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Fall 2013

INSIDE: What you need to know about CLIMATE CHANGE Having Coffee with PROFESSOR MICHAEL SPIVEY SIERRA VIEWS – a look at UC Merced research in the mountains




Fall 2013





Leadership Perspectives with Chancellor Dorothy Leland



Donor Spotlight The Wallace family is leaving a lasting legacy on our campus

Admissions data 8 IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

A recap of our latest news stories and videos 10 SHELF LIFE

14 18

The Matter of Drones Go inside the MESA Lab as researchers take drone technology into the private sector

A listing of recent faculty publications 12 HAVING COFFEE

with cognitive science Professor Michael Spivey 17 FACULTY FINDINGS

California and Climate Change How our state and our campus are searching for answers

See the top five research grants from each of our schools 26 ALUMNI CORNER


Sierra Views UC Merced research in the Sierra Nevada

Catch up with what UC Merced alumni have been up to as entrepreneurs 27 SPORTS UPDATE


Our World A peek into UC Merced research that has gone global

Several new teams are hitting the courts and fields this year 28 WHAT’S NEW

A glimpse of how our campus is growing


Student Brendan Smith is one of the MESA Lab researchers working on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.



Letter from University Communications Welcome to the first issue of UC Merced Magazine!



Lorena Anderson

We’re so proud of developments and achievements at our campus. We thought this would be a good way to share our news with you.


n thinking about how best to serve you, we decided each issue’s two main stories – this time on climate change and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones – will be written by professional journalists, who offer a fresh perspective and an objective eye that will give you a well-rounded look at big topics. But our staff has been working hard, too, bringing you up-close looks at campus research with international reach; a donor spotlight highlighting the Wallace family, longtime campus benefactors; a peek at what’s going on at our research stations in the Sierra Nevada; a coffee chat with Professor Michael Spivey, who recently

returned from an important cognitive-science convention in Germany; gorgeous pictures of our growing campus; and much, much more. UC Merced Magazine will be distributed each fall and spring, and we hope you look forward to getting your next copy. In the meantime, please explore these highlights of what UC Merced has to offer, and anytime you want to know more, visit us on the web at or in person! We welcome your feedback on this issue. Please email the editor at ucmercedmagazine@

Senior Public Information Representative University Communications PHOTOGRAPHY

Elena Zhukova Veronica Adrover ILLUSTRATION

Gail Benedict PUBLISHED BY

University Communications UCMERCED LEADERSHIP

Dorothy Leland UC Merced Chancellor

Thomas Peterson Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Kyle Hoffman Vice Chancellor Development and Alumni Relations

Patti Waid Assistant Vice Chancellor University Communications

Cori Lucero


Executive Director Governmental and Community Relations







this fall, up from 5,760 a year ago. After evaluating a record application pool of more than 18,000, UC Merced enrolled 1,757 new undergraduate students for the 2013 fall semester — reflecting immense demand for a UC Merced education.



Students continue to come from a wide variety of backgrounds and regions. About 37 percent of all undergraduate students are from the Central Valley, 34 percent from the greater Los


Angeles area and 27 percent from the Central Coast and San Francisco Bay Area. UC Merced leads the UC system in the percentage of students from underrepresented ethnic groups, low-income families and families whose parents did not attend college.


Total enrollment is 6,195 students



Natural Sciences


Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts












Asian/Pacific Islander





Native American

< 1%







Nonresident Alien




Two or More Races




Unknown/Declined to State









Asian/Pacific Islander






Native American

< 1%







Nonresident Alien




Two or More Races




Unknown/Declined to State




leadership perspectives with


Dorothy Leland


Each issue, we will feature a Q&A with campus leaders to give our readers extra insight into the operations of UC Merced, leadership’s plans and the future of the campus. This time, Chancellor Dorothy Leland talks about what it has taken for the campus to reach this point, the 2020 Project, enrollment and more.

UC Merced is well into its ninth year as the newest campus in the UC system and the first ever in the San Joaquin Valley. Many people said it couldn’t be done in a Valley setting – and certainly the state’s prolonged economic struggles haven’t helped. Yet here you are, a thriving research university with more than 6,000 students and a beautiful campus widely recognized as one of the greenest in the country. How have you managed to get to this point in the face of such difficult circumstances?

A There are dozens of factors and thousands of people whose efforts have turned the impossible into the inevitable, but it really comes down to three things — the worthiness of the mission, the commitment of strong-willed people and the support of the community. Bringing UC-caliber research and educational opportunity to the Valley simply makes sense. California cannot return to prosperity if much of its population is left behind. A rising San Joaquin Valley is vital to the state’s long-term health. Strong research programs addressing the Valley’s most pressing issues, coupled with a better-educated workforce and education are the necessary catalysts. Our mission here is exactly right for the times, and that has created a strong foundation for success. Dedicated, deeply committed people have also been essential. Faculty and staff members who work here understand the importance of our mission and feel compelled to be part of it. We simply could not have made it without their steely resolve and problem-solving skills. Finally, the support we’ve derived from the community that welcomed us here means everything. This community fought for us long before the campus had a name or a location. The relationship offers extraordinary two-way benefits and will only get stronger as the campus grows.

Q Student applications to UC Merced last fall grew at nearly double the rate for the UC system as a whole, with strong demand from all over the state. What does UC Merced offer that makes it an increasingly attractive choice to today’s aspiring young scholars?

A UC Merced represents excellence in the great UC tradition, but in a different kind of environment that students help define and lead. Our small size provides opportunities for contribution and personal growth that simply don’t exist on larger campuses. The diversity and widely varied backgrounds of our student body are also strong attractions. Students from all over California see in us a reflection of themselves and the future of our state. They feel welcome here, and they quickly come to realize they can pursue their dreams as freely and openly as they wish.



Q The downside of strong demand is the inability to add physical capacity fast enough to keep pace. The “2020 Project” was your creative response to this dilemma. Where does this initiative stand today?

A Modifications to our Long-Range Development Plan were approved by the UC Board of Regents in May. The changes allow us to add capacity on campus more rapidly and cost-effectively than initially planned. We’ll build new facilities in clusters, rather than individually, and on a smaller footprint, which will eliminate many of the infrastructure costs inherent in our earlier plans. In addition, we’ll move many of our administrative staff to off-campus office buildings, which will free up additional space on campus for academic priorities. Together, these steps should allow us to keep growth on track.

Q UC Merced’s faculty has attracted more than $131 million in research grants and awards since the campus began operations. Why is the university’s research mission so important to the campus and the people of California?

A Research prowess is a hallmark of the University of California. Entire industries have been created or transformed as a result of technical innovations, scientific discoveries and other breakthroughs emerging from UC laboratories. Countless lives have been saved or dramatically improved as a result of research conducted in UC medical facilities. The acquisition and application of new knowledge may be the UC system’s most enduring contribution to California and society as a whole. UC Merced was created in that mold. We’re extremely proud of the work we’re doing on climate change, air and water quality, health disparities and so much more that’s critically important to the Valley, the state and the world.

Q Two-and-a-half years into your tenure as chancellor, what stands out as the toughest

We’re extremely proud

of the work we’re doing on climate change, air and water quality, health disparities and so much more that’s critically important to the Valley, the state and the world.


challenge the campus faces in its quest to become the world’s next great research university?

A Building a major research university in a resource-constrained environment is our most difficult challenge. Despite recent improvements in the state’s economic picture, we simply can’t count on state funds to provide the facilities we need for student growth and high-end research. We all have high hopes for UC Merced and know what it can become, but we’ve had to find creative new avenues to take us there.

Q What can employees, alumni, friends and supporters do to help UC Merced achieve its goals?


Continue to believe in our mission and provide whatever support they can, in whatever form they can. We’ve come a long way in just a few years, thanks to the dedication and commitment of people inside and outside the university. We will need their continued help to navigate the road ahead. That’s all we can ask.



JOEL AND ELIZABETH WALLACE are no strangers to building something from the ground up.

Donor Spotlight

Passion for Education Inspires Giving BY BRENDA ORTIZ | University Communications


fter graduating with bachelor’s degrees in business admin istration and transportation from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Joel Wallace returned to Merced and took over the family business — Wallace Transport Corp. — expanding it to a statewide operation. He later created several other commercial trucking and property management companies and became known as a leader in the transportation industry. He was chosen to serve on the boards of several trucking and commercial agriculture associations. As president and CEO of Red Rock Properties, a land and commercial buildings investment firm, Elizabeth Wallace used her strong entrepreneurial skills to spearhead the development of Red Rock Winery. No task was too small, and she did everything from marketing to payroll before the opportunity to sell the winery to a major conglomerate presented itself. While the Wallaces have donated to historic preservation and the arts locally, their passion is education. “Education is the most important thing you can give to your children,” said Elizabeth Wallace, who was born in



China and schooled primarily in Brazil. “Education can change the world.” While providing a solid education for their two children, Lillian and Nicholas, was their top priority, they were drawn to helping other students achieve their higher-education goals, too. Long before UC Merced became a reality, the couple had a hand in its future. As a member of the University Committee, Elizabeth Wallace passionately advocated for the 10th UC campus to be built in Merced. She believed in the campus and its mission long before the plans were drawn up, the first pad of concrete was poured and students arrived. Similar to their diverse business ventures, the couple saw the potential in the pioneering campus and helped build something great in the town Joel Wallace has called home all his life. The Wallaces’ commitment to future educational excellence is reflected in their multifaceted philanthropy to the young campus. In 2005, they made their first major donation, and the campus’s dining facility was named to honor their support.

The Yablokoff-Wallace Dining Center has become a campus icon, building a sense of community where students, faculty, staff and community members can connect while sharing meals together. As one of the social hubs of the most diverse UC campus, the dining center provides a meeting ground for people from across the globe. The couple’s generosity in 2008 established the Joel and Elizabeth Wallace Terrace and Elizabeth’s Garden. The landscaped terrace features a culinary herb garden with the dual purpose of educating students while providing dining center chefs with organic ingredients such as rosemary, basil and thyme. Naming of the terrace and garden further reflects the couple’s deep commitment to education and providing a positive student experience. Earlier this year, the Wallaces leveraged the benefits of a planned gift of real estate to UC Merced. The proceeds of the sale of property will help students while also affecting the greater community. A portion of the funds will be used to build on the Class of 2009’s gift to

THE AMPHITHEATER | Class of 2009 Campus Gift



construct an amphitheater on campus. The graduating seniors sold bricks that are now installed in the sidewalk by the amphitheater. The Wallaces initially supported the class’s gift by purchasing granite slabs in honor of their children. “It is a great pleasure to be part of this vibrant campus’s continued growth, and we are so happy to bring the dream of the Class of 2009 to reality with the creation of a campus amphitheater,” Elizabeth Wallace said. The revamped area will provide a much-needed venue for outdoor events, including concerts or movies for up to 2,000 people. A sign reading “The Wallace-Dutra Amphitheater Celebrating the Class of 2009’s Vision,” named after their grandchildren, will be installed at the site. In addition to fostering community on campus, the Wallaces’ support will help expand partnerships between UC Merced researchers and Mercy Medical Center Merced. The Yablokoff-Wallace Health Science Research Endowment will support collaborative research that targets health issues plaguing the San Joaquin Valley.




KYLE HOFFMAN Vice Chancellor development and alumni relations

Through this endowment, UC Merced will initiate one to two research projects with hospital staff every year, aimed at improving health in Merced and its surrounding communities. The Wallaces remain visionaries who are committed to building a sense of community on the UC Merced campus and beyond. “As one of Merced’s leading philanthropic couples, it is fitting tribute that the Wallace and Yablokoff family names will be etched into the campus for generations to come,” said Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations Kyle Hoffman. “Donors like the Wallaces ensure that UC Merced will carry out its mission and make this campus and our local community a better place.” Their family legacy is rooted in the campus’s landscape forever. “I travelled across oceans and never really had a permanent home until Merced,” Elizabeth Wallace said. “This is also home. We live close to the campus and can see it and hear it as it develops into something extraordinary.”



IN CASE YOU MISSED IT UC President Tours UC Merced, First Campus Visit University of California President Janet Napolitano toured UC Merced this fall, her first visit to a campus upon being named the system’s leader. “I came here first because this campus is really important — not only for the UC system as a whole but for the Valley and for the state,” Napolitano said. “We want to do everything we can to make sure it not only succeeds but thrives moving forward.” Napolitano met with various people including faculty and students, toured labs, classrooms, the library and other

President Napolitano huddles with the UC Merced women’s basketball team.

campus buildings and facilities.

VIDEO ALERT: Burning Biomass for Energy. An Impact video, created for KVIE public television, shows researchers at UC Merced working to increase efficiency and reduce emissions from the burning of biomass for energy. Check it out at

New Blum Center at UC Merced to Focus on Valley Prosperity

UC Merced Professor’s Research Helping People Get Well

Thanks to a $400,000, two-year seed grant from the Universi-

using her many years of research

ty of California Office of the

on antibiotic resistance to help

President, UC Merced is forging

people get well. She started

the newest branch of the Blum

Project Protect, a Facebook and

Center for Developing Econ-

Twitter campaign that allows

omies, focusing on “Global

her to funnel information about

California: The World at Home.”

the latest news on antibiotic re-

The initiative is affiliated with

search to the public, and allows

the Blum Center at UC Berkeley,

the public to directly ask her

which was founded by a gift


from investment banker and UC Regent Richard C. Blum. Many of the developing world’s challenges can be seen right here in the San Joaquin Valley, and researchers will work on three main goals: y Community-inspired innovation – examining ways to engage communities and the region in their own long-term success; y Sustainable solutions – taking environmentally, economically and socially sound approaches to growing prosperity; y The analytics of prosperity – using scientific measures to ensure that our activities actually improve quality of life.


Professor Miriam Barlow is


Bacteria are evolving antibiotic resistance so quickly – and pharmaceutical companies are not inventing new antibiotics – soon, none will be effective. Barlow helped one woman avoid foot amputation, and has helped many others recover from infections faster. Project Protect participants also better understand about taking antibiotics, which are over-prescribed or given for illnesses they cannot cure; and antibiotics can actually make people sick by killing all the bacteria in our intestines – including the ones that fight illness – and allowing other bacteria to invade.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT UC Solar Extends UC Merced’s Reach Across the Pacific Professor Roland Winston’s work has

Nanyang Technical University also plans to use one of Winston’s designs to implement a solar-powered thermal cool-

helped take UC Merced and UC Solar

ing system similar to the one used at the

global – this time to Singapore, as lead-

Castle Research Facility where UC Solar is

ers there use a light-permeable building


material Winston designed to bring more natural light into buildings, cutting

fications and two platinum certifications,

energy costs and keeping office workers

VIDEO ALERT: Understanding

with five platinum certifications pending.

more content.

How Children Learn Language. An

The campus completed the Student Ac-

Impact video shows UC Merced

tivities and Athletics Center last fall, and

research delving into how children

has several new buildings opening over

learn and understand words. View

the next two to three years: Half Dome

the video at

student housing, which opened with the start of the Fall semester; the Student

Building Earns Campus 11th LEED Certification When UC Merced says it’s green from the ground up, it’s no joke. The Collectors embedded in the concrete at the ends of open channels in the walls actually make concrete light-permeable, taking advantage of one natural resource the equatorial country has an abundance of – sun. The collector filters out ultraviolet light, which is bad for your skin, and infrared light, which is hot. Singapore is a green, progressive place, and is always looking to use solar energy in new and inventive ways.

U.S. Green Building Council awarded

Services Building; Science and Engineering Building 2; and the Classroom 2 and Academic Office Building – all of which are expected to achieve LEED platinum status.

platinum LEED certification to the Social Sciences and Management Building,

VIDEO ALERT: Empowering

an honor that also preserves UC

Students to Succeed. An Impact

Merced’s streak — every building project

video explains how Merced County

on campus has already or is expected

Project 10% places UC Merced stu-

to attain LEED (Leadership in Energy

dents in eighth-grade classrooms to

and Environmental Design) certification,

relate their own struggles in school

meaning it meets or exceeds standards

and the importance of a high school

for sustainability.

diploma. Find the video at

The campus LEED scorecard so far is

one silver certification, eight gold certi-

UC Merced San Joaquin Valley PRIME Announces Third Class of Students Six more students with close ties to the San Joaquin Valley are on track to becoming physicians as part of the UC Merced San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education (PRIME). The group, which began medical studies recently in Sacramento and represents the third cohort in the program, includes: y Andrew Davoodian, who grew up in Turlock and is a UC Berkeley graduate; y Muninder Dhaliwal, who was born and raised in Turlock and is a CSU Stanislaus graduate;

y Joseph Trujillo, of Merced, who attended Merced College and graduated from UC Davis; and y Luisa Fernanda Valenzuela-Riveros, who went to high school in Merced, attended Merced College and graduated from UC Davis. UC Merced San Joaquin Valley-PRIME combines the strengths and resources of UC Davis School of Medicine, UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program and UC Merced to train physicians interested in practicing in the San Joaquin Valley. The program represents a cost-effective and expedient

y Fernando Rios, who was raised in Winton, and is a Columbia University graduate;

way to ramp up medical expertise in the San Joaquin Valley

y Miguel Ruvalcaba, who was raised in Fresno and is a UC Merced graduate;

unique health issues in the region.

by integrating it with health sciences research to address the



Shelf Life

A sampling of books published by UC Merced faculty members in the past year:

“Más: español intermedio,”by Virginia Adan-Lifante, lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Her research focuses on second-language acquisition; Hispanic women’s literature; Hispanic culture; and Puerto Rican literature and culture. This second edition of intermediate Spanish was published in January 2013 by MacGraw-Hill as part of its acclaimed M Series. MÁS is a content-based intermediate Spanish program created in response to student feedback on the look and function of their learning materials. With integrated multi-media content from around the Spanish-speaking world, MÁS exposes students to the importance of culture with many opportunities for open-ended conversation, while offering a review and expansion of language structures appropriate for the second year. One of the highlights of MÁS is the stunning collection of short films integrated into the program from Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and Costa Rica, available for student viewing online and on DVD for instructors.

“Reimagining National Belonging: Post-Civil War El Salvador in a Global Context,” by Professor Robin DeLugan with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Her research interests include community; collective identity; the nation-state; migration and transnationalism; and political anthropology. Published in December 2012 by the University of Arizona Press, “Reimagining National Belonging” is called the first sustained critical examination of post–civil war El Salvador. It describes how one nation – El Salvador – after an extended and divisive conflict, took up the challenge of generating social unity and shared meanings around ideas of the nation. In tracing state-led efforts to promote the concepts of national culture, history and identity, DeLugan highlights the sites and practices — as well as the complexities — of nation-building in the 21st century. DeLugan demonstrates how academics, culture experts, popular media, and the United Nations and other international agencies have all helped shape ideas about national belonging in El Salvador. She also reveals the efforts that have been made to include populations that might have been overlooked, including indigenous people and faraway citizens not living inside the country’s borders.



“The Southwest Climate Assessment Technical Report,” Chapter 8: Natural Ecosystems, by Professor Anthony Westerling with the schools of Engineering and Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. His research interests include applied climatology; climate-ecosystem-wildfire interactions; statistical modeling for seasonal forecasts; paleofire reconstructions; climate-change impact assessments; and resource management and policy. Collaborating with several other scholars on the book published by Island Press in May 2013, Westerling contributed a chapter for the report that was prepared for the 2013 National Climate Assessment. The book looks at the climate today and in the past, and how it is projected to change over the 21st century – and how those changes will affect water resources, ecosystems, agricultural production, energy supply and delivery, transportation, human health and a host of other areas.

“The Affinity of the Eye: Writing Nikkei in Peru,” by Professor Ignacio López-Calvo, with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. His primary area of study covers 20th and 21st-century Latino and Latin American narratives, with an emphasis on the cultural production by and about Asians in Latin America and the Caribbean. In “The Affinity of the Eye: Writing Nikkei in Peru,” López-Calvo rises above the political emergence of the Fujimori phenomenon and uses politics and literature to provide one of the first comprehensive looks at how the Japanese assimilated and inserted themselves into Peruvian culture. Through contemporary writers’ testimonies, essays, fiction and poetry, López-Calvo constructs an account of the cultural formation of Japanese migrant communities. With interviews and comments, he portrays the difficulties of being a Japanese Peruvian. Despite a few notable examples, Asian Peruvians have been excluded from a sense of belonging or national identity in Peru, which provides López-Calvo with the opportunity to record what the community says about its own cultural production.

“Before L.A. Race, Space, and Municipal Power in Los Angeles, 1781-1894,” by Professor David Torres-Rouff with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Torres-Rouff studies race and ethnicity; urban history; Latina/o history; comparative borderlands; social institutions; community formation; public policy; California; and the U.S. West. “Before L.A.” was published in September 2013 by the Yale University Press, and is part of the Lamar Series in Western History. Torres-Rouff’s book significantly expands borderlands history by examining the past and original urban infrastructure of one of America’s most prominent cities; its social, spatial and racial divides and boundaries; and how it came to be the Los Angeles we know today. It is a study of how an innovative intercultural community developed along racial lines, and how immigrants from the United States engineered a profound shift in civic ideals and the physical environment, creating a social and spatial rupture that endures to this day.

“Sacred Darkness: A Global Perspective on the Ritual Use of Caves,” by Professor Holley Moyes with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Moyes studies the archaeology of religion; cave archaeology; Mesoamerica; geographic information systems; and spatial cognition. The University Press of Colorado published the book Moyes edited in September 2012. The book details how caves have been used in various ways across human society. Despite the persistence within popular culture of the iconic caveman, deep caves were never used primarily as habitation sites for early humans. Rather, in both ancient and contemporary contexts, caves have served primarily as ritual spaces. In “Sacred Darkness,” contributors use archaeological evidence as well as ethnographic studies of modern ritual practices to envision the cave as place of spiritual and ideological power and a potent venue for ritual practice. Covering the ritual use of caves in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Mesoamerica, the U.S. Southwest and Eastern woodlands, this book brings together case studies by prominent scholars from a variety of disciplines whose research spans from the Paleolithic period to the present day.

“Fundamentals of Soft Matter Science,” by Professor Linda Hirst with the School of Natural Sciences. Hirst focuses her research primarily on membrane biophysics, protein network assembly and novel liquid crystal materials and composites. Published in January 2013 by CRC press, the textbook “Fundamentals of Soft Matter Science” focuses on the soft materials such as liquid crystals, polymers, biomaterials and colloidal systems that touch every aspect of our lives. The past few decades have seen an explosion of soft-matter research groups worldwide. This book introduces and explores the scientific study of soft matter and molecular self-assembly, covering the major classifications of materials, their structure and characteristics, and everyday applications.

“Condensed-Phase Molecular Spectroscopy and Photophysics,” by Professor Anne Myers Kelley with the School of Natural Sciences. Kelley is a founding faculty member who uses laser-light-scattering techniques to study the atomic-level details of how materials interact with light, including the mechanisms of fast photochemical reactions such as those involved in human vision, photography, xerography and solar energy conversion. Published in November 2012, Kelley’s textbook is an introduction to one of the fundamental tools in chemical research — spectroscopy and photophysics in condensed-phase and extended systems. A great deal of modern research in chemistry and materials science involves the interaction of radiation with condensed-phase systems such as molecules in liquids and solids, as well as molecules in more complex media, molecular aggregates, metals, semiconductors and composites. “Condensed-Phase Molecular Spectroscopy and Photophysics” was developed to fill the need for a textbook that introduces the basics of traditional molecular spectroscopy with a strong emphasis on condensed-phase systems.



Spivey’s Higher Education

Having Coffee with


BY SCOTT HERNANDEZ-JASON University Communications

Michael Spivey

Cruz with a bachelor’s in


up a balancing act in the world. The way that thing falls,

Graduated from UC Santa

When you design an experiment, you’re asking the universe a question. You’re setting left or right, is generally not going to be affected by your

1995 Earned a master’s in psychology from the University of Rochester

1996 Earned a Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences from University of Rochester

Became a professor at Cornell University

2008 Arrived at UC Merced

2010 Awarded the 2010 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement



personal biases.


ognitive science Professor Michael Spivey balanced a plastic coffee cup lid on top of his sunglasses, which were perched atop his coffee cup. We sat at a booth in the Lantern Café, surrounded by the hum of students talking about their classes, social life and other parts of the college experience. “When you design an experiment, you’re asking the universe a question,” Spivey said, pointing to his model. “You’re setting up a balancing act in the world. The way that thing falls, left or right, is generally not going to be affected by your personal biases.” He knocked the lid off to emphasize his point. For nearly 20 years, Spivey has been asking the universe questions. First it was at Cornell University, and since 2008 it has been as one of 11 core Cognitive and Information Sciences professors at the University of California, Merced. The cognitive science group is rapidly earning distinction among its peers and is an expression of the campus’s focus on interdisciplinary research. Cognitive science is about 30 years old – a relatively young research area. It’s the study of thought and behavior using methods and approaches from linguistics, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience and computer science. In other words, Spivey is trying to unlock the brain’s secrets. Spivey’s journey to UC Merced is one of intellectual exploration that took him to the northeast for his graduate training and first professorship, and ultimately led him back to his


home state of California, where he helped build a distinctive program that’s training the next generation of cognitive scientists.

A Cross-Country Journey Raised in the Sacramento area, Spivey developed a fascination with the brain in high school and learned about the interview-based work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. He was pursuing a degree in psychology at UC Santa Cruz when he took an undergraduate class with Professor Dominic Massaro. Spivey discovered the power of scientific research and the interdisciplinary bedrock of cognitive science. “I was just blown away as a freshman to realize that you could ask how the brain works in a way that’s pretty removed from your subjective biases,” Spivey said. “That’s when I fell in love with it and realized I wanted to be a cognitive scientist.” After graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, he began looking at graduate schools where he could pursue master’s and doctoral degrees with a focus on language and vision. He applied to Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, University of Oregon and University of Rochester. He selected the University of Rochester because he mentally synchronized with his potential adviser Michael K. Tanenhaus. Though he suffered through long, snowy winters and was thousands of miles away from family and friends, the research he was conducting made the five years melt away and the job search seem to arrive too soon.

Spivey was offered jobs at a couple institutions and in 1996 picked Cornell University, which was just an hour and a half away from Rochester. He was part of the campus’s cognitive science program and eventually led it during his tenure there. However, at Cornell he found the professors in the prestigious and well-established academic silos — linguistics, computer science, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience — were hesitant to be part of a cognitive science program or listen to visiting speakers. “That broke my heart, year after year,” he said. Across the country, Professors Teenie Matlock and Jeffrey Yoshimi were busy developing a cognitive science program at the nation’s first 21st century research university and actively recruiting top faculty members to help establish it. Spivey had been reluctant to leave Cornell for a startup university, though he began to take it seriously as Matlock and Yoshimi recruited some of his colleagues, including David C. Noelle and Christopher T. Kello, and succeeded in keeping their cognitive science from being folded into another program. “There was my chance. I could see it,” Spivey said, pausing to hold back tears. “This was an opportunity to genuinely do cognitive science the way I wanted.”

Spivey accepted an offer in 2006, though wasn’t able to be on campus until 2008 because of personal and professional commitments. Since arriving on campus, Spivey has continued his research into the interaction of language and vision, and how their total is more than the sum of their parts. One project with graduate student Eric Chiu looks at how the brain processes a complex computer display filled with visual distractions. A person who is told to look for a red, vertical bar in a picture filled with red horizontal bars can more efficiently find the target if they’re looking at the picture while the instructions are spoken to them, they found. “If you shift the speech stream so you hear it beforehand, you’re now looking for a conjunction of red and vertical, and the distractors will slow you down a lot,” he said. “People’s brains are faster at simultaneous integration than you realize.” The brain, Spivey said, begins to process the key information — “red,” then “vertical” — as it hears it, so the visual system is already searching for redness even before the word “vertical” is heard. The findings could prove important for people designing computer software, instructional videos or other interfaces that require human interaction.

Earning Distinction Cognitive and Information Sciences (CIS) at UC Merced has maintained its interdisciplinary focus by keeping and hiring professors with a wide range of specialties. This past year the group hired a philosopher and a neuroscientist.

Professor Michael Spivey’s research into language and vision includes the use of eye-tracking hardware and software to understand how the brain is processing information.

This past summer, CIS was the top program represented at the discipline’s premiere conference, Cognitive Science in Berlin. There were 25 presentations from the program’s faculty members, researchers, graduate students and undergraduates — the most from any one university — according to conference data. Indiana University had 21 presentations; UC San Diego had 20; and Stanford University had 19.

Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced was the top program represented this summer at the discipline’s premiere conference, Cognitive Science. Nearly all of the program’s 21 graduate students presented research there.

Spivey explains the success by drawing a parallel between how language and the vision interact. The cognitive science group’s culture supports collaborations and has graduate students sharing advisors and developing connections throughout the group. The group meets weekly and the atmosphere is like one of a big family, he said. “The magic is when you get those components to interact,” Spivey said. “The interactions produce more success and smartness than the individual components.”

To learn more about Spivey’s work, check out his website:









C Merced engineering Professor YangQuan Chen lets the machines do the talking when he invites budding engineers to his program in unmanned aerial vehicles, the flying machines better known to the public as drones. Well, they don’t really speak. But Chen knows a sure-fire way to recruit a curious engineer is to let a student get hands-on experience building, programming and testing small flying vehicles at UC Merced’s mechatronics lab. The offer hooked Sean Rider, who found Chen’s program as a senior last year and returned this fall as one of the school’s first homegrown graduate students in unmanned systems. “I had a great time and I wanted to do more,” he said. Rider is joining an industry poised for takeoff as researchers and entrepreneurs dream up new uses for a technology most often associated with the military. California alone stands to gain some 12,000 jobs in the field through 2017, according to projections recently published by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Advocates of the technology say the next generation of unmanned aircraft will help farmers make the best use of their irrigation resources, enable environmental agencies to count rare animals in the wilderness and support fire crews looking for advantages against sprawling wildfires. Count Chen among them. He says the possibilities for doing good with small, affordable unmanned vehicles are “endless, just limited by your imagination.”

ABOUT THE WRITER Adam Ashton is a professional journalist with more than 12 years’ experience as a reporter and editor including at the Merced Sun-Star and the Modesto Bee. He works for the Tacoma News-Tribune covering military affairs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma.



‘UAVs are going to be everywhere.’ Chen and his students face a challenge at UC Merced that goes beyond creating cutting-edge machines, however. They’re working in a field that conjures up images of deadly military strikes in the Middle East, or a step toward total surveillance in the manner of Big Brother at home. His students, accordingly, have to be ambassadors for the technology. “Privacy is a big issue because unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are going to be everywhere,” Rider said. “Like any technology, you have to be careful how you use it.” All over the country, local and state governments are setting the parameters for how public agencies and private businesses can employ unmanned aerial vehicles in coming years. They’re trying to get ahead of the Federal Aviation Administration, which is preparing to open the skies to more UAVs by 2015. Seattle’s police department earlier this year received a license to fly unmanned aircraft and bought two of the machines, only to ground the operation when residents raised concerns about officers misusing them. Similarly, several state legislatures, including California’s, are considering laws that would set clear guidelines for when, where and how unmanned aircraft could be flown. “Surveillance is nothing new; what’s new is that we have a new medium to do it,” state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, said at an August hearing on possible UAV restrictions. He wrote one of the proposals to define how unmanned aircraft can be used. >>




Padilla that day heard from a string of public safety officials seeking permission to fly unmanned aircraft, industry representatives looking for new markets and privacy advocates asking legislators for tight restrictions on the technology. Much of the discussion focused on law enforcement agencies, which some fear might use unmanned aircraft without warrants to gather information that could be used against people in court. “When you have a nearly silent drone, one might simply not be aware that surveillance is going on,” UC Davis law Professor Elizabeth Joh told lawmakers. Chen spoke at the hearing, too. He has led discussions at the San Joaquin Valley campus about how to respect privacy in an era that could see the use of low-cost unmanned aircraft explode to the point where anyone could afford them. The collision between technology and privacy appears inevitable as the price of new technology plummets while its quality improves. “Today you just point and click” on personal computers, he said. “The technology (for UAVs) will mature to a point where you can just put it in the air and use it.” The right path, he said, is to be transparent about what any given agency or business will and will not do with drones. For example, agricultural cooperatives employing unmanned aircraft to assess their crops could announce that they won’t be approaching towns. They might stress to residents of their communities that the aircraft would not retain any videos from the flights beyond a certain amount of time. “It does take a lot of us being proactive saying ‘we don’t fly over people, we don’t spy on people. That will never be our goal,’” said Brandon Stark, a doctoral student in unmanned systems at UC Merced who helped Chen launch the lab. Turning point The summer ended with a powerful example of state agencies turning to unmanned aircraft for help in an emergency. With the Sierra Nevada burning through one of its most severe wildfires ever this fall,



a Predator drone with a 55-foot wingspan piloted by the California National Guard kept a watch on the 200,000-acre Rim Fire. Its reports gave fire commanders up-to-theminute information on the fire’s movements without putting firefighters’ lives in danger. Multimillion dollar Defense Department drones likely will remain outside the realm of what local governments can afford as they experiment with unmanned aircraft over the next few years. Instead, they’ll turn to less expensive options to help them work through hostage situations or assess natural disasters. Chen and his students want a hand in creating those tools. The professor in a 2011 research paper showed someone could purchase, program and pilot an unmanned aerial vehicle for less than $500.

The research being carried out at UC Merced is nothing short of extraordinary.

Mark Hendrickson

Merced County director of commerce, aviation and economic development

From there, he said, researchers could develop “swarms” of low-cost UAVs that could fly into fire zones or airborne toxic events to gather data. Losing one wouldn’t break a budget, and with many aircraft collecting information on the same incident, officials would be empowered with a full picture of events. Those are the kinds of problems that motivate Rider, Stark and the rest of the students in UC Merced’s unmanned systems program. They’re getting plenty of company as word gets out about the research taking place in the drone lab. “Attracting people is not an issue with us,” said Stark, who came to UC Merced as Chen’s only student in the Fall 2012. More than 40 students joined the lab a year later. “People flock to us because we offer this real exciting hands-on opportunity for research on all sorts of exciting projects.”

Rider’s senior project looked at how PG&E might use UAVs to spot gas leaks in remote locations. It made a lasting impression on Mark Hendrickson, Merced County’s director of commerce, aviation and economic development. “The research being carried out at UC Merced right now is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Hendrickson, who helped UC Merced’s School of Engineering evaluate student projects in unmanned systems for its annual Innovate to Grow contest in May. Hendrickson liked the “real-world practicality” he noticed in the gas-leak detecting UAVs Rider’s team designed. For his graduate work, Rider’s thinking of studying ways to develop unmanned vehicles that could monitor their own systems so researchers on the ground know when they’re in danger of falling from the sky. His experience in Chen’s lab opened his eyes about what he wanted to do with his career, and showed him where he wanted to get his start. “Because of this program, UC Merced is the only grad school I want to go to,” he said.

Faculty Findings

School of Natural Sciences

UC Merced faculty members rely on grants and gifts for their work. Here’s a list of the top awards from each school this calendar year.

y Professors Michael Dawson and Michael Beman received a $1,369,982 grant from the National Science Foundation for work on biodiversity issues. y Professor Rudy Ortiz received an $857,175 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for his research into diabetes. y Dean Juan Meza and Professor Mike Colvin received a $749,998 grant to connect UC Merced with a network for computational nanotechnology. y Professor Fabian Fillip received a $746,997 grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research into cancer metabolism. y Professor Katrina Hoyer received a $732,809 grant from the National Institutes of Health for her work on autoimmune anemia.


y Professor Alberto Cerpa received a $539,539 grant from the National Science Foundation for his work on wireless sensor networks. y Professor Ariel Escobar received a $113,685 grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc., for his work on atrial arrhythmia. y Professor Ariel Escobar received a $97,790 grant from Electronic BioScience, Inc., for his work on a nanopatch system for ion recordings. y Professor YangQuan Chen received a $71,661 grant from Utah State University for his work on unmanned aerial vehicles. y Professor Gerardo Diaz received a $45,000 grant from UC Irvine for his work on solar energy.

School of social Sciences, humanities and arts

y Professor Ruth Mostern received a $110,381 grant from the National Science Foundation for her work in historical information and analysis. y Acting Graduate Dean Chris Kello received a $49,520 grant from the National Science Foundation for a workshop and summer school course on dynamics of language and music. y Robert Ochsner, director of the Merritt Writing program, received a $34,535 grant from the UC California Writing Project for “No Child Left Behind #9.” y Professor Jan Goggans received a $25,000 grant from the UC Human Research Institute for her work on working-class cultural labor in the Central Valley. y Robert Ochsner, director of the Merritt Writing program, received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for leadership development.




esearchers at California’s newest public university are looking deep into the past to study how climate change will influence the state’s future, from the frequency of catastrophic wildfires to the availability of water for its reservoirs. They’re breaking down barriers that traditionally separated fields of scientific study to create a full picture of what global warming means for ecosystems from the sea level farms at the base of the San Joaquin Valley to the airy alpine meadows that inspired John Muir on his walks through the Sierra Nevada a century ago. “If California can’t solve the world’s problems, who can?” asked Professor Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) at UC Merced. Faculty researchers with SNRI – UC Merced’s first and still-premier research institute – continue delving deep into the puzzle that is climate change. They examine as many pieces as they can, using data from the last ice age to the present to model increases in wildfires, the Sierra snowpack – California’s natural reservoir – the shifting of species and even how climate-change science and information is communicated. These are questions that will affect everyone.

CALIFORNIA AND CLIMATE CHANGE Bales is confident the answers will come from California, and that the state has a bigger responsibility than just to itself. Engineering Professor Elliott Campbell agreed. “When it comes to solving environmental problems, California leads and the world follows,” Campbell said. “Climate change is the biggest threat we’ve seen yet, so a lot rides on California’s success.” Fire and water Using the latest information and a new system of modeling, engineering Professor Anthony Westerling looks at monthly data to chart and predict how wildfire will affect California and other parts of the Southwest. His layered Google Earth maps show the probabilities and odds for California and Nevada on a monthly basis using climate conditions observed to date. The models also use historical lightning-strike data gathered from a network of sensors around the country to offer a variety of scenarios for people who manage wildfires, state and national parks and air-quality issues. “It’s a more sophisticated way of modeling,” said Westerling, an SNRI member. “We can compare where the fire risks are with where large concentrations of biomass are, so early steps can be taken.” Those who manage wildlands might choose to conduct controlled burns before the fire danger increases, or might choose to use wildfire for biomass control, for example. >>

ABOUT THE WRITER Jason M. Rodriguez is a professional journalist with more than a dozen years’ reporting and editing experience. He hails from the Chicago area, and has worked for Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Sun-Times and was a video editor for CNN during the 1996 Democratic National Convention. He currently covers county government for the Sun News in the Myrtle Beach, S.C., area.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR Gail Miles Benedict is a finearts painter who moved from her hometown of San Diego to Merced in 2001 to be a part of the new University of California campus. She co-founded the arts program Arts UC Merced Presents . . ., coordinates the annual UC Merced Bobcat Art Show, is a member of the Merced County Performing Arts Presenters Coalition and the Contemporary Humanitarian Artists Association, comprising artists who meet regularly to discuss art, critique each other’s work, inspire each other and put together group shows. Her painting style incorporates surrealism and symbolism and sometimes collage.



Westerling has said there is no doubt the increase in temperatures coming over the next century will give rise to more and more intense wildfires, but there are other factors to consider, too. “In the southern coastal areas, fires are more wind-driven regardless of how they are ignited, so in the Fall, the Santa Ana winds contribute greatly to how large and fast a fire grows.” Not only is his data important to fire and park officials and the state’s residents – especially as the urban-wildland interface expands, it will also be important for those who manage other resources – like the state’s dwindling water supply. Bales is mapping the Sierra snowpack and observes that as the average temperature rises, more precipitation falls as rain – rather than the snow the state has come to depend on in the Sierra. That means less in reserves. Bales said the state is moving toward the “three ‘I’s of water” needed in addressing climate change — infrastructure, institution and information. “In the context of providing an acceptable quantity and quality of water at the right time and the right place, California is going in the direction of evaluating what infrastructure improvements are needed to provide water security,” he said. “What institutional changes can facilitate better water security and can provide water when and where it is needed? “The foundation, though, is that you really have to have better information, because many of our water institutions have operated with very limited data in the past.” Bales said water institutions have been able to do that because the climate has been relatively stable and the demands have been commensurate of the availability of water. But that’s changing. “We can’t necessarily use past history,” Bales said. “We also have increasing population that’s trying to make use of the same resources that a smaller population made use of in the past.” He advocates for a unified, statewide water monitoring system and has been working with colleagues to develop a low-cost system of sensors. They have already been placed in the American River watershed area and are in use now. That technology is just some of the research UC Merced has been working on. “Our research is really focused on what do you about it,” Bales said. “How we respond to build some resiliency into the state’s water systems or forest management and so forth.”

‘Like nothing we’ve seen in the past’ Paleoecology Professor Jessica Blois, studies how species and communities have responded to climate change over the past 21,000 years – since the height of the last ice age. Blois uses data on how life responded in the past to try and understand how biodiversity might respond to future climate changes. But the climate is changing so rapidly now, it’s “like nothing we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

Jessica Blois at Wagon Caves in the Los Padres National Forest. Photo by Seth Finnegan, UC Berkeley

“Ideally we would have something in the past that we could use as an analog for the future,” she said. “But one of the problems is that the future is without analog,” she said. The number of people and the ways they are modifying the world’s landscape — through emissions and other activity — is drastically changing the course, and the rate, of the Earth’s climate, she said. “One thing that’s of concern to me is range shift. In the past, species shifted their geographic distributions quite a bit,” she said. “They shifted where they were found on the landscape as climates changed.” The worry is that the rate of current and future climate change is more than species can handle naturally, and they won’t be able to shift to new locations on their own. “We are seeing responses in many species,” she said, including plants that have never been found before in certain climates – such as species of palms found in Sweden – and in animals moving to higher elevations as their habitats grow too warm for them. Researchers don’t know if species can move or track those new environs quickly enough. There also might be situations where there is no habitat for them to move to, she said.

Professor Jessica Blois does her share of field research trying to help model what humans can expect from climate change based on what has happened in the past. Here She’s exploring Samwell Cave in northern California. Photo by Xue Feng

SNRI scientist Lara Kueppers, who studies ecosystem feedbacks to climate change, said one of the big projects she has worked on since joining UC Merced is trying to understand what the consequences of climate change could be for high-elevation species in ecosystems. Her work has been primarily in high-elevation forests and in alpine meadows, where she has been conducting artificial warming experiments, raising temperatures by 4 to 5 degrees, similar to projected warming for the latter part of the 21st century. “We can’t change the whole ecosystem in our experiment. We’re focusing on one piece of the puzzle and that is forest regeneration and where forests might be able to establish themselves in the future, using seedlings. “We think this is a really important piece of the puzzle because in order for a tree to move uphill into new places… it needs to get its seeds there and those seeds need to be able to become established in that new place.” And part of the question comes back to water. “What we’re finding is that there’s actually a big problem. It’s not just temperature,” Kueppers said. “When climate changes, temperature is not the only thing that changes. Another big part of climate is precipitation and, really, water availability. Plants don’t care about how much it rains or snows, per se. What they care about is if they have enough water in the soil when they need to grow.”

Where to go from here Kueppers said how the world addresses climate change rests on the shoulders of California’s top researchers. “Just like everywhere on the globe, California really has a big challenge on its hands. California is a really incredibly ecologically diverse place,” she said. “California citizens place a high value on the natural environment and the species that live here and it’s a strong part of California’s identity.” She said a challenge when it comes to climate change, research and policy is that the world is already committed to a certain amount of climate change that’s pretty significant on historical and even geological time scales. “I think there’s a lot to do to figure out how we adapt our approach to conserving natural systems to this reality,” she said. “Right now we have parks and reserves set aside to protect certain places. But if the species that are currently living in those places need to be somewhere else, under future warmer climates, that’s a real challenge.” California has encouraged more regional approaches to conservation planning issues it faces, she said.

Ideally we would have something in the past that we could use as an analog for the future, but one of the problems is that the future is without analog.


“I think there’s a lot of brainpower in California that wants to help figure this out, but a lot of times scientists direct their research efforts toward what they can get funded. That may or may not always be aligned with what’s needed for policy or land management and I think there can be ways to work on that.” A lot of that brainpower is at UC Merced. Researchers aren’t just focused on understanding the impacts of climate change in California, but also on renewable energy, sustainability and engineering solutions, using everything from basic chemistry and physics to learning how to design or regulate buildings so they don’t use more energy than necessary. A way to strengthen UC Merced’s effect on climate change would be to centrally locate researchers examining the various issues. One of UC Merced’s hallmarks is its interdisciplinary research, and SNRI is an example of that, attracting faculty affiliates from all three of the university’s schools – Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. That enables researchers to draw upon each other’s strengths to accomplish more. But being a new university has its challenges, too, Blois said. “Because UC Merced is still growing, we’re still a small school and we’re really space constrained, so we’re not all located on the main campus,” she said. “I just sit back and think, we’re really doing some good work already – imagine what we could do if we were all housed in the same building.” Related links: y

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers,” at

y The U.S. National Climate Assessment: y The Sierra Nevada Research Institute: y Anthony Westerling’s publications on wildfire and climate change: y Wildfires in California and the Western United States:





What was most surprising to me was how well they all got along with each other. They all shopped for groceries and cooked together, and did non-research activities together. I never expected such a cohesive group. I am sure that some lasting friendships were formed this summer.


UC Merced researchers take advantage of the university’s proximity to the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range through research in Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks. In Yosemite this summer, Professors Stephen Hart and Michael Beman and Yosemite Field Station Director Becca Fenwick hosted eight students from around the state and the country as they lived in the park for nine weeks and worked closely with scientists from UC Merced, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geologic Survey through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program (REU). Hart said the goal was to give students who wouldn’t otherwise have it the opportunity for real scientific research experience.

“It went fabulously,” Hart said. “The eight REU students, all were exceptional students and they gave outstanding oral presentations of their research in Yosemite Valley at the end of the program to park personnel and other guests.” Of course, a highlight for the students was actually living in the park – not something everyone gets the chance to do. In their time off, he said, they took full advantage of their location to hike, backpack, swim and camp. They also took part in interactions with other, non-mentor researchers in the park on Science Mondays, and occasionally on weekend trips like an overnighter to Mono Lake led by Chris Swarth, director of UC Merced’s Vernal Pools-Grassland Natural Reserve Project.


y microbial ecology and biogeochemistry in mountain lakes with Beman, a microbial ecologist; y rising snowlines and water availability for park resources in a warming climate with Professor Roger Bales, a hydrologist, and Jim Roche, a hydrologist with Yosemite; y hydro-ecological implications of buried volcanic ash in the meadows of Yosemite with Professor Teamrat Ghezzehei, a soil hydrologist; y effects of physical perturbations in the environment on soil organic matter dynamics with Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a soil biogeochemist; y the role of biotic and abiotic controls over conifer seedling establishment in subalpine meadows in Yosemite with scientist Lara Kueppers and USGS ecologist Rob Klinger; y Yosemite Valley’s riparian habitat with Yosemite biologist Sarah Stock and Yosemite social scientist Todd Newburger; y the giant sequoia population’s demographic structure and impacts of fire and soil biology and nutrient cycling with Bill Kuhn, a Yosemite landscape ecologist and Hart, an ecologist; y and anthropogenic and biogenic fluxes of greenhouse gases in Yosemite with Professor Elliot Campbell, an environmental engineer, and Leland Tarnay, a Yosemite physical scientist.



The students came from Bakersfield College, Eckerd College in Florida, Montclair State University in New Jersey, City College of San Francisco, Knox College in Illinois, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and of course, UC Merced. “What was most surprising to me was how well they all got along with each other,” Hart said. “They all shopped for groceries and cooked together, and did non-research activities together. I never expected such a cohesive group. I am sure that some lasting friendships were formed this summer.” The program had 130 applicants for eight slots this year, and Hart said he expects many more applicants next year. Additionally, the annual Ecological Society of America meeting is scheduled to happen in Sacramento during next year’s REU program, so Hart said he hopes to take the students to the conference. “It would be great if we could take them to a day or two so they can experience what it is like to attend a major scientific meeting, and perhaps network with other ecological scientists and undergraduate researchers from elsewhere in the U.S.,” he said. Down in the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (CZO), a site run by Professor Roger Bales, who is also the director of UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute and Professor Martha Conklin, a meadows expert and biogeochemist, researchers worked on water issues. How do you best manage water in a state like California? This state, which has one of the largest state populations in the country, and produces 25 percent of the produce for the country, has to balance multiple competing claims for water.

of climate, land management, and ecohydrology in the critical zone from bedrock to the atmosphere boundary layer – critical because it’s vital to life on Earth. The National Science Foundation recently funded the Southern Sierra CZO for five more years. “Planning for five years from now can be a challenge for anyone, but when that plan involves six research institutions, seven investigators, and countless collaborators and cooperating researchers, that challenge grows,” Stacy said. Over the summer, 26 members of the Southern Sierra CZO team gathered in Fresno for an annual two-day meeting featuring science presentations and in-depth discussions of research questions and Specifically, the work will clarify collaboration. the timing and amount of The outcome is a plan to consolidate runoff, the distribution, density current knowledge of forest and water manand activity of the forests, and agement in the Sierra Nevada for improved options available to resource modeling and prediction, Stacy said. managers to enhance forest “Specifically, the work will clarify the and water management. timing and amount of runoff, the distribution, density and activity of the forests, and ERIN STACY options available to resource managers to CZO education and outreach coordinator enhance forest and water management,” she said. The flux towers are a way Southern Sierra There are many ways to address the prob- Critical Zone Observatory researchers monitor weather and gas fluctuations. Running lem through infrastructure like dams, reserfrom 400 m to 2,700 m in elevation, the voirs and hydropower installations; institutions like the Department of Water Resources transect anchors the CZO research. Each site also monitors soil moisture, matric potential or irrigation districts; and information like historical records and current measurements and temperature. The data allows researchers to quantify the water balance on the western of snow pack and water stores. The CZO’s goal is to improve information. slope of the Sierra Nevada, where precipiAs part of a nationwide network, the South- tation transitions from a rain-snow mix to predominantly snow. ern Sierra CZO investigates questions The economy, livelihoods and environment depend on judicious allocations. “To complicate the situation, precipitation is highly variable from year to year,” said Erin Stacy, the CZO’s education and outreach coordinator. “Even in a wet year, more precipitation may fall as rain than as snow resulting in a smaller snowpack. In turn, that means less natural storage and a greater challenge for water managers.” Without that natural storage in the snowpack, downstream managers and water users have to rely solely on reservoirs for water storage.



The Tibetan Plateau has been the site of some huge archaeological discoveries.


UC MERCED RESEARCH WITH GLOBAL REACH MARK ALDENDERFER The Himalaya is a cold, unforgiving place. Home to some of the Earth’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest, the Asian mountain range separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau is known for extreme weather. It’s here where archaeologist Mark Aldenderfer peers into the mystery of highland dwellers. Why live here when lower lands are more fertile and abundant with resources? How did they adapt to environments as high as 16,000 feet? “Although high-elevation environments may appear forbidding, there are a number of instances in human history when they were likely seen as very attractive,” Aldenderfer said. “Periods of warming, documented by painstaking paleoclimatic research in the Himalayas and other mountainous regions, would have allowed familiar low-elevation species to migrate into the mountains, creating new, fertile niches for hunting and gathering. People took advantage of these opportunities and began to exploit the new environments.”



Aldenderfer, the dean of UC Merced’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, has turned his research attention to the Mustang district of Nepal. In places it seems only birds could reach lie man-made caves carved deep into the rock. National Geographic, which has funded his exploration into Mustang, refers to these sky caves as one of world’s greatest archaeological mysteries. The thousands of caves have served three major uses: burial chambers 3,000 years ago; dwellings from 1100-1600 AD; and in more recent times, as places for meditation, military observation and storage. Aldenderfer’s quest is to search the sky tombs for human remains, from which members of his team can extract DNA in hopes of identifying the genetic changes that allowed people to survive the seemingly uninhabitable region. “Our species evolved at low elevations — oxygen- and resource-rich environments. But to live permanently above 7,500 feet requires both physiological and cultural adaptations for survival,” Aldenderfer said.

BY TONYA KUBO University Communications

“I want to recover data that may help to resolve these questions.” Aldenderfer returned to the Tibetan Plateau this fall to reexamine archaeological sites thought to date between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago. Understanding the age of these sites is crucial to evaluating arguments about the peopling of the plateau and the antiquity of the genetic changes that had to take place to make it possible to live there.

Forty-three hundred feet above the valley floor, Dean Mark Aldenderfer stands at A Chusang, Nepal, archeological site thought to be as old as 20,000 years.

ROBIN DELUGAN Fast-forward a few hundred years and shift west on the globe, and you’ll find yourself squarely in the realm of Professor Robin DeLugan’s research. The anthropologist and founding faculty member is passionate about social justice, especially as it relates to the building of nation-states. She has spent her academic career immersed in the study of the aftermath of El Salvador ’s civil war, from 1980 to 1992, and has written a book about it. Using post-civil war El Salvador as the example, “Reimagining National Belonging” looks at efforts to create social unity and construct shared identity following an extended, divisive conflict. Now DeLugan is taking her research on contemporary nation-building a step further by looking at 1930s massacres in similar

countries to compare how the past is recalled today by government leaders and citizens. Her hope is to construct a comprehensive picture of what shapes social memory and how that affects nation-building and cohesion among citizens, especially when it comes to equality and justice. “This type of research provides a rare lens into the dynamics of nation-building,” DeLugan said. “There are few people in the world studying how national memories emerge after decades of silence.” DeLugan’s work is rare enough that she was invited to deliver the keynote address this fall at an international forum focused on memories of the Salvadoran war. “What we’re finding is that memory work allows for the strengthening of democracies,” she said. “And in the 21st century, government is not the only entity that can control how nations take shape.”

Professor Robin DeLugan in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, this summer. Ouanaminthe is at the broder between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and was the site of a 1937 massacre of Haitians ordered by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.

In El Salvador, for example, it has been the people — namely academics, activists and human rights organizations — who have led the charge in recalling past violence against indigenous people. The public outcry has grown loud enough that the government is considering rewriting a portion of the constitution to finally recognize the existence of the native population.

Professor Tom Harmon, third photo from left, works on an international freshwater-ecosystem project.

TOM HARMON Professor Tom Harmon, another of UC Merced’s prestigious founding faculty members and an environmental engineer, is part of a major international study funded by the National Science Foundation and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research ( The project, Sensing the Americas’ Freshwater Ecosystem Risk (SAFER) is a collaborative effort among researchers in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Canada and the U.S. Harmon outfits bodies of water with sensor networks and uses the sensor output to interpret ecosystem change in response to environmental factors like weather and pollution. This allows researchers to assemble more information and identify changes faster than possible using more conventional sampling methods. Rather than exhausting resources by sending scientists to collect individual field samples over months or years, embedded sensors allow large amounts of data to be collected on a number of variables simultaneously.

Even subtle changes can be identified and tracked over time with more comprehensive recorded information. “This is a coordinated research effort to examine issues that affect aquatic ecosystems from North America all the way to South America,” Harmon said. “The benefit here is that for the first time, we can compare water quality and climate response in relatively pristine areas of Patagonia with places like the San Joaquin River that have a long history of human disturbance.” Comparing data sets from various areas only scratches the surface of what Harmon and his fellow scientists are doing. They are also engaging stakeholders along the way. Meeting with locals in each country, the team asks questions to sort out the critical services provided by the monitored ecosystems and to discuss the effects of various policies on fishing, building dams and agricultural practices along the waterways. “Our goal is to build an understanding of the fragility of these ecosystems, and to provide support for sound resource management decisions across a wide range of

environmental, socioeconomic and cultural settings,” he said. “There are places in the world where lakes are changing, even drying up and threatening livelihoods. “That realization opens the door for us to have a deeper conversation about how people and institutions can adapt to reverse or slow these changes by adopting more sustainable practices.” The circle of life Harmon’s team members discuss with stakeholders is at the crux of UC Merced’s international research efforts: Whether in the remote highlands of Tibet or in battle-scarred Central American nations, climate change, civil unrest and resource mismanagement affect more than just those living in the immediate area. These are real-world problems that don’t just live in the past, they linger today and how we deal with them leaves a legacy inherited by the future.



Alumni Corner

ALUMNI ENTREPRENEURS: Uday Bali (environmental engineering/ bachelor’s/2008)

owner of Bali Learning Center in Merced Kelvin Do (economics/bachelor’s/2009)

owner of The New Heart Café in San Jose Jose Carlo Elamparo (world cultures and history/ bachelor’s/2009)

co-founder of Stance Trader Inc., in Los Angeles James Pugh (political science/ bachelor’s/2010)

co-founder of Dad’s Jerky in San Diego Janna Rodriguez (mechanical engineering/ bachelor’s /2012)

owner of J&R Tacos in Merced Eric Shorr (environmental engineering/ bachelor’s /2008)

owner of Nameless Designs in Haifa, Israel Matthew Tolbirt (political science/ bachelor’s /2010)

founder and managing partner of One Key Ventures in Tracy Kurt Winbigler (literatures and cultures/ bachelor’s /2009)

owner of Coffee Bandits in Merced





ne of the hallmarks of a UC Merced education is the opportunity to help build the campus – forming student organizations, athletic groups, student government — and paving the way for future generations of students. UC Merced encourages students to take on the challenge of starting up new enterprises, so it’s no surprise that several of our students took that entrepreneurial attitude and put it to work. AJ Watkins Take AJ Watkins, for example. As a student at UC Merced, she had big dreams to travel but struggled to find a job that would help her save money to fly across the country. Watkins created her own business – Candy Lei Industries – making and selling candy leis to graduating students at high schools and junior high schools throughout the Bay Area. Time and time again she sold out of leis at each event – her customers seeking that last-minute gift to honor their graduates at an important milestone in their lives. At $5 per candy lei, her customers bought three or four for their graduate, making demand far outweigh her handmade supply. Although she didn’t end up traveling to New York, she did treat herself to a back-toschool shopping spree in Las Vegas and took notes to help her business grow even more the next year. Hiring two local junior high students the following summer, Watkins visited 15 schools and learned the importance of planning ahead – as she continued to sell out of leis as fast as she made them. Harsimran (Simran) Singh Harsimran (Simran) Singh is the founder and president of Tiger Trans Inc., a transportation logistics company based in Turlock. Singh tried a couple of different ventures before attending UC Merced as a transfer student from Modesto Junior College, but when the opportunity to start Tiger Trans presented itself while he was still a student, Singh jumped. His father had been a truck driver, and Singh knew the business, the challenges and the opportunities well.

BY HEATHER BUCKNER director of alumni relations

As the business began to grow, Singh recruited fellow classmate David Lopez to help him on the business-side of things, in addition to his good friend Bhagdeep Gill, who was also living in Turlock. Since graduating from UC Merced, Singh has further grown the business, working with 27 trucks to haul products across the country and into Canada and expanding to hire UC Merced students as summer interns. He hopes to continue building an internship program for UC Merced students as part of his business. Efferman Ezell, Derrick Gellidon, Matt Szeto Another alumni venture came to fruition this past summer in the form of a mobile beverage company called Blendid. Three friends, Efferman Ezell, Derrick Gellidon and Matt Szeto, a UC Irvine graduate, set out to fill a gap they perceived in the market. Blendid specializes in dessert-inspired drinks that offer a healthier alternative to actual sweets. With flavors like Banana Cream Pie, Mango Sticky Rice and S’mores, it’s hard to believe they might actually be good for you, but they pack a punch of protein and natural sweetness. All the drinks are less than 300 calories and are made with almond milk and ricotta cheese to maximize protein and create that creamy shake texture. The owners also try to use fresh, locally-grown produce from Central Valley- and San Francisco-area farmers. For example, they’ve contracted with J. Marchini Farms in Le Grand for the pumpkin in their Pumpkin Pie shakes. Since their grand opening in August 2013, the trio has already hired two part-time staff members and hopes to hire even more to help them meet the growing needs of their small business. They’re also planning trips back to Merced to share their product with UC Merced students. UC Merced is proud of the dozen or so alumni who have ventured out to start their own businesses around the Valley, the state and the world.

UC for California Make a Difference — Support UC Merced

UC Merced is subject to changing state and federal laws that could impact our students, faculty and staff members. In recent years, the University of California and its supporters have fought hard in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to ensure the access, affordability and quality of the university for current and future students, as well as on various policy issues that could benefit or adversely affect its employees. If you would like to join in the effort to advocate on behalf of UC Merced and the University of California, please visit to learn how you can make a difference.

Intercollegiate Athletics sports for students to participate in and fans to be proud of: men’s soccer and men’s basketball. They, along with men’s cross country and volleyball and women’s basketball, cross country, volleyball and soccer, bring the young campus’s total to eight National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) sports teams. Albert Martins is the new head coach of men’s soccer, while David Noble leads the men’s volleyball team. Games go on through fall and winter, with cross country meets in such places as University of San Francisco, Stanford, Santa Clara and Davis, leading up to the NAIA National Championship in Lawrence, Kan. Soccer started in August and runs through the first half of November, with Bobcats taking on such opponents as Modesto Junior College, William Jessup University, Menlo College, Embry-Riddle and Marymount University.


UC Merced has two new National Association of

Tickets are available for all games, as are full schedules and player and coach information. Visit



WHATâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S NEW Half Dome, the newest residence hall, reflects not only the open sky and buildings around it, but the commitment to sustainability on the UC Merced campus. Much of the building uses recycled materials, from its carpets to its ceiling tiles, and campus construction practices enabled the diversion of tons of waste from landfills by recycling or reusing everything possible.

University Communications 5200 N. Lake Road Merced, CA 95343



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UC Merced Magazine Fall 2013