Spencer Yost: Paying It Forward
As head of the anesthesia department at the University of California, San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital, Spencer Yost, ’76, spends his days putting people to sleep. It seems worlds away from his undergraduate days at CNR, but science is an enduring link.
Yost has a busy practice providing anesthesia for patients having oncological surgery, and is also the director of Mt. Zion’s intensive care unit. He met his pre-med requirements by taking the science and math classes he enjoyed, but CNR’s flexible majors at the time allowed him to follow other interests, including the environment.
“I took a lot of political economy of natural resources classes. I learned a lot about the environmental laws that were just coming into the books in the ’70s,” he says. He wanted as broad an experience as possible.
And he got it. He calls Cal an “eye-opening experience” for a kid from Downey, Calif. — “right on the edge of the Orange Curtain,” he said, referring to Orange County’s famous conservative bent. Yost earned a degree in Conservation of Natural Resources. Through a Cal in Sacramento fellowship, he worked on a new task force on geothermal energy, and later, a Cal in the Capital internship took him to Washington, D.C., where his cadre of interns helped a local congressman get language banning polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.
Ultimately Yost chose medicine over environmental law, but joining the new CNR Alumni Association Board of Directors was a natural way to stay connected to the lifelong values that sprouted here. In 2011, Yost capped off three years of service to the board with a $25,000 donation to establish the new CNR Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship Fund for students with financial needs.
Yost sees a connection between helping patients and helping students. “It’s person-to-person activism,” he says. “I really like taking care of people one on one.” He likens helping a patient through a critical or stressful medical situation to the direct impact that scholarship money has on the life of a student struggling to afford the college education that Yost paid $212.75 per quarter for.
“I see it as just providing a little more freedom. One less student loan … so they can pursue their true passion.” With today’s huge financial obligations pressing down on students, he says, choices narrow. “You’ll take the thing that will pay off the most, rather than what you really want to do.”
His hope is that the money will help awardees follow what they are really passionate about. “I just got a great education and I want to help others do the same.”