Welcoming Karen Nielson, Our New Disability Resource Center Director

It is with tremendous excitement that we introduce the newest member of our Student Success and Equity team: Karen Nielson. Yesterday, Karen began her tenure as the director of our Disability Resource Center.

Karen comes to us from UC Berkeley. There she served as the executive director of the Disabled Student’s Program and Disability Cultural Center from July 2016 until her start at UC Santa Cruz yesterday. In the six years she worked at Berkeley she accomplished a great deal and left a tremendous legacy. Amongst a lengthy list of achievements, she was notably instrumental in securing a new building for the Disabled Student’s Program and $11 million in funding to renovate the building to make it accessible and highly functional, expanding critical services for neurodivergent students, and securing funding for several key positions to better support the Disability Student Program population. In her time as executive director, Berkeley’s Disabled Student Program population grew from 1,500 students to almost 5,000 students. Karen’s transformational and forward-thinking leadership was essential to ensuring the university was situated to aptly support all students amidst this rapid population growth.

Beyond Berkeley, Karen has served a number of institutions in varying capacities. Over the years, she’s been a legal services staff attorney, adjunct instructor, chair and associate professor for Ivy Tech Community College’s Criminal Justice department, Disability Resource Center director at Purdue University, and occupational skills training director and corrections education interim director at Portland Community College.

Karen’s educational background is as impressive as her portfolio of accomplishments and experience. She holds a bachelor of science in social work from Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA). She earned a master of social work from University of Connecticut Graduate School of Social Work and, one year later, completed the dual degree program when she earned her juris doctor from University of Connecticut’s School of Law.

It’s impossible to overstate just how lucky we feel to have Karen joining us! We are excited about all she will bring to UC Santa Cruz, DSAS, SSE, and the students we serve. We look forward to her leadership and all she will help us accomplish in support of our student success and equity work. With Karen’s guidance, we can improve the student experience, increase retention, and grow students’ sense of belonging at UC Santa Cruz.

Please help us in offering Karen a warm Banana Slug welcome!



Ebonée Williams, Ph.D.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Success and Equity