Education Icon Research Icon Students Icon Community Icon General Support Icon Gift Cart Icon
Skip to main content
The Washington Monument with cherry blossoms in the foreground.

Practical Idealists

Two professors, one marriage, and over 25 years of support for UCDC

While Professor Lorraine McDonnell was the on-campus director for the University of California’s Washington Center (UCDC), she would send a spreadsheet of accepted students to the Office of Financial Aid each quarter. In return, she would receive the staggering figure of unmet financial need for those students.That resource gap stuck with McDonnell after she stepped down as director. It moved her and her late husband, Professor Stephen Weatherford, to support scholarships for students to live, work, and learn in the nation’s capital.

UCDC is a multi-campus residential, instructional, and research center that provides students and faculty from nine UC campuses with experiences in Washington, D.C. UCDC changes lives through internships and transformative instruction. Just blocks from the White House and Capitol Hill, participants live and breathe the energy of the city while supporting public service missions valuable to our global community.

The program was a philanthropic match for Weatherford and McDonnell, political science professors who met in 1971 as teaching assistants at Stanford. They married in Stanford’s Memorial Church in 1973 and would be close companions and colleagues for 48 years, until Weatherford passed away in January 2022.

“UCDC was an integral part of our life for so long,” said McDonnell. “This program is essential to the university and an important route to public service,” said Weatherford in 2016. “We witness many positive changes in the students’ maturity, objectivity, and wisdom, as well as the ability to identify problems and create solutions.”

After receiving their doctorates, McDonnell moved to Santa Monica to become a policy researcher at RAND, and Weatherford became a professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara. They reunited in 1991 when McDonnell also joined UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Political Science. McDonnell’s research focused on the design and implementation of K-12 education policies and their effects on school practice. She noticed that first-generation students often experienced an awakening in her courses.

“Students would come to me and say, I just realized that my school didn’t have a lot of resources compared to the one across town,” said McDonnell. McDonnell and Weatherford would go on to support UCDC for over 25 years. Together, they launched the first donor supported funds for UCDC, both current and endowment.

McDonnell and Weatherford traveled to Washington frequently for meetings and research. When they were in Washington at the same time, they would invite UCDC students and alumni for Sunday brunch or dinner. On one of these occasions, a former student pointed around the table and noted, ‘Professor McDonnell, we’ve got it covered. We have the environment, health, education, and housing.’ These were all alumni who had stayed in Washington after participating in the UCDC program.

“We could see the impact,” said McDonnell. Through scholarship support, McDonnell continues the couple’s influence on future researchers, policymakers, and public leaders. Paola Estrada ’22 interned for Congressman Salud Carbajal in fall 2021.

“I am grateful to have experienced an internship like this, and I would not have been able to do so without this scholarship. It gave me the opportunity to work in a field I have spent so long preparing for academically. I hope I’ll be returning to Washington soon,” said Paola.

“The success of the Capital Internship Program would be nowhere near as incredible as it is without Lorraine. She and Stephen have provided gifts of encouragement and capital, which have helped our students’ academic dreams come alive and allowed us to increase and fill UC Santa Barbara’s capacity at UCDC. We are beyond grateful for the abundance of support Lorraine continues to offer,” said Dr. Juan Campo, faculty director, EAP & Capitol Internships.

McDonnell calls UC Santa Barbara a community with a shared purpose to help students thrive. One place where that happens is UCDC. “Some students are policy wonks. Some enter the field because of their experience as youth. But what most students who choose public service careers have in common is their strong sense of practical idealism,” said McDonnell.