Community Studies

Community Studies major Crystal Centeno on field study at Esperanza Community Housing in Los Angeles.


Founded in 1969, community studies was a national pioneer in the field of experiential education, and its community-focused learning model has been copied widely by other colleges and universities. Community studies was also a pioneer in addressing principles of social justice, specifically inequities arising from race, class, and gender dynamics in society.

The major offers students the opportunity to combine on- and off-campus learning. On campus, students complete topical courses and a core curriculum enabling them to identify, analyze, and help construct sites for social justice movements, nonprofit sector advocacy, public policy making, and social enterprise. Off campus, students spend six months participating in and analyzing the work of a social justice organization. This intensive immersion is a distinguishing feature of the community studies major.

With the guidance of faculty and staff advisers, community studies students choose field placements related to the program’s areas of focus: health justice and economic justice. Past placements have included community health clinics, food justice organizations, immigrant rights centers, homeless resource and support groups, queer and transgender organizations, civil rights advocates, legal clinics, labor unions, HIV/AIDS organizations, and housing rights advocates: all pursuing a social justice mission. 

Degrees Offered

  • B.A.

Study and Research Opportunities

  • B.A. in community studies
  • Each student in the B.A. program builds a curriculum around a six-month field study with a social justice organization, including core curriculum courses in preparation for field study (before) and theory and analysis of field materials (after).

Information for First-Year Students (Freshmen)

High school students who plan to major in community studies at UC Santa Cruz should complete courses required for UC admission. Prospective majors are encouraged to become involved in their own communities, for example through neighborhood, church, or school-based projects. 

Information for Transfers

The community studies major easily accommodates students transferring to UCSC during the fall quarter.  Transfer students should complete general education requirements before arriving. Those planning the community studies major will find it useful to obtain a background in politics, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, or community action. Transfer students interested in the major should meet with the Commun­ity Studies student advisor as early as possible to develop their academic plan of study incorporating topical courses and the core curriculum

Transfer course agreements and articulation between the University of California and California community colleges can be accessed on the ASSIST web site.


  • Community development
  • Affordable housing
  • Community organizing
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Journalism
  • Labor organizing
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Mental health
  • Non-profit advocacy
  • Nursing
  • Public administration
  • Public health
  • Social enterpreneurship
  • Social work
  • Sociology
  • Urban planning


A field study resource office is available to assist students in selecting an appropriate organization. The Field Study Office provides logistical and academic support during the field study, while also functioning as a liaison among students, faculty, and host organizations. A field study database and senior thesis database are available for students’ research. A student lounge accommodates informal meetings.

Awards, Honors, and Recognitions

Program faculty Mary Beth Pudup and Andrea Steiner have each been recognized with the campus’s highest accolade for teaching, the Faculty Senate’s Excellence in Teaching Award. In addition, Andrea Steiner received the Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Division of Social Sciences. The teaching and research of the program’s affiliate faculty has also been recognized by numerous on- and off-campus awards.

Alumni Focus

Alumni have an exceptional presence in the non-profit sector as Executive Directors and senior program managers, and have founded leading social justice organizations, including Global Exchange in San Francisco (Kirsten Moller, ‘78); Salud Para La Gente in Watsonville (Barbara Garcia, ‘84); Pie Ranch in San Mateo County (Jared Lawson, ‘92); Youth Movement Records in Oakland (Christopher Wiltsee ‘95); Global Youth Assembly in Sebastopol (Lucas Oshun, ‘07); PASO Internacional in Bogota, Columbia (Nathan Miller, ‘11).

Department Website

General Catalog Information

  • Community Studies 10, Introduction to Community Activism. Offered fall quarter only.
  • Community Studies 101, Communities, Social Movements and the Third Sector. Offered winter quarter only.
  • Community Studies 102, Preparation for Field Studies. Offered spring quarter only.
  • Community Studies 198, Independent Field Study. Six courses taken over consecutive summer/fall quarters.
  • Community Studies 194, Analysis of Field Materials. Offered winter quarter only, after completion of field study.

In addition to the sequential core curriculum, students must successfully complete three topical courses to develop expertise in their social justice focus before going on field study. We encourage students to take as many topical courses as possible.  

Each student fulfills a senior capstone requirement by completing a senior essay or a senior thesis; exceptional students may fulfill the capstone by offering a student-directed seminar.

More Information

Community Studies Program
213 Oakes College
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
Verónica López-Durán
(831) 459-2371