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Michael Matkin: Staff

Graduate Institution: Indiana University Bloomington, Writing, MFA

Department: UC Santa Cruz CITRIS and the Banatao Institute

Michael Matkin

“The thing that I love the most about being a part of this community is getting to work with such an incredibly diverse range of topics and researchers.”

Michael Matkin has been a Baskin Engineering staff member since 2018. As executive director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS), he helps develop and carry out multi-campus and UC Santa Cruz-specific programming that supports CITRIS’s mission of leveraging high-impact research and technological innovation to solve the most pressing challenges of our time. Most recently, he helped found the CITRIS Initiative on Drone Education and Research (CIDER) Drone Pilot Training Program, a two-quarter extracurricular program that aims to prepare the next generation of drone pilots. 

Describe your role as the UCSC CITRIS Executive Director.

I work with the broad CITRIS team, which spans across four UC campuses (UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis), to develop new campus-specific programs and to help run CITRIS’s multi-campus programs. Some of the programs that we have started here are the UCSC Campus Seed Funding program, the CIDER program, and the Tech For Social Good program, which funds undergrad, grad, and postdoc student projects that are in line with the CITRIS mission of creating technology to solve significant societal challenges. We just selected five new teams for funding. There are some really interesting projects in the mix this year, including a student team that is exploring ways to turn prickly pear cacti into solar panels. 

What brought you to the Baskin School of Engineering?

My background is in freelance journalism covering tech. After some time, I made a detour into the public relations industry. I became the Chief Operating Officer for a small public relations agency that worked with technology and healthcare companies. Then, once I left that agency, I came back to the West Coast. I’m originally from Vancouver, Canada. One of the main reasons I came to Santa Cruz is because the surf is so good. Both my wife and I love to surf. I initially started working with Professor Ricardo Sanfelice at the Cyber-Physical Systems Research Center (CPRSC), and shortly after that, the opportunity to step into the CITRIS role came up, and was a perfect fit. I’ve been at UC Santa Cruz for about five years now. 

What’s your favorite thing about being a part of the Baskin Engineering community?

The thing that I love the most about being a part of this community is getting to work with such an incredibly diverse range of topics and researchers. All of the CITRIS projects are very significant and have the potential to change the way we live our lives. Also, being able to work with students is equally exciting. The ability to move between these different communities of brilliant people and help support the work they’re doing is really rewarding.

What are a couple projects that you’re currently working on?

One project I’m working on is called the Central Coast Flight Information Exchange (FIX). This project is based off of work that the state of Virginia did in developing a low altitude flight information management tool. Drones and urban air mobility flights fly in altitudes lower than most FAA regulated airspace, so we need to find a way to manage that, especially as the FAA is looking to the individual states to manage this. There are currently a lot of companies that are coming up with different tools to solve this problem. The Central Coast FIX project, which will enable people to fly drones safely while abiding by all regulations, differs from the work of these private companies because it’s committed to keeping the data publicly owned, which would allow it to be available for public access and research. 

Another project I’m working on is the relaunch of an incubator program called the CITRIS Foundry. In collaboration with the new CITRIS Foundry director, I’m recruiting a new cohort of both faculty and student startups. We’re really excited to get this program up and running again, and having a virtual model allows more teams on campus to join. Prior to the pandemic, teams would have to travel up to the Berkeley campus once a week. 

What’s one thing you would like to tell members of the UCSC community about CITRIS and its programs?

Because we’re based in Baskin Engineering and our focus is on technology, a lot of people assume that our work is only for engineers. Our goal is to support and fund multidisciplinary work, and many of our programs represent that. The CIDER pilot training program is a great model for this as our newest cohort brings together more than 20 students from a diverse range of majors across campus. The more diverse, the greater impact we’re going to make. 

Interview Date: January 10, 2022

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