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A student sitting outside in the sun writing in their notebook.

Authenticity and Inspiration

Trustee Elizabeth Gabler ’77 amplifies student voices

The Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program unites two campus opportunities thanks to a generous gift from UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee Elizabeth Gabler ’77 and her husband, Lee – two media industry leaders who believe in the power of storytelling. In the UCSB Writing Program, students study and practice writing in academic, civic, and professional contexts. The Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program tailors this experience for Promise Scholars, high-achieving students from low-income families who receive complete, up-front, multi-year support.

The goal of the yearlong Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program is to provide writing instruction and mentorship to small groups of Promise Scholars in their sophomore year, a crucial time as they move from lower- to upper-division courses. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program supported nine undergraduates who worked in small groups. Their collective portfolio includes picture books, profiles, a travelogue, a musical theater website, poetry, journalism, interviews, and film analysis.

"I applied to the Gabler program because I consider myself a storyteller, and I believe that everyone has a story that deserves to be told,” said Promise Scholar Katherine Swartz ’21, a third-year global studies and film and media studies double major who hopes to be a documentary producer. For her project, she reported a piece on the experience of international students during COVID-19.

"What you've really uncovered is resilience and courage, and stories like the ones in your project should be told,” Elizabeth told Katherine during a presentation of student work.

Elizabeth is a UC Santa Barbara alumna whose degree in English led to a successful career adapting media based on books. Throughout her career as longtime president of Fox 2000 and current president of 3000 Pictures, Elizabeth has overseen the production of movies including “Life of Pi,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and “Hidden Figures.”

The presentations illustrated the bond shared by the community of writers and their mentors.

"There's this beautiful theme running through everyone's presentations today around the value of everyone's stories and the possibilities of writing when we can dream about what kind of writing we would do if we could do anything,” said mentor Vickie Vértiz, a Writing Program lecturer.

Promise Scholar Abigail Morales ’21 dreamed about understanding what drove activists to better their communities. Abigail applied her background in sociology to interview three student activists. She discovered a common thread: each activist sought to recreate for others the acceptance and validation they experienced.

“I want to say thank you for the opportunity to explore my writing outside of academia," said Abigail. "It's something that I didn't think I would be able to do and it definitely inspires me to continue this type of personal writing.”

As a writer and alumna, Elizabeth feels a strong connection to the Promise Scholars.

“I am overwhelmed and touched and grateful that I, as a UC Santa Barbara graduate, am able to give back to all of you and help you in any way that I could,” Elizabeth told students.

A Spotlight on Student Work

Promise Scholar Bryan Zuniga ’21 wrote this poem, “Summer of ’04,” as part of the Gabler Promise Scholars Writing Program. Bryan’s project is a public journal called
Project Zuniga: Powered by Authenticity and Inspiration.

The knob on the swamp cooler was a faint orange.
The rust knew no boundaries,
Carrying familiarity with all of us.
Walking with a bag of bolis,
My mom closed the door behind her,
The light of the kitchen outlined the grease on the skin
That laid just beneath her eyes,
She glowed.
How could I forget these days?
Kinfolk was all we needed to get by.
Joints acted as the scented candles of which the grown folk lit.
The cooler wasn't for the kids either.
We ran senseless anyways.
The grill would be the most active.