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In memoriam: microbiologist and educator Cota-Robles

Eugene Cota-Robles, a nationally prominent microbiologist, leader in higher education who held top administrative posts at UCOP and UC Santa Cruz, and an advocate on behalf of minority students, died Sept. 12 in Naperville, Ill. He was 86.

Cota-Robles will be remembered at UCOP, where, from 1986 to 1991, he served as special assistant for academic affairs. He oversaw and coordinated UC’s affirmative action policies and programs for faculty development and graduate and professional students. He also coordinated UC’s faculty-based efforts to improve K–12 education, particularly in matters of teacher education. In recognition of his contributions toward advancing minority achievement, the UC Regents named the Eugene H. Cota-Robles Fellowships for graduate students in his honor.

Prior to that, he served on both the administration and faculty at UC Santa Cruz, where he was vice chancellor of academic administration from 1973 to 1979 as well as a professor of biology and director of affirmative action. He had previously been chair of the Department of Microbiology at Pennsylvania State University and taught at UC Riverside and served in its administration.

“Gene’s legacy in affirmative action at UC Santa Cruz is legendary,” said Chancellor George Blumenthal. “He wanted to create opportunities and open doors for students and faculty, and he had enormous influence here, throughout the UC system, and nationally.”

Cota-Robles also served as a member of the National Science Board and on the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He was a founding member of both the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the National Chicano Council on Higher Education. He also served on the board of the California Achievement Council and of MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), a UC program aimed at encouraging minority students to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Born in Nogales, Ariz., in 1926, Cota-Robles spent his childhood in Tucson. His parents had been elementary school teachers in Pueblo Nuevo, Sonora, before leaving Mexico for Arizona. Cota-Robles earned a B.S. in bacteriology from the University of Arizona and his M.A. and Ph.D. in microbiology from UC Davis. His research in microbiology focused primarily on nitrogen-fixing bacteria, microbial cell structure and the replication of viruses within bacterial cells. He also enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving as a signalman aboard the U.S.S. Baltimore in the Pacific.

Cota-Robles is survived by his wife of 55 years, Gun Cota-Robles of Naperville, Ill.; his children Erik Cota-Robles of Mountain View, Calif., and Feliciana Farran of Naperville, Ill.; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service celebrating Eugene Cota-Robles’s life will be held at UC Santa Cruz on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. Please contact for details.

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