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Former dean dies in apparent suicide

University of California Santa Cruz chancellor Denice Denton fell to her death on Saturday in an apparent suicide.

Before she assumed her position in California, Denton served as the UW's first female dean of the College of Engineering. She was the first woman to head an engineering department at a large research institution.

"Dr. Denton was committed to engineering students and to helping underrepresented groups in engineering," said Mani Soma, the department's acting dean. "Everyone here was deeply saddened when we heard the news."

Denton apparently jumped from the 43rd floor of a luxury apartment building in San Francisco, Calif. Some colleagues feel the stress and scrutiny she endured at UC-Santa Cruz may have prompted her to take her own life.

Denton's mother, Carolyn Mabee, was at the apartment complex at the time of her daughter's death. According to the Associated Press, she told investigators Denton was "very depressed" over issues surrounding her job.

The San Francisco Chronicle and other California media outlets scrutinized spending policies at the University of California for months before Denton passed away. Denton herself came under fire for requesting $600,000 worth of renovations to her campus home and for creating a $192,000-per-year position at the University for her partner, Gretchen Kalonji.

Faculty and administrators remember her as a visionary who changed the way undergraduate engineering students are taught. In 2001 the College of Engineering was ranked 31st in U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Graduate Schools rankings. By 2005, when she left for Santa Cruz, it was ranked 25th.

Other universities are now working to emulate the changes Denton made to the engineering school. Undergraduate education has historically taken a back seat to research at university engineering departments, but Denton urged professors in the school to analyze and refine their methods for teaching undergraduates.

"She felt that engineering and science education should be accessible to everyone," said Cynthia Atman, the director of the University's Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT). Denton helped establish CELT in 1998 and recruited Atman from the University of Pittsburgh to administer it. CELT now conducts its research in tandem with similar programs at Stanford, the University of Wisconsin and other major engineering schools.

"She had an amazing ability to connect with people on all levels," Atman said. "She could run a board meeting with corporate CEOs and walk out the door and talk with a freshman struggling with calculus and explain to them what engineering means to the world."

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