
athletes and scholars, I became impressed by how well many student- athletes
managed their time. Several student-athletes became so interested in chemistry
that they came to work as undergraduate researchers in my laboratory.
One of my CHEM 6C student-athletes published two research
articles in prestigious chemistry journals based on research that she did in my
laboratory while she was carrying a 3.95 GPA, and playing goalie on the women's
soccer team. She went on to graduate from UCSD's Medical School,
and is now a resident at the University of Arizona Medical School. Another of
my CHEM 6C student athletes also published two research articles based on his
independent research in my laboratory. He was a two-time Sports Illustrated
All-American in high school water polo, and competed on the UCSD water polo team.
He was recently awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry from MIT.
These and other experiences with UCSD student-athletes
really made an impression on me, and when the Chancellor asked me first to
serve on Athletics, Recreation, Sports Facilities Advisory Board (ARSFAB), and
then to become the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR), I was happy to get
involved with the broader issues of the student-athlete experience at UCSD. I
do believe that the student-athlete experience here is special.
Q: What has surprised
you most about the UCSD Athletic Department since becoming the Faculty Athletic
KUBIAK: I wasn't
exactly "surprised," I just did not know before how extensive and professional
the coaching and support staff was in areas like strength and conditioning,
nutrition, recognizing and treating sports injuries. A significant part of
every Coaches' Meeting is devoted to the preparedness and physical well-being
of student-athletes. The sophistication of trainers and coaches in this area is
very impressive. You can easily see from the way our student-athletes interact
with the trainers, strength and conditioning, and athletic performance staff,
how highly they are regarded.
Q: What are the most
difficult and gratifying aspects of the job?
KUBIAK: Some of
the most difficult parts of the job come with responsibilities associated with
our athletic conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA).
As UCSD's FAR, I participate on the CCAA Executive Council with the Directors
of Athletics, Associate Athletics Directors or Senior Woman Administrators, and
FARs from the other 11 institutions in our
conference. This involves a significant amount of committee work.
I am currently on the conference's Eligibility Committee. This
committee reviews all eligibility waivers, which can be based on circumstances
related to personal hardship, medical condition or injury, or intra-conference
transfer. Some of these waiver appeals can be gut-wrenching. It is just awful
to see how many unhappy situations can come raining down on young people, if you
sample a large population. Other waivers can be quite tricky to interpret. Overall,
I view this as one of the harder parts of the job.
The most gratifying part of the job is to enjoy the success
of student-athletes at UCSD in academics and athletics. It is a very good
feeling to be a faculty member at an institution where we have so many
outstanding student-athletes who can compete in intercollegiate athletics while
maintaining amazing academic records in very demanding majors. It makes me grin
to think of student-athletes who were named All-Americans, who also hold 3.9
GPAs, and were on record saying that their favorite course at UCSD was organic
Q: For some time now,
UC San Diego student-athletes, as a group, have a cumulative GPA higher than
the student body at-large. Why does that happen?
KUBIAK: It is
true that UCSD student-athletes on average maintain a higher cumulative GPA
than the general student population. I think that there are several reasons for
Firstly, time management is so important. It is impossible
to be a student and an athlete and not be forced to learn how to manage your
Secondly, responding to failure. If you lose a game or a
race, you respond by training harder and preparing yourself mentally to compete
and win next time. That formula works very well in academics too.
Thirdly, maybe it's too obvious, but teamwork is the way
that big problems are often solved in business, and even in scientific
research. Big problems in science, like developing renewable energy sources,
require cross disciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, and public policy
experts, who can all work together. This is usually much easier said than done.
Lastly, learning to take care of your body, through
exercise, diet, and understanding the effects of the substances you may take,
is a good investment. Taking care of yourself is important for both physical
and mental well being.
Q: What is the most
common misconception that you feel outsiders have about collegiate athletic programs
in general, UC San Diego in particular?
KUBIAK: It seems
that the perception that many people have of collegiate athletic programs is
that they involve (more or less in this order): football, basketball, baseball,
and track & field. The second perception is that if you are really good in
one of these sports, and have a respectable GPA, your school will probably
advertise that fact on television. Many outsiders seem surprised that we have
an athletics program. We are usually the third school with "San Diego" in its name to be mentioned in the
However, we have a large athletic program with 19 teams:
baseball, softball, men's golf and men's and women's basketball, crew, cross country,
fencing, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball and water
polo. Many of our student-athletes have better-than-respectable GPAs. Our
student-athletes are admitted under the same admission guidelines as the
general student population. I think these are things we should advertise on
television. This is who we are, and it is distinctly different from typical
collegiate athletics programs.
Q: As mentioned, you
represent UCSD at the conference and NCAA level. What types of issues do you
deal with there? Do you have any interesting insights you can share?
KUBIAK: Lots. I
am part of the university's voting delegation at the NCAA Convention and we
will vote our positions on legislation that will come before the Division II
legislative session. Some of the issues this year involve amateurism, financial
donations from outside organizations, eligibility of foreign exchange students
and recruiting calendars.
A lot of business comes before the three CCAA conference
meetings each year, as well. There are many sports specific issues that come
from meetings of the coaches, competitive safeguards, community engagement,
academic requirements, budgets, championships, marketing the conference and
team travel arrangements for a conference that stretches from Arcata (Humboldt State)
to San Diego.
Q: Have you observed
anything watching the UCSD coaching staff that you can apply to the chemistry
KUBIAK: I think
that the next time I teach CHEM 6C, I'm going to use a whistle.
Q: What are your
favorite sports to play and watch? Why?
KUBIAK: I like to
play squash. I have played since college, and still enjoy it. RIMAC has two
very nice squash courts. I like to watch football. It is not a sport we have at
UCSD, but I still like to watch. This year I attended the Cal-Maryland game in Berkeley, and the Notre
game in South Bend.
Q: Is there a
particular sport you've become more interested in since becoming UCSD's FAR?
KUBIAK: Of the
sports played at UCSD, women's basketball is my favorite, because the way it is
played is all about fundamentals. It's believable. Men's basketball is exciting
to watch, but a lot of the plays are unbelievable, at least for me.
Q: What do you
consider the biggest challenge going forward for UCSD Intercollegiate
KUBIAK: The biggest
challenge will be to grow our athletics department to a point where we compete
with similar schools and keep high levels of academic excellence among our
student-athletes. The level of competition in our Division II conference is
certainly higher than when we were an NCAA Division III school, but as the only
UC in our athletic conference, it is hard to create the types of rivalries that
get students excited on other campuses.
I once heard an NCAA official say matter-of-factly that all
top 25 research universities were NCAA Division I. Naturally, I corrected her. However,
if we do grow in that direction, there will be costs. Financial costs are borne
by our students. UCSD's athletic program is nearly fully-funded by student
fees. As for costs to the scholar-athlete environment that we have established
at UCSD, that is something that we have to consider very, very carefully.
Previous Q & A Articles
Chelsea Carlisle (Women's Basketball) December 9, 2009
Carianne Cunningham (Women's Swimming) November 23, 2009
Elena Inouye (Cross Country) November 6, 2009
David Morton (Men's Water Polo) October 28, 2009
Juan Pablo Carillo (Men's Swimming) October 19, 2009
Sara Spaventa (Women's Soccer) October 10, 2009
Karen Reis (Women's Volleyball) October 2, 2009
Daniel Pavitt (Men's Soccer) September 23, 2009
Daniel Anderson (Cross Country) September 11, 2009
Peter Gresham (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2009
Alexia Zatarain (Women's Soccer) August 24, 2009
Elaine Chen (Women's Volleyball) August 12, 2009
Jared Kukura (Men's Soccer) July 30, 2009
Dawn Lee (Former Women's Soccer Standout) July 8, 2009
Rob Mamula (Director of Athletic Performance) June 18, 2009
Garrett Imeson (Baseball) June 8, 2009
Leon Baham (Men's Track & Field) May 21, 2009
Kristyn Lesovsky (Softball) May 8, 2009
Kazumi Negishi (Men's Tennis) May 5, 2009
Laiah Blue (Women's Track & Field) April 16, 2009
Ryan Andre (Men's Crew) April 2, 2009
Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009
Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009
Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009
Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009
A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009
Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009
Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009
Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009
Kendall Bohn (Women's Swimming) December 22, 2008
Kelvin Kim (Men's Basketball) December 15, 2008
Michelle Osier (Women's Basketball) December 5, 2008
Sylvia Schmidt (Women's Volleyball) November 7, 2008
Denny Harper (Men's Water Polo Head Coach) October 17, 2008
Ron Larsen (USA Volleyball Assistant Coach) October 13, 2008
Jessica McGovern (Women's Soccer) October 6, 2008
Bre Schofield (Cross Country) September 26, 2008
Tony Fernandez (Men's Soccer) September 18,2008
Kimberly Carpenter (Women's Volleyball) September 12, 2008
A.J. Kotanjian (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2008
Peter Akman (Men's Soccer) August 21, 2008
Natasha Belak-Berger (Women's Soccer) August 15, 2008
Jake LaVieux (Men's Cross Country) August 8, 2008
Dr. Penny Rue (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs) July 30, 2008
Michelle Torres (Women's Volleyball) July 15, 2008
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer Head Coach) July 1, 2008
Julie Ertel (Athletics) June 16, 2008
Clint Allard (Men's Basketball) June 9, 2008
Jen Myers (Women's Crew) May 27, 2008
Casey Ryan (Men's Track and Field and Men's Basketball) May 21, 2008