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Women's soccer team on the field

Sports as Safe Haven 

Professor Jenni Sorkin and Cheri Owen help student-athletes

As a UC Santa Barbara professor in the Department of the History of Art & Architecture, Jenni is committed to furthering women in the academy, including sports. Her wife, Cheri, is a former powerlifter and strongwoman competitor who grew up playing basketball. The endowed scholarships they have created in support of UCSB Athletics will help student-athletes compete while balancing rigorous academic work. 

“I end up with a lot of athletes in my classes, especially in my lower-division survey courses,” said Jenni. “Those large classes can be a student’s first humanities course, and the student-athletes must manage their time in a different and more intense way because they travel and compete.”

Philanthropy helps student-athletes be their best selves in the classroom and on the field of play. It can also provide structure and direction, and that support system is important to Jenni and Cheri.

“I grew up in foster homes, and sports was a way for me to function in an unknown world,” said Cheri. “When there are so many unknowns in society, a lot of kids can count on sports.”

Cheri continues to find a safe haven in UCSB Athletics. 

“Being blind, I can listen to games: I don’t have to see them,” said Cheri. “When I show up to a game with my guide dog, I know people are there for me, people I trust. I want UC Santa Barbara to know that what they do in the present is valued for the future.”

Jenni and Cheri want to help all student-athletes excel, especially women and competitors in underfunded sports. Their two future endowment funds, created through a bequest in their estate plans, will support UC Santa Barbara student-athletes with the greatest financial need, focusing on women’s cross-country, women’s tennis, softball, women’s soccer, and women’s aquatic sports. 

The couple is familiar with the dilemma busy student-athletes can face: working part-time jobs while studying hard, sometimes in living situations that aren’t conducive to success. To these student-athletes, donor support is an opportunity to focus on what matters most.

“We are so honored by the legacy that Cheri and Jenni will be leaving at UCSB Athletics,” said John McCutcheon, director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “This planned gift commitment that will live on in perpetuity through endowed scholarship support will change the lives of so many future Gauchos and will have an immeasurable positive impact on young women for years to come.” 

“We’re going to be at UC Santa Barbara for a really long time, and we’ve received so much from this community,” said Cheri. “We want to give back to the culture of sports and to education.”