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FALL 2015


Fall 2015

Contents 3 Leadership Perspectives | Student Affairs leader

17 alumni corner | Former students say the

4 focus on students | UC Merced students work

18 The Flow of Water Data | UC Water,

6 Donor Spotlight | The Lakireddy family

24 Our WORLD | Professors volunteer to teach

8 A Healthy Perspective | As interest

26 WHAT’S NEW | A Venture Lab connects

talks about how the campus has changed in 10 years and about what hasn’t changed — the campus spirit.

together with the community to accomplish tasks and act as role models.

sees supporting education as the best way to help people reach their potential.

in the biological sciences grows, the campus increases emphasis on human health research.

14 Having Tea with Professor Christopher

Viney | Time hasn’t diminished this founding faculty member’s love for the campus.

foundations they learned — and earned — here influence their daily lives.

the newest research institute, looks to the future of the state’s water security.

science to scholar monks living in exile in India.

campus with community for innovative partnerships.


current government liaisons talk about the importance of relationships in building a new university.

30 Our Green Campus | Sustainability

continues to be a major effort as leaders look to instill a wider green culture among the campus community.

ABOUT THE COVERS | The photos on the front and back covers are from the campus lighting ceremony, held just

before opening day, Sept. 5, 2005. A huge banquet was held where the sports fields and amphitheater are now. Early campus community members, supporters and friends enjoyed the light show highlighting the buildings, as well as a fireworks display.


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happily remember Sept. 5, 2005 — opening day at UC Merced — because that was the day I fell in love with this place. As a reporter for The Modesto Bee, I wrote about UC Merced and founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey (CTK, as most people called her). She was an amazing woman — and a little intimidating because she was so intelligent, so driven and so intense. I never envied any reporter who wrote about her because she did not suffer fools. At all. If you wasted her time, you were done. But what we didn’t know then was that she only had a few years left. She didn’t have time to waste. She was determined UC Merced would open, grow, thrive and succeed at all the goals the founders set out for it — all the visions they had for a university in the middle of a valley where most people didn’t dare dream of a college education. On opening day, I met faculty members in their dress robes and many dignitaries. But what made me fall in love were the students. How brave they were! Not just that most of them were the first in their families to even go to college, but that they aimed for and grabbed the brass ring of a UC education. Most of all, though, I was in awe of their pioneer spirit. When they started, there were no clubs, no organizations, no student government. They took classes in the California Room and the library because that was the only place for them. The students were nervous, like every kid going away to college for the first time is. But instead of wondering what they would get out of this place,

they wanted to figure out what they could bring to this place. They looked around at what was a dirt lot with construction noises booming all around them and said, “Let’s build a university.” I left The Bee and came to work here in 2006. Enrolling or taking a job here still requires a certain type of person. You’ve got to have an adventurous spirit, because at UC Merced, not everything is mapped out for you. And as founding faculty member Professor Christopher Viney said (page 14), though many of the usual university offerings have been developed, there is still much more to do. It takes guts to come to a job or a school where the buildings aren’t finished, the academic programs are still being crafted and if you want something, you pretty much have to get it, find it or do it yourself. One phrase you never hear here: “That’s how we’ve always done it.” You might think, 10 years in, we’d be “settled.” You’d be wrong. UC Merced is a place without limits, and I hope that never changes. Please enjoy looking back and looking forward with us as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of UC Merced.


Lorena Anderson PHOTOGRAPHY

Veronica Adrover Lorena Anderson Jacob Croasdale Alan Fishleder Encarnacion Ruiz Joshua Viers Christopher Viney Roger Wyan Elena Zhukova And the many people who, over the years, have taken photos of the campus and events and given them to us for our use. MAGAZINE DESIGN

Jennifer Biancucci PUBLISHED BY

University Communications UC MERCED LEADERSHIP

Dorothy Leland Chancellor

Thomas Peterson Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Kyle Hoffman Vice Chancellor Development and Alumni Relations

Patti Waid

Lorena Anderson

Assistant Vice Chancellor University Communications

Editor in chief

We welcome your feedback at We hope to hear from you soon!

Cori Lucero Executive Director, Governmental and Community Relations VISIT us on the web

Founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey proudly displayed her dedication to UC Merced, even on her license plates.

Charles Nies discusses plans with student orientation leaders.

Campus’ Spirit Saw it Through the Beginning, Propels it into the Future

BY Charles Nies, interim vice chancellor of Student Affairs


They don’t know everyone they pass on the Scholars Lane t is hard to believe that just 10 years ago, most of the Bridge anymore, but they all have something in common: entire student body could reside in our original residence They have all come here because of the opportunity. halls, which hold just shy of 700 students. Parents who sent one son to UC Merced in 2008 and are I wasn’t here that first year, but understand it was a very sending their second this fall commented on how much we’ve different place to be a student. grown and how different the campus looks. The very first Bobcat Day was held at Lake Yosemite and But the spirit they felt as they walked the campus and future students viewed the “campus” through binoculars. interacted with our students, faculty and staff members When they started, there was no gym, limited classrooms still communicated the innovative energy and authentic and automobile travel up and down Scholars Lane. Early commitment to student success that has always characterized inaugural events easily fit in the Bobcat Lair, while textbooks UC Merced. were sold out of the Office of Student Life. We have strengthened our commitment to making higher The early student experience was marked by big hopes on a education accessible, especially for youth in the Central Valley. campus without grass and only three buildings. The dedication to student success means the cultivation of an Back then, students knew everyone they passed crossing inclusive campus climate. the bridge. We strive to affirm individual significance, The students viewed the blank canvas as an opportunity provide challenges and support for student growth to create and hoped they were starting traditions that would and persistence, and create innovative and integrated outlive their time on our campus. student experiences to maximize the possibilities Today, more than 2,100 students live on campus. Both associated with a UC Merced degree. the recreation center and the dining center have completed The university and our partners expansions. And the number of have accomplished much in the buildings filled with faculty offices, labs past decade, clearly reflected in and classrooms has more than doubled. our growth from 875 to 6,600-plus We have grown from one graduate students and the development of program and eight majors to 11 highly sustainable physical spaces. graduate programs, 22 majors and 24 They don’t know But what always remains is the minors. spirit of innovation exhibited by With the physical development of the everyone they pass on the people who work, play, study, campus and the fall 2015 enrollments the Scholars Lane Bridge contribute and learn here, creating that demonstrate more than 750 percent this community of scholars and growth since the beginning, UC Merced anymore, but they all propeling us into the future. is a much different place than its have something in At the end of the day, as I inaugural year. drive down Lake Road and watch But some of the most important common: They have all the lights of campus fade in my parts of university life have remained rearview mirror, the image the same. come here because of amazes me. The students still walk the campus the opportunity.” Yes, there are more lights — fiat filled with big hopes. lux! But more amazing is what has Recently, a group of students talked — CHARLES NIES — been created and what is to come about the importance of being engaged — a powerful and transformational in our growth and making sure the educational experience. student voice is still significant.




Volunteerism, Research Partnerships Bond UC Merced, Community

F Above, undergraduate student Norma Hernandez works with middle-schooler Jessica Leal. Below, undergraduate Danielle Irving speaks with a group of girls.

Bottom, undergrad Norma Hernandez has one-on-one time with middle school student June Gonzalez.



BY Cyndee Fontana-Ott

or UC Merced students like DeVonyo Bills, community service is a way of life. Bills was in the seventh grade when he set a goal of completing 100 hours of volunteer work annually. Changing addresses from Oakland to Merced made no difference to the senior majoring in Earth systems sciences. In his adopted hometown, Bills has participated in Project 10% (aimed at improving high school graduation rates), cleared trash from the fairgrounds and parks, pitched in as a handyman and more. He sees boundless value in service. “The most important thing to remember is that you are doing something with the community, and not for them,” he said. Today, Bills is an intern in the Office of Student Life and one of hundreds of UC Merced students, faculty and staff members who embrace the community through research projects, community service and other collaborations. That work registered nationally this year. The Carnegie Foundation honored the campus with its Classification for Community Engagement designation — making the UC’s newest campus one of just 361 universities to earn that distinction. Throughout the community, those partnerships are valued. “The benefits the community receives from the volunteerism of students, faculty and staff today will continue paying off for decades in the future,” said Mike Conway, assistant to the Merced city manager. Engaging children That work takes many forms. For example, the campus Resource Center for Community Engaged Scholarship (ReCCES) connects community members with faculty and staff members and students to work toward common goals. The center also has helped craft a new academic minor — Community Research and Service — that debuted this fall. One recent project included senior Brenda Rojas of San Bernardino, who researched youth councils around the state to provide information to the city. Working with anthropology Professor Robin DeLugan, she and other students explored the councils’ funding, structure and practices. “We were trying to look at those that were working and finding ways to keep kids engaged,” said Rojas, who has a dual major in sociology and psychology. Senior Maria “Lucy” Ayala Rodriguez, also from San Bernardino, was another researcher. The anthropology and sociology major said she hopes the findings will strengthen the local youth council. Conway said the information is invaluable — especially because city employees might not have time for such extensive research. DeLugan said students are ready to lend a hand. “These are students who are committed to working in the community,” she said. “Students want to understand how to help.” Both Rojas and Ayala Rodriguez also are involved in community service through the Rotaract club. “There’s always something to do,” Rojas said. “Community service has really opened my eyes to all the types of people who need help.” “We want to be more connected to the community,” said Ayala Rodriguez. “Overall, at the end of the day, you see people smile for the work that you’ve done.”

About the author: Cyndee Fontana-Ott is a freelance writer who has been writing about UC Merced for more than a decade. She regularly contributes to the university’s website and magazine with stories about students, faculty members and staff members.

Valuable Resource Vernette Doty, the associate director of student life and civic leadership, said about 30 percent of UC Merced students are regularly involved in the community. They contributed more than 5,000 hours of service in the past academic year — a conservative figure because every hour can’t be tracked. Doty said students have been generous with their time since the campus opened in 2005. “Our students are unique,” she said. “Many of them have experienced that type of help from somebody and they want to give back. Students really respond well when they’re asked to be involved in the community.” For example, UC Merced students have been an integral part of the “Lift While You Lead” mentoring and empowerment projects at the high school and middle school levels. Annie Delgado, a women’s studies teacher with Merced Union High School District, coordinates the projects and has worked with more than 30 UC Merced students over the past few years. The mentoring program places UC Merced undergraduates in high school classrooms as a resource for students. The multi-year empowerment project starts at the middle school level and is designed to help guide young women into making informed decisions in academic, personal and other areas of their lives. “The UC Merced students bring a level of enthusiasm that has a direct impact,” Delgado said. “It has been a positive influence on students to see someone who looks like them and realize, ‘I can go to college.’” Undergraduate Zabrina Campos Melendez, a management and business economics major, is a first-generation college student who volunteers her time. She said she appreciates the program’s mentoring aspect and message. “When I was a kid, I didn’t have someone there to ask questions,” said Campos-Melendez, who grew up in Watsonville. “Now I can encourage students to attend college and express their opinions.” Role Models

Junior Juan C. Hernandez, president of the campus chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said he’s grown from his volunteer service at Castle Air Force Base. Mainly, he works in the restoration hangar. On any given day, you might find student volunteers assembling, painting or swapping parts on aircraft such as the Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Hernandez, a mechanical engineering major from San Diego, views his service as more of an internship. “I get to work with highly skilled people,” he said. “They really know what they’re talking about.” Another high-profile community collaboration is showcased on the restroom building at McNamara Park.

From left, undergrad students Derek Hollenbeck, Juan Carlos Hernandez and Salvador Uvalle work on restoring planes for Castle. Center, the mural at MacNamara Park, painted by UC Merced students for the neighborhood. Right, Hollenbeck does some detail work on a vintage plane.

Jacob Croasdale, coordinator of the Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) in the Office of Student Life, approached the city when he heard officials were thinking about adding a mural. The idea attracted the campus community, including lecturer Richard Gomez, who teaches Art for Social Change. YLP and art students collaborated with the city to engage community members, canvassing the neighborhood around the park to find out what residents wanted to see in the park. Gomez’s students created the mural design, which was refined further through feedback from Merced community members and representatives from the city. More than 100 people volunteered to paint, including residents and area children. The mural features a picture of a little girl blowing bubbles, each of which contains role models for the community, such as John Muir and Maya Angelou, and roses and cacti — common in the yards of the park’s neighbors. The bubble painting wraps around two sides of the building, and on the third side, an eagle drops a clutch of broken handguns to symbolize residents’ desire to be free of gun violence. Senior Vanessa Velasco, a human biology major from Hanford, participated on the design and painting team. She said it was interesting to speak with residents and to help envision a piece of public art. The process also helped Velasco overcome some lingering shyness. “I am finding myself,” she said. Another solid collaboration exists with the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County. John H. Doty, the club’s director of education, said dozens of UC Merced students serve as volunteers. Some worked over the break to help children overcome the “summer slide,” in which they get out of their regular learning habits. The summer program employed films like “Wall-E” — and scripts from those movies — as tools to improve literacy. Doty said UC Merced students are an important resource. Some also bring first-hand experience in learning to read a second language. “They are extremely helpful,” he said. “The college students also provide role models for the kids.” This summer, senior Natalie Hernandez volunteered in the morning literacy program and often stayed for afternoon activities. She was enrolled in summer college classes and wanted to be productive in her spare time. “It’s important to volunteer and I enjoy working with kids,” said Hernandez, a sociology major from San Jose. “They just light up my day.” Many say the bonds between community and university are beneficial to both. “It’s absolutely fantastic to have UC Merced as a resource,” Conway said. “Working with new groups and ideas is one of the things that keeps us fresh and creative.” FALL 2015 | UC MERCED MAGAZINE


Donor Spotlight Vikram and Priya Lakireddy

“Education is the only way for upward mobility for anyone.” — Priya Lakireddy

A Heartfelt

Legacy of Giving


ou’d be hard-pressed to find a UC Merced student who hasn’t taken a class or attended an event at The Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium in the Classroom and Office Building. The auditorium opened in January 2006 and has been home to UC Merced’s first graduation as well as many other events. It remains the campus’s largest lecture room. The large, heavy doors, theater-style seats and red stage curtain represent more than a space to teach and entertain; they exemplify a family’s legacy of giving. Growing up in the small village of Velvadam, India, Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy didn’t have modern conveniences like electricity or a telephone. He often walked to school barefoot. Yet from a young age, he was sure of two things: One day he would become a cardiologist, and he would help others. When British rule ended in 1947, the new Indian prime minister fought to make a better life for the country’s citizens. Part of his plan included building 1 million high schools, which helped further solidify Lakireddy’s vision for the future. After graduation, he went on to college, and then earned his medical degree and returned to his village to practice medicine. “My observation has been that education is the easiest way for a better future,” he said. “I believe because of education, I got out of that little village and got somewhere. “My mission is to help as many people as possible.” With that goal in mind, 37 years ago, Lakireddy, his wife, Vijaya, and their two sons moved to the United States. He trained in internal medicine in New York and cardiology in Connecticut. In July 1984, the Lakireddys moved to Merced to be closer to family members, and Lakireddy became the first board-certified cardiologist in Merced County. Following through with their passion to help others, the couple created a scholarship for Merced High School graduates in the name of Lakireddy’s parents. They have also generously donated to Merced College. The Lakireddys formed their relationship with UC Merced before ground had even been broken. In 2002, after reading about plans for the campus in the newspaper, Lakireddy said he got excited and went straight to founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. “I went to the chancellor and offered, ‘I want to be part of the university. I am writing you a check right now,’” he said. “That was the beginning of the story.”




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Passing Along the Priorities The family’s initial $1 million gift was designated to enhance the auditorium that now bears his name. It was initially designed as a space for lectures, but the donation allowed for a larger stage, stateof-the-art audio-visual system and backstage rooms. On Sept. 4, 2005, the Lakireddys opened their home to more than 400 guests, including dignitaries and the other UC chancellors who came to celebrate the campus’s official opening the following day. They again hosted a dinner celebration in 2007. Lakireddy stays connected to the university in many ways, and often brings his grandchildren to events held in the auditorium, like the symphony and lectures. He said he is honored to know the family is part of UC Merced. “It’s a wonderful feeling, and it makes my heart feel good,” he said. The Lakireddys support other areas on campus, from health sciences fellowships to student clubs. But the family’s generosity goes well beyond the campus and Merced. They give extensively to help the small town in India where their journey started by providing food, clothing and educational opportunities to those in need. The town has grown to about 10,000 population, but the dire living conditions still remain. The desire to help others has been embraced by the next generation. The couple’s oldest son, Dr. Vikram Lakireddy and his wife, Priya, met in Merced while she was visiting family after her college graduation and he was home for the weekend from his cardiology residency on the East Coast. “I told her the first day that we met that I am going to be coming back here to practice,” Vikram Lakireddy said. In 2009, after the two were married, he did just that and joined his father’s thriving cardiology practice. In addition to helping community members through his medical expertise, he said it was natural for him and Priya to perpetuate the family’s legacy of philanthropy.

 To hear Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy talk about why his philanthropy comes from his soul, visit

I believe because of education, I got out of that little village and got somewhere. My mission is to help as many people as possible.” — Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy —

“The seeds were sown by my father,” Vikram Lakireddy said. He hopes their support of the campus will shape the future for his children. “We talked about how we wanted this town to be the kind of place that our kids would want to come back to,” Vikram Lakireddy said. “I do not want my kids to automatically cross Merced off the list of options when they get older.”

Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy and his wife, Vijaya, have a long-standing relationship with the campus.

A Long-term Relationship That’s one of the reasons behind their establishing the Dr. and Mrs. Lakireddy Innovation and Design Clinic Endowed Fund in 2014. The endowment helps area nonprofits to participate in the campus’s annual Innovation and Design clinic, where UC Merced students apply engineering principles to come up with solutions to pressing problems. “If more people came up with ideas — whether it’s manufacturing jobs, programming, whatever industry — if those jobs could be established here in the Valley, it would create great opportunities for the town and the university,” Vikram Lakireddy said. The couple also shares in the senior Lakireddy’s belief in the power of education. “Education is the only way for upward mobility for anyone,” said Priya Lakireddy, who works on campus as an administrative coordinator for Environmental Health and Safety. “That’s why we think supporting higher education is so important.” The senior Lakireddy said his younger son, Sidhardha, a lawyer in San Francisco, continues to look for ways for the family to support the burgeoning campus. “We want to have a long-term relationship, even with the next generation of my family,” Lakireddy said. From humble beginnings, the family’s legacy of compassion and generosity began and will benefit many generations to come.



Professor Jan Wallander studies health psychology.

CAMPUS has a healthy perspective

on where its research is heading

By Jeremy Olson

The growing popularity of biology studies and the campus’s plans for its future areas of concentration lead to a new focus on human health


he University of California, Merced, was plotted at the juncture of mountains, fields and urban sprawl with the mission of serving the diverse needs of the San Joaquin Valley region. Little has changed with that philosophy a decade later as UC Merced flips the switch on a new era in which public and human health sciences will be some of the core subjects for the institution in its teaching, research, faculty recruitment and program development. As research funding and activity have grown exponentially on campus, studies have targeted global health issues such as HIV and Alzheimer’s disease, but many professors have concentrated efforts on issues uniquely endemic to the Valley.



• Professor Clarissa Nobile is among the scientists at UC Merced studying the mechanisms of valley fever, an infection caused by fungal spores commonly found in the soil of the largely agricultural region. • Professor Paul Brown and colleagues are using a federal grant to pursue interventions that address child obesity, which is alarmingly common in Merced County. • Professor Fabian Filipp recently met with physicians at the Cancer Center of Mercy Medical Center in Merced to collaborate on studies of cancer-related disparities in an area that is largely Hispanic and low-income.

Professor Clarissa Nobile, left, works with a student on biofilms research.

“UC Merced, to me, feels a lot like a startup. It’s one of those places that has started strong and has so much potential to achieve amazing things.” — Professor Clarissa Nobile

About the author: Jeremy Olson, a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, shared the local reporting Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for a series of stories on a spike in infant deaths at poorly regulated day-care homes. The series resulted in legislative action to strengthen rules. He has primarily covered health care and social services in his 18 years as a journalist. Olson also won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism when he worked for the Omaha World-Herald.

“One of the reasons they made it UC Merced, instead of UC Beverly Hills, is that this was a region that was very underserved,” said Brown, a health economics researcher and director of the university’s Health Sciences Research Institute. “You go other places, and there are researchers tripping over each other to do studies. In the San Joaquin Valley, not so.” The paucity of research in the Valley has not been for lack of things to examine, or problems to solve. Asthma rates in Merced County nearly double those in the state of California. Its rankings for stroke, diabetes and heart disease rank among the worst of the state’s 58 counties.

A UC Merced study found 41.2 percent of teens in the county were overweight or obese, a rate that would be among the worst in the world. And despite producing some of the healthiest foods on the planet, such as almonds and pomegranates, many of the county’s residents — a quarter of whom live below the poverty line — either can’t afford them or live in food deserts and can’t access them. The new energy and innovation coming from UC Merced to address such issues is perfectly timed for the community, as residents in the Valley have become somewhat tone deaf to the messages from social service and public health agencies, said >> CONTINUED ON PAGE 10 FALL 2015 | UC MERCED MAGAZINE



Claudia Corchado, program manager for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program. It’s a struggle to hit home on even basic messages, she said, such as convincing people that high-sugar beverages contribute as much to obesity as high-fat foods. “They think it’s what we eat, not what we drink,” she said. “We need the credibility of the university. That’s huge, especially in Merced County.” Growing Emphasis on Biology Pushing the growth in health care and related research is the infusion of students studying biology, which is the most popular major on campus. Of the 1,800 students in the university’s School of Natural Sciences, about 1,300 have chosen degree paths in biology, said Dean Juan Meza. “There’s a sense that this is where the action is,” Meza said. But the move toward health care research also comes from key decisions by university leaders, including the creation in 2012 of the research institute Brown leads, and the selection in 2014 of human-health research as one of six strategic focus areas for the university. Both steps will influence faculty hiring at a critical time, considering that the institution expects to add 150 faculty members in the next six years to keep pace with swelling student enrollment. And that, in turn, is expected to fuel something of a renaissance in health research — despite the fact that the university lacks the classic infrastructure such as a medical school, and will be competing in a state in which nine universities routinely pull in more than $100 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants per year. UC Merced’s record for NIH grants came in 2014, when it surpassed $4 million for the first time. Five years earlier, it had drawn less than $1 million, which Meza said points to the university’s growth. 10


“Biology is going to be the big growth area in the 21st century,” he said. “It’s changing in that it’s much more quantitative than it used to be. There are a whole lot of things that people haven’t looked at before that we are able to look at now. So we don’t have that big infrastructure, but you can still be a big player these days without it.” Recently, researchers have drawn the attention of grant agencies like the NIH for such projects as: • Professor Masashi Kitazawa’s study of the link between copper in drinking water to Alzheimer’s disease; • Professor Kara McCloskey’s use of stem cells to engineer cardiovascular tissues that could someday be used to repair damaged blood vessels or heart tissue; • Professor Andy LiWang’s work on understanding biological clocks; • Professor Patricia LiWang’s development of an HIVinhibiting silk protein that can be stored without refrigeration for up to six months at temperatures up to 120 degrees; • Professor Miriam Barlow’s examination of antibiotic resistance; and • Professor Wei-Chun Chin’s work on nanomaterials that could help people with respiratory ailments better expel mucus. Those are just a few of the health-related projects being undertaken at UC Merced. One factor in the growth of health research is that equipment has become smaller, more efficient and less expensive. For

At Left, Professor AndY LiWang researches human biological clocks. Above left, the Produce on the Go food truck visits campus to bring fresh produce. Above right, Professor Jitske Tiemsensma, center, studies how emotions affect chronic disease.

Biology is going to be the big growth area in the 21st century. It’s changing in that it’s much more quantitative than it used to be. … So we don’t have that big infrastructure, but you can still be a big player these days without it.” — School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza —

example, genetic sequencing equipment used to be larger than refrigerators, but the equipment Nobile has used for some pioneering work on biofilms is cheaper and smaller than a toaster oven. Biofilms are clusters of microbes that might have more to do in combination with the origins of disease than any one bacteria or fungus. (A common example of a biofilm would be the plaque that forms on teeth.) Nobile assembles biofilms and studies them under a timelapse microscope to learn how organisms communicate and behave together. “We are probing how each can influence the activity of a partner species and identifying the molecules they use to communicate,” said the professor who recently became the campus’s first Pew Scholar. “These findings could change the way we look at microbial interactions and lead to better ways to combat infectious disease.” A Future in Public Health Continued successes in health care and biological research could eventually compel university leaders to make bigger investments in infrastructure. Nobile believes the university will one day need its own biosafety-level 3 lab to remain a leader in the study of valley fever as well as in the roles of biofilms or the origins of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Discussions of a medical school have already taken place, and the university will eventually visit questions of whether nursing, pharmacy or dentistry programs are appropriate additions, said UC Merced Provost Tom Peterson.

Student interest could be the main driver. More than 60 percent of them are the first in their families to attend college — and many of them have eager ambitions of medical careers. But a medical school is not a necessity for cutting-edge medical research, Peterson said. UC Riverside waited 50 years before opening a medical school, and UC Berkeley has none despite a robust research program that pulled in more than $26 million in NIH grants last year. “We are finding new and exciting ways to make significant contributions to human health science … without the need for a medical school in the immediate future,” the provost said. “Further, we believe that building the strong foundational activities cutting across many aspects of human health science will favorably position UC Merced for future expansion of a medical school associated with the campus.” One such area is public health — the study of broad societal influences on the health of communities, and of interventions to address poor health outcomes. Merced researchers, for example, are looking to repackage information on air quality in the Valley so residents can understand it and take precautions to protect those at the greatest risk for health complications. Professor Jan Wallander’s research has focused on identifying the risk factors for obesity and related metabolic diseases, such as the amount of time people spend sitting in front of video screens, or their racial and genetic origins. But now the professor is moving toward testing interventions in the San Joaquin Valley to see if they can have impacts. “Public health is more about preventing health problems from developing and improving the health of the population,” he said. “One could say Merced and the San Joaquin Valley need strong public health research and interventions as much as they need doctors coming out of the university.” >> CONTINUED ON PAGE 12 FALL 2015 | UC MERCED MAGAZINE


“You go other places, and there are researchers tripping over each other to do studies. In the San Joaquin Valley, not so.” — Health Sciences Research Institute Director Paul Brown —


Cancer, Diabetes, Health Outcomes Molecular biology is another focus area among UC Merced’s researchers. Professor Filipp has concentrated much of his work on the genetic and biological origins of melanoma, a skin cancer with a high fatality rate if diagnosed late. Professor Rudy Ortiz is searching for biologic clues that predict the irreversible cellular damage that leads to diabetes before it happens. “What are some of those characteristics or markers that we can use to better identify and diagnose, if you will, the early events” preceding diabetes, he asked. Health psychology is also a growth area for research at UC Merced, highlighted by the work of Professor Jitske Tiemensma on how prior stress in life affects coping with diseases later on, and how perception of diseases affects people’s abilities to fight them off. Her research included analysis of drawings and artistic creations by patients with conditions such as cancer, as well as patients with a disorder in their pituitary glands that is rare but also a great biological indicator of how lifetime stress affects the body. “How you perceive your disease and the treatment and the symptoms really influences how you cope,” she said. The evolution of her research is a somewhat familiar story at UC Merced. Tiemensma joined the university from an institution in the Netherlands, so much of her initial research stretched back to work with patients from that country. Over time, she is looking for more opportunities to work with local populations, and to examine how the stresses of poverty and racial disparities that are so prevalent in the Valley can affect coping. “Can we influence those processes?” she asked. “Are there things we can do so there is a less intense response to stress?”



Opportunities Within Partnerships Brown said the untapped research opportunities that exist in the Valley are a major draw for faculty, along with the chance to attempt interventions in an area with so much need. “That’s part of our mission,” he said. “And for researchers seeking to make a difference with the work, there are so many opportunities to make a positive impact by forming partnerships with people and communities in underserved areas to address challenges they face every day.” Brown and Wallander are involved with a $90,000 NIH grant to establish connections in the community and identify the interventions that will have the greatest impact on obesity in the region. Corchado said it is important to build trust and understanding between the researchers at the university and the people in the community who would be participating in interventions and research studies. She recalled how UC Merced researchers enthusiastically presented a new program in one community by which a truck would arrive on Wednesdays to provide them with the affordable produce that isn’t immediately available to them. The researchers were surprised by the tepid reaction, which turned out to be dissatisfaction with the day of the week. “’We don’t get paid till Friday,’” community members eventually revealed to the researchers. Such startup problems are to be expected in a community with deepseated health problems and a new university trying to address them for the first time. Nobile, the biofilms researcher, said the process seems much the same as what she encountered in 2013 when starting up a biotech company. “I really like the feel of startups,” she said. “UC Merced, to me, feels a lot like a startup. It’s one of those places that has started strong and has so much potential to achieve amazing things.”

Professor Fabian Filipp is studying melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.



Viney’s Journey 1980


Earned bachelor’s degree in metallurgy and materials science from University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.

BY LORENA ANDERSON University Communications

1983 Earned Ph.D. in liquid crystalline polymers from University of Cambridge; started postdoctoral research at Cambridge.

1986 Took a position as World Trade Visiting Scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose.

1987 Joined faculty at University of Washington, in Seattle, in materials science and engineering, and subsequently bioengineering.

1995 Joined the faculty at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, teaching and researching in materials.

1998 Held the established chair in the Chemistry of Materials at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he also served as deputy head and then head of chemistry, and as an elected member of the University Court.

1999 Became a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in London.

2000 Received the Interdisciplinary Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry; elected as a Fellow of ASM International.

2003 Became one of the founding faculty members of UC Merced. In the past 12 years, he led the establishment of degree programs in bioengineering and materials science and engineering, as well as general education; served on the Board of Trustees of the ASM International Materials Education Foundation; received UC Merced’s inaugural Faculty of the Year Award; served as UC Merced’s first vice provost for Undergraduate Education and as dean of College One; received the Science Communicator Award from UC Merced’s chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society; and was recognized as UC Merced’s first Chancellor’s Associates Faculty Scholar. 14


W Editor’s note:

Usually this feature is called “Having Coffee With,” but Viney is British and drinks tea, of course.

hen Professor Christopher Viney travels, he prefers using a compass and map to smartphone apps to find his way around. And as a founding faculty member, Viney has been the campus compass for most of UC Merced’s first decade, helping guide the university’s development since before the campus even opened. He has developed degree programs, written curricula, taught, mentored, served on pretty much every academic committee on campus — from physical planning to arts — and worked for a time as vice provost for undergraduate education. He continues to publish innovative research, and has authored or co-authored more than 170 research articles and book chapters in his professional career. “There’s no instruction manual on how to start a university or how to develop a curricula completely from scratch. You have to do it to believe it. Last year, I made it to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. People who’ve done it, they understand. For people who’ve never done it, how do you communicate that?” Viney said of starting the newest UC campus. “I think each one of us who participated must have our own unique feelings about it.” Viney left a position in Scotland where restructuring meant departmental deconstruction. He had options, including an established school “somewhere on the East Coast,” where he’d be tasked with building a department. He said choosing UC Merced — a place that is continuously under construction — was a no-brainer. He and the other original faculty members joined the founding three deans in laying the first foundations of the campus, including personally recruiting students around the state and telling parents and children about the opportunities and economic impacts of having a college degree.

One of UC Merced’s goals has been to build a college-going culture, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, where higher education has not always been a priority. That change began with the first group of faculty members and administrators, who helped people understand what a research university is. “We had to explain that engineering is more than just mechanical engineering, and that it wasn’t about fixing cars,” Viney said. “Everything that turns energy into movement is mechanical engineering. “We’d talk about job opportunities, and how engineers are not the stereotype: unkempt and unwashed with 14 different colored pens and no social skills. We assured parents that we weren’t ogres when it came to working with their kids.”

There’s no instruction Enthusiasm Hasn’t Waned As the father of one college student and one soon-to-be college student, Viney said he understands why parents were skeptical at first, and well remembers the pressure of making sure he was developing curriculum that his students could actually use. “The big question parents were asking us was ‘What advice do you have for us as parents of college students?’” He encouraged parents to be supportive, even if their children came home with challenging new ideas. >> CONTINUED ON PAGE 16

manual on how to start a university or how to develop a curricula completely from scratch. You have to do it to believe it.” — PROFESSOR CHRISTOPHER VINEY




“We encourage them to go home with all the love and respect for their families, cultures and traditions, but maybe they have a new perspective, have new ideas about what’s going to change the world over the next 50 years, or have changed their political views,” Viney said. “And that’s a sign of good parenting — that these kids are listening to new ideas and coming up with their own. It’s also a sign that the kid and the university have both done their job of working in an environment where new ideas happen.” Viney can be seen most days wearing UC Merced T-shirts or sweatshirts. He still shows up for most campus events, and his message to prospective students is still the same: “We’re doing admissions now like this is just a regular university. What we’re not saying — but should be saying — is that this is going to be a place for pioneers for decades,” Viney said. “Maybe some of the grid has been filled in, but the whole grid is not filled in yet, and the grid is not constrained. Come in. Make a difference. Help yourself! Help us!” To meet Viney is to realize he is unflaggingly upbeat and curious — attributes that have served him well in forging a life in Merced. One reason he didn’t choose the East Coast school was because of its small, homogenous town. People say there’s not a lot to do in Merced, but Viney doesn’t agree. He called this a place of limitless options, not just because of the campus but because of its location. His curiosity for the world around him is likely what drew him to materials science in the first place, because he looks at everything as possible inspiration for creating new materials. The community’s diversity intrigues him. He’s fascinated by other cultures, their histories and customs and particularly their foods. His father, who traveled with the British Army, introduced him to curry, and spicy foods have been a lifelong pleasure. He’s such

Above, Viney’s photograph from the top of Half Dome looking at the summiting path. Below, left, Viney dressed as a Bobcat for the first Bobcat Day.

a fan that a now-defunct Asian restaurant that offered “hell noodle soup” eating challenges wound up naming one of the challenges after Viney — the one where contestants had to eat the hottest bowl of noodle soup without accompanying cold beverages, as Viney did. “Just acclimatize to the heat and get on with it,” he said. Even without the hell noodle soup, Viney said he finds plenty of spicy food in Merced. A favorite Indian restaurant goes off the heat scale for him. “They know to do that,” he said. “If they have some ghost chilies, they’ll throw them in, too. They know I won’t sue.” Not Finished Yet His father had an intrepid spirit, which Viney inherited. He refers to his various moves around the world as adventures, but he finds plenty of those here, too, including wilderness hiking. Viney goes off-trail with no hesitation, though he’s always careful to respect the soil and plants that are protected. One hobby Viney can’t practice in Merced is change ringing, the art of ringing a set of

tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called changes. Change or method ringing is most popular in British churches that still have sets of a few large bells rigged to swing freely. During his graduate student days, Viney was steeple-keeper for the Cambridge University Guild of Change Ringers, responsible for maintaining the bells and splicing frayed ropes in the Guild’s home tower. But he finds plenty to do in Merced. People around Merced are probably familiar with one of Viney’s other passions: photography. Either they’ve seen his work displayed or they’ve seen him roaming about with a camera to his eye, documenting a variety of events, people, places and phenomena, such as this year’s lunar eclipse. “I’ve taken pictures for decades, but here I’ve run into people and opportunities that have encouraged me to actually develop it, to enter competitions, to put my stuff out there on walls and invite people to comment on it,” he said. One of his most recent shows was part of a graduate student’s program to combine science and art, pairing scientists with artists who could convey their partner’s research in photos, murals, sculptures and other media. Viney served as both scientist and artist. Viney, who is 56 this year, said when he thinks about retiring from UC Merced, there are two ways to answer: from the head and from the heart. The realist’s answer, he said, is that he has already put in half the time one normally would accrue before retiring from the UC, and “if you run more than halfway around the block and get tired, you don’t turn around and go back, you finish running around the block.” Plus, he hesitates to predict the future because most of his adventures were not ones he saw coming years ahead of time. But his heart tells him he hasn’t come close to finishing at UC Merced. “Absolutely not. There is a lot of useful work to do. I’m not done yet.”

 To hear one of Christopher Viney’s favorite memories about the campus’s early days, visit



The Journey Continues

BY Development and Alumni Relations

for Graduates “We were all part of a start-up university before any of us created start-up businesses.” — ALUMNUS DERRICK GELLIDON

From left, inaugural undergraduates Derrick Gellidon, Janice Cosio and Yaasha Sabbaghian (far right) say UC Merced continues to influence them in their jobs and other activities.

Opportunities and Initiative Janice Cosio (physics and chemistry, 2010) stayed at UC Merced longer than

some of her classmates, earning her master’s in physics and chemistry after getting her bachelor’s degree. “Undergraduate research was an amazing opportunity that I would not have had at a more established campus,” Cosio said. “I got a lab position as a junior. Most universities don’t even offer that opportunity until you’re in graduate school.” Like all of UC Merced’s students, Cosio helped set the foundations for future generations of Bobcats. She spent her free time helping form the student government. “UC Merced was an empty canvas, and we were able to start whatever clubs we would think of,” she said. “It was an honor to help draft the student government’s constitution, as it helped to serve as a base for the student leaders of today.” She recently returned to campus for the Always Love UC Merced (ALUM) Day to share with current students what it means to be an alumnus. As an adjunct professor for Madera Community College, her experiences at UC Merced help her every day. “Being in the pioneering class taught me to be a leader and to take initiative at work when an idea or concept is presented to me,” Cosio said. Startup Mentality “We were all part of a start-up university before any of us created startup businesses,” said Derrick Gellidon (psychology, 2009), who started a company called Blendid with fellow alumnus Efferman Ezell (psychology, 2009). Blendid, a company that serves organic milkshakes in the Bay Area, isn’t Gellidon’s first startup. He is helping expand recruiting



tudents at UC Merced often say “Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.” Alumni, especially those from the original undergraduate class, say they carry their UC Merced experiences with them every day. The first students had to embrace the newness, the challenges and opportunities, and have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, professors, professionals, engineers, entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. Yaasha Sabbaghian (biological sciences, 2009) understood the value of banking on a brand-new university. He took advantage of the unique research opportunities offered and expanded his experiences beyond his major. “The research opportunities provided me with a global understanding of what was important for me to learn,” he said. Sabbaghian, a patent attorney for Visa, is still involved with UC Merced, serving as the UC Merced Alumni Association secretary. He watches the campus grow and hopes the opportunity for undergraduate research will continue to be a distinguishing factor for UC Merced. He aspires to promote financial literacy and volunteers his time to help entrepreneurial young people with issues such as trademarks as they start their own companies. “My UC Merced experience helped me gain confidence, but it was the pioneering leadership spirit that created a proactive culture that empowers me today to continue to initiate projects,” he said.

efforts in engineering and operations for Instacart, a grocery delivery company that has grown from 25 employees to more than 285 in his year there. “UC Merced set the tone. We didn’t take older, established processes and build on them, we built new things and had to look first at each situation in multiple ways before we implemented anything,” he said. The exposure to ambitious classmates served as motivation — an opportunity he credits UC Merced with as a less-established institution. “Whenever I felt lost or was unclear, I surrounded myself with a group of peers who were goal-oriented and always reaching higher. This big network of mine pushed me to operate at a higher level and take ownership of a lot of things.” As he continues to build on his entrepreneurial career, Gellidon hopes his journey will lead him back to campus as the first UC Merced alumnus to deliver a commencement address. As the campus community collectively looks ahead to 2020, many of the inaugural class of students reflect on the journeys that started a decade ago. While they know change is inevitable, some realize this ever-changing place is now in the hands of the current campus community to maintain what makes UC Merced special. “UC Merced will continue to change for every generation,” Sabbaghian said. “It’s a much different place than when the Class of 2009 was here. However, as long as the learning and development of UC Merced is the same and it has the same infrastructure, it will still continue to feel like home for generations of alumni to come.”



UC MERCED RESEARCHERS Gathering Data to Tackle California’s Water Crisis on Multiple Fronts


alifornia, long envied by the rest of the country for its climate, beauty and natural resources, is four years into a

Meeting demand is only more difficult as the climate warms, Viers said.

drought and in the midst of a water crisis a century in the

“We don’t live in a place of continuous plenty,” Viers said.


By gathering data showing where the water is, and where

With Gov. Jerry Brown imposing mandatory water restrictions on

and how much water is needed, Viers and his colleagues

residents, the state’s staggeringly complex water woes have taken the

hope to help put the state’s water and how it’s managed on a

sheen off at least some of the California dream.

sustainable path.

But researchers at UC Merced are trying to unravel the Gordian knot that is California water through a new inter-campus initiative. The new UC Water Security and Sustainability Research initiative,

As Viers said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” The causes of California’s water crisis are many, from a lack of naturally occurring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada

known as UC Water, is led by UC Merced professors Roger Bales and

and drained underground aquifers to an oversubscribed and

Joshua Viers and involves researchers from other campuses. One of

antiquated water-rights legal system.

the goals is to amalgamate research on infrastructure, institutions and information — what Bales calls the three Is of water security. Researchers want to integrate information on headwaters and

The ramifications are numerous as well. Drier conditions can result in more frequent and severe wildfires. Developed land and natural habitat is much

groundwater to see how changes affect the downstream groundwater.

more susceptible to flooding when it rains. And millions of

UC Water also intends to provide information and offer ideas that could

homeowners, farmers and other citizens are forced to pay

be implemented by resource managers for a more secure water future

higher and higher prices for utilities and irrigation systems.

for the state and beyond. One of the biggest questions is how the state, with a population increasing by a million people a year, can meet insatiable demand for

“Opportunities exist for all sectors to better use and manage water,” Viers said. Fortunately, there are a multitude of technological and

water for irrigation for food production, for recreation, for fisheries and

political solutions to the problems that are worth pursuing. UC

more. Demand peaks when it’s hot, which is not, typically, when it rains.

Water’s role is to explore those solutions and their feasibility.



By Joel Patenaude

About the author: Joel Patenaude lives in Madison, Wis., where he’s the managing editor of Silent Sports Magazine. He has many years of professional newspaper experience, covering state and local politics, Native American treaty issues, the environment and a wide array of other topics.

Up in the Mountains Part of the problem is that what needs to be managed is not measuring up. “Typically there would be feet of snowpack. Last year, we had just a couple inches,” Bales said. “That’s a problem, because the Sierra Nevada is where a lot of our water comes from.” In fact, an estimated 60 percent of the water stored in California’s

But the researchers also suspect that restoring forests to the densities that were standard a century ago — before fire suppression measures were put in place — could yield up to 1 million acre-feet of water across the Sierra Nevada in a normal-to-wet year. “Using models calibrated by years of data, we were really pleased with the results, because they showed that even with

reservoirs — many of which are under capacity or empty — comes

a light treatment — removing 10 percent to 15 percent of

from the snowpack that (ideally) accumulates each winter and

the biomass — we actually did have measurable increases in

becomes runoff in the spring and summer.

water responses,” Conklin said. “That’s exciting because it

Professor Martha Conklin and Bales are among those who study the changing snowpack and rising snowlines in California’s mountains. Bales, also director of UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), said thinning the forests of thirsty younger trees and undergrowth could free up runoff to replenish underground aquifers. Conklin is the lead water researcher on the seven-year Sierra

means that where you treat makes a big difference.” The researchers don’t propose ridding forests of all the undergrowth, rather restoring sustainable forest densities, which would also help control the intensity of wildfires. “Not only are low-intensity fires necessary to forest health, they are managed differently,” Bales said. “Land managers’ funds are often limited because of the resources

Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP). Along with Bales

expended in fighting high-intensity fires and their

and others at UC Merced, she has studied the issue in the American

subsequent cleanups. They don’t have enough resources for

River Basin and in forests near Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

restoration projects.”

The experiments SNAMP used were designed to evaluate forest

The issue requires further monitoring and verification

response to strategically placed “treatments,” or thinnings, focused on

in order to guide investments in forest management by the

reducing the risk of high-intensity fires.

water community. >> CONTINUED ON PAGE 20




“You have to show the benefits and assign numbers,” Bales

Bales said if the state invested $100 million to $200 million

said. “How much more runoff can you get and can you

in a unified, statewide system of sensor networks, it would have

sustain that?”

immediate and sustained payoffs by reducing uncertainty about

University researchers also study current and future effects of a warming climate. For example, Bales has found that as the

how much water the state has and where it is. “We’ve shown that it can be done,” Conklin said.

climate warms, trees have longer growing seasons at higher elevations. That means “we could lose our water gains from forest thinning at lower elevations, because the trees will use more of the water,” Bales said. In the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory near the

Down in the Valley It seems counterintuitive, but another project has shown the benefits of moving levees so rivers seep in and recharge aquifers. Restoring floodwaters’ access to floodplains in some areas can help replenish groundwater supplies and improve salmon fisheries,

Kings River, researchers also found that the longer growing

according to the results of a project along the Central Valley’s

season meant more water was being transpired into the

Cosumnes River near Lodi, Viers said.

atmosphere, too, said Professor Steven Hart.

After four years of study, levee setbacks were found to have

“That means less water stored in the soil,” Hart said.

reduced flood magnitude, allowed for agricultural production and

One way to confirm that unknown would be to expand a

— at three times the normal rate — recharged the local aquifer.

project Bales, Conklin and others have been working on with the California Department of Water Resources. They developed a system of wireless ground sensors that

UC Water, again using water-sensor technology, bolstered the state Legislature’s recent decision to invest $660 million in rebuilding levees to make room for floodwaters and add to local

monitor soil moisture, snowpack and the whole water cycle, and

groundwater stores instead of waiting years for the runoff from

deployed it in the American River Basin.

precipitation to do the same job.

The system could replace the old method the water agency

Recharging the aquifers and managing groundwater grows

used of measuring the snowpack at the same selected spots each

increasingly urgent as water tables drop and farmers dig wells as

year and using those numbers to project the year’s runoff.

deep as 1,000 feet or more, It’s “a literal race to the bottom” of

“That doesn’t work well in very dry or very wet years,” Conklin said. “We’re collecting data every 15 minutes about the spatial

emptying groundwater basins, Viers said, to keep irrigation systems running.

variations across the whole area, which provides a much clearer

“In the Central Valley, we’re overdrawn by more than 100 million

picture of where the snow is and how it is melting, and offering

acre-feet. It is like having 25 Lake Shasta-sized reservoirs completely

daily, real-time information.”

drained and not refilling,” Viers said.



“Typically there would be feet of snowpack. Last year, we had just a couple inches. That’s a problem, because the Sierra Nevada is where a lot of our water comes from.” — Professor Roger Bales

Regulations and Policies Until last year, when the California Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, groundwater usage was neither measured nor regulated. Only recently did the state start releasing information about the geologic substrate and depth of the water table. And while groundwater

“In any case, the numbers alone show the water-rights system doesn’t match the demand and availability,” he said. Viers, director of the UC Merced branch of CITRIS and a member of the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center, hopes UC Water’s work helps bring about reform. “Many of our problems are political ones in the end, but

usage remains largely unknown, a more than 100-year-old system of

without making measurements in all facets of water — how

allocating rights to surface water is a regulatory nightmare.

much water is being used by whom for what purpose — we

In a paper published last year, Viers and Ted Grantham, a UC Water

won’t be able to manage our future,” he said.

affiliate, analyzed the state’s database of 35,000 water-rights allocations.

Multiple levels of additional bureaucracy, in the form of

They found the allocation of 350 million acre-feet of water was at least

local water management districts and state agencies that are

five times the 70 million acre-feet of water available in a “good” year.

alternately concerned with water quality and quantity —

In the San Joaquin Valley, the allocation is closer to 10 times the actual water supply. And California, more often than not, does not have “good” wet years. The disparity could be higher because Viers’ analysis didn’t take into

mandates that often put them at loggerheads with one another — complicate matters further. Scientific data like that being produced by UC Merced researchers will ultimately provide a means to a more

account water rights given out before 1914 and grandfathered into the

sustainable future. “The next step is collecting better data so we

current system.

can make better decisions,” Viers said.



“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” — Professor Joshua Viers

Researchers’ Work

Could Add Up to Much More Than a Drop in the Bucket


he ongoing drought has slowed the flow of available

Such changes throughout the Sierra Nevada could

surface water to farm fields in the Central Valley,

change the amount of greenhouse gases coming from these

resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars

ecosystems, Hart said.

worth of crop production last year alone.

Farmers have turned to pumping groundwater faster than

the rate at which the submerged supplies can be replenished. But that’s probably not a sustainable practice. Helping agriculture, as well as monitoring, measuring and saving water,

“Water is definitely an important part of the restoration project,” Hart said, “because the more water the meadows hold, the less greenhouse gases are emitted to the atmosphere.” Viers also works with groups like CalTrout, a nonprofit

and understanding how climate change is going to affect us in

concerned with environmental, fish and water issues and

the future — those are just some of the many research topics

the social, political and economic nuances surrounding

and projects involving UC Merced and water.

them, and the Earthwatch Institute, which connects scientists

Professor Teamrat Ghezzehei is concerned with restoring meadows and their water-banking properties. Professor Steven Hart looks at the effects of forest restoration

with everyday people who volunteer to help with myriad environmental projects all over the world. Professor Tom Harmon and the students in his lab research

treatments such as thinning with or without prescribed fire

a variety of topics pertaining to hydrology, climate and

and wildfire on ecosystem carbon and water balance, soil

sustainability issues in California the world, measuring and

microbial communities and belowground processes.

modeling environmental systems to better understand and

Hart is also part of a larger meadow restoration project

manage water resources and sustain ecosystems services.

with Professor Joshua Viers to see if restoration improves

And those are just a few of dozens of projects.

hydrology, which in turn, could reduce the volume of

“We’re at the forefront of critical issues like climate change

greehouse gas emissions. That project is funded through the California Air Resources

and a sustainable future,” Vice Chancellor for Research Sam Traina said. “Solutions for a secure water future will come from

Board with money from AB 32, the California Global Warming

the innovative thinking and cutting-edge research happening

Solutions Act of 2006.

at UC Merced.”



California’s water myths MYTH:

California is running out of water.

REALITY: California has run out of abundant

water and will need to adapt to increasing water scarcity.


A villian is responsible for California’s water problems.

REALITY: There is no true villain in California

water policy, but opportunities exist for all sectors to better use and manage water.


We can build our way out of California’s water problems.

REALITY: New infrastructure can contribute to

California’s water-supply solutions, but it is not a cure-all.


We can conserve our way out of California’s water problems.

REALITY: Water conservation is important, but

its effectiveness is often overstated.


Healthy aquatic ecosystems conflict with a healthy economy.

REALITY: Healthy ecosystems provide

significant value to the California economy, and many opportunities exist for mutually beneficial water management.

He’s talking about solutions like the one proposed by one of Ghezzehei’s former students, Vivian Dominique Lopez, in her master’s thesis.

MYTH: More water will lead to healthy fish populations. REALITY: Fish need more than water to thrive.

Lopez has since graduated, but she wrote her paper on biochar, a byproduct of burning biofuel. Heavy reliance on irrigation has led to the salinization of soil, which further impedes water infiltration, especially in the loamy soil so abundant throughout the Valley. To combat this problem, farmers add huge amounts of soil conditioners that increase drainage in the short term but cause long-term leaching of valuable nutrients from the soil. A promising and more “sustainable solution to enhancing water flow through soils may lie in adding biochars to soils,” Lopez wrote. She studied the benefits of adding almond biochar — a carbon-rich charcoal made from burning the cast-off shells and hulls of almonds — to soil used for agriculture. Shells and hulls are plentiful in the Central Valley, where nearly all of the

MYTH: California’s water-rights laws impede reform and sustainable management. REALITY: The legal tools for reform are already

present in California’s water-rights laws. We just need to start using them. MYTH:

We can find a consensus that makes all parties happy.

REALITY: Tough tradeoffs mean consensus is

not achievable on all water issues; higher levels of government will need to assert leadership.

SOURCE: Public Policy Institute of California

almonds and half of the fruits and vegetable consumed in the U.S. are grown. “The potential for almond residues to be used as large-scale biomass is possible and has the potential to be a sustainable use of agriculture waste,” Lopez concluded.



Top, monks observe the insects they find outside their monastery. Above, from left to right, the monks kneel in a day-long prayer for the Dalai Lama’s birthday; they live in replicas of their Tibetan monasteries; the monks study science at the direction of the Dalai Lama, who is their spiritual leader.

If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” — DALAI LAMA XIV

writing in his book “The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality”



Evolving Dharma:

BY LORENA ANDERSON University Communications

Professors Help Monks Expand Scientific Knowledge


uddhism teaches us that existence is suffering, but this summer, two professors found out that teaching neuroscience to Buddhist monks can be enlightening. Cognitive science Professors David Noelle and Carolyn Dicey Jennings each spent about 10 days in southern India, sharing some of their knowledge with groups of exiled Tibetan monks at two of the three monasteries that take part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative. They returned with a new understanding of the political refugees, their lives, their beliefs and their culture. “There were lots of things that went against my expectations,” Jennings said. “When I think of a Tibetan monastery, I think of people meditating in solitude. But this was one of the most engaged communities I’ve ever seen.” Inaugurated in 1998 by Dalai Lama XIV, an affiliation between Emory University and Drepung Loseling Monastic University has grown into a multi-dimensional organization that helps advance the Dalai Lama’s directive that scholarly monastics study science and promote the convergence of science and spirituality. The summer sessions offer about four weeks of courses on the philosophy of science, physics, biology and neuroscience. Courses are taught by faculty members from Emory and other universities. Students spend six hours a day in class, hearing lectures, holding discussions, watching demonstrations and participating in hands-on experiments. At the end of each week, every student takes a final exam on the week’s topic.

“The Dalai Lama stresses that Buddhism has an empirical foundation, and that practitioners should question everything. They have a long history of considering questions involving our origins and about the nature of the mind, the self and consciousness,” Noelle said. “They hold daily debates on religious and philosophical topics. Critical thinking is a very important component of their tradition. They are very excited by the possibility that we can now start addressing some of these deep philosophical questions through scientific methods.” Scholar monks can participate in the six-year summer science program, contributing to their advanced degrees. Some of the monks also have opportunities to enroll in classes at American universities. They can then return to their communities, which revolve around the Gaden, Sera Jey, and Drepung monasteries — which are replicas of identically named sites that they left in Tibet when they fled China’s encroachment. Equipped with scientific knowledge, they often contribute to the education of their fellow monks. While they take the Dalai Lama’s scientific prescription seriously, some of the more established monastic leaders view science primarily as a means to communicate and justify their beliefs to Westerners, Noelle said. Intriguing and Challenging The monks carefully examine and challenge knowledge claims made by instructors in the classroom, which is quite different from the typical teaching experience at home, where students often accept what they are told, the professors said. The monks especially want to understand how studies are conducted and evidence is gathered — these applications of the scientific method are new for them. “In their practice, personal experience counts as evidence,” Noelle said. “In contrast, scientists are wary of the many ways in which our brains can be fooled. To demonstrate this concern, we presented the monks with a collection of optical illusions, showing them how our perceptions cannot always be trusted.” “I don’t think most of them are exposed to much science. Many of their beliefs would sound medieval to Americans,” Jennings said. “For example, I heard several times a tale about frogs growing out of wet belts left in the yard. Our program gave them lots of new material to think about. We tried to explain how we know what we know in a way that was respectful of their traditions.” The monks were intrigued by the professors’ lectures, even if the ideas challenged their beliefs. Noelle said the students watched a video of a white blood cell moving around other cells to absorb bacteria, and, as they watched, the monks ascribed human emotions to the bacteria being “chased.”

They readily ascribed sentience to these microscopic entities, and were skeptical that such complex processes could arise without thoughts and feelings. Noelle and Jennings said the monks would heartily participate in exercises that American college students might be shy about, such as acting out the roles of rods and cones in the human eye to help them understand what’s happening physically as we see the world around us. In the monastic classroom, when a teacher asks a question, many students simultaneously shout out answers, and the teacher’s aides — in this case the translators — need to mediate. More senior monks also had opportunities to converse with the professors in the evenings, allowing the professors and the monks to pose larger questions to each other, with each side providing long and detailed answers. An Experience Worth Repeating Assigned to different monasteries, Noelle and Jennings didn’t see each other while they were in India, but they shared similar experiences. They both saw the monks engage in a special style of debating, which is more physical than what you might see in the United States or the United Kingdom. During their stay, both attended celebrations that the monks held in honor of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, including an all-day prayer session which the visitors were allowed to watch and even film. “It is a relatively closed-off community that I heard gets only about 10 other Western visitors a year, but inside of their community, they are very open,” Jennings said. The professors also learned about the monks’ personal backgrounds. In Tibetan families, it is considered an honor to have a family member join a monastery, and children can take monastic vows as early as 6 years old. But the monasteries also take in many of the poorer Tibetan children whose families might not be able to afford to feed them. Because Buddhists believe existence is suffering, they believe it is their duty to help relieve other people’s suffering as much as possible. They value learning and community far above money and power. The professors agreed that the experience is one that they are likely to repeat, and they hope other researchers from UC Merced will volunteer, as well. Next year, the program will include third-year scholar-monks as well as first- and second-year students, so there will be more opportunities for professors to contribute. Jennings said she wants to go back because, while not a Buddhist, she supports the Dalai Lama’s scientific edict, but also because being there was good for her. “I could benefit from more time in their culture,” she said. “They are not so concerned with what others think of them. I think it is a great way to reset the system.”

 To see a video of the day-long prayer for the Dalai Lama’s birthday, visit  To see a video of the monks’ participation in the classroom exercises, visit



Business is Blooming at New UC Merced Venture Lab


reat businesses have one thing in common: Each started as an idea. The recent launch of UC Merced’s new business incubator provides budding entrepreneurs with the tools, resources and

connections to turn great ideas into reality.

The campus’s Office of Research and Economic Development, in partnership with the city of Merced, launched the UC Merced Venture

Lab in late July. Located in the Parcade Building at 18th and M streets in downtown Merced, the lab works with partners to invent and launch new businesses. “Innovation is about creating something new. Entrepreneurship is about connecting things to solve problems and generate wealth,” said Peter Schuerman, associate vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development. “The Venture Lab is about connecting innovation to entrepreneurship to create business opportunities that have never existed before.” The lab is off to a promising start. “We have more than a dozen university-related business concepts incubating in the Venture Lab, with more emerging as people learn about our program,” Schuerman said. “For other opportunities, the UC Merced Small Business Development Center is on-site to provide its services to the community. By putting these two programs together in one space, we are laying the foundation for connections.” Current business ideas range from delivery services and agricultural robotics to regenerative medicine, said Venture Lab team member Robert Goodman, a career specialist for the UC Merced Center for Career and Professional Advancement. Goodman works with the lab’s student population. When the career center hosted a seminar on how to start a business, approximately 40 students attended. Convincing those who had novel ideas to further explore their viability “wasn’t a hard sell at all,” Goodman said. “We have a lot of smart and ambitious students who want to take their ideas and turn them into something tangible.” 26


“Innovation is about creating something new. Entrepreneurship is about connecting things to solve problems and generate wealth,” said Peter Schuerman, associate vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development. “The Venture Lab is about connecting innovation to entrepreneurship to create business opportunities that have never existed before.”

Peter Schuerman, standing, and the staff members of the Office of Business Development are looking forward to the partnerships that will grow from the Venture Lab.

By Donna Birch Trahan University Communications

The Venture Lab is operated by the UC Merced Office of Business Development, which opened in 2015. That’s when the university’s Office of Research and Economic Development broadened its mission from solely licensing intellectual property rights to nurturing startup companies, building partnerships and cultivating entrepreneurship. UC Merced was founded in the San Joaquin Valley to increase educational attainment and serve as an economic engine for the region. The Venture Lab’s downtown location on M Street — one of the city’s main transportation arteries — contributes to those goals while expanding the campus’s presence in the community. The space’s casual, open design — with clustered workstations, open desks, comfortable seating and conference rooms for meetings and more focused work — encourages collaboration. Frank Quintero, Merced’s economic development director, toured the facility before it opened and called the lab a welcome addition to downtown. The space inhabited by the Venture Lab was vacant for several years. An influx of students, faculty members, researchers and community members supports the connection between the campus and broader community and further strengthens those ties, Quintero said. The Venture Lab’s soft opening during the summer allowed staff members to do some fine-tuning before the fall semester started. An official open house is planned for October. “Traditionally, people have had to choose between staying here in the community they love, and leaving to pursue their dreams,” Schuerman said. “Our goal is to show people how to create their own opportunities so they can achieve their dreams right here in the Central Valley.”



Selling the Vision Larry Salinas spent a decade building relationships with legislators and fostering support and advocacy for a fledgling campus, and Cori Lucero has picked up where he left off

By James Leonard University Communications


uilding and running a university campus is a massive undertaking, requiring countless hours of behind-the-scenes work from dedicated staff members, and that has been true of UC Merced since before the campus opened. The importance of the Office of Governmental and Community Relations, in particular — from obtaining funding for the campus’s first buildings to navigating its ambitious next phase of growth — cannot be overstated. The term “office” was a misnomer in UC Merced’s early days. The campus’s first director of governmental relations, Larry Salinas, was an army of one, forging key relationships with elected officials and connecting them with founding Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. Salinas moved to Merced in 1995, just two months after the city was chosen as the site of what would become the first new University of California campus in four decades. He soon joined the citizen committee supporting the endeavor, and in 2000, he became part of a staff of fewer than 20 who worked diligently to ensure the campus would get off the ground. “We were a very small, merry band of pioneers who were led by a tenacious chancellor — a woman who was beyond belief in terms of energy, determination and drive,” Salinas said. “We all followed her vision and her goal of bringing the campus to reality.”

“If Carol were here today, she’d be beyond thrilled to see the growth of the campus and the success of its students. I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.” — Former Director of Governmental Relations Larry Salinas



Early Years Took Tenacity In the years before construction of the campus began, Salinas and Tomlinson-Keasey practically lived in Sacramento. Their goals required both assertiveness and diplomacy: Convince doubters, even within the UC system, that a campus in the San Joaquin Valley was needed, and obtain support and funding for the project. One of Salinas’ most delicate tasks in those early days was repairing relationships with elected officials from the cities who lost out to Merced in the siting process, such as Fresno and Madera. In 2001, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution urging the UC Board of Regents to reconsider its selection of Merced, and the Madera County Board of Supervisors was considering the same. With help from the citizens committee, Salinas was able to convince the Madera board to vote against such a resolution, despite opposition from Chairman Frank Bigelow. “We convinced the other four supervisors to stay with Merced and to understand that their area was going to benefit economically from the build-out of the campus,” Salinas said. “Afterward, Frank said, ‘You beat me fair and square, kid.’ I said it wasn’t about beating him, but that we’re moving forward, and the entire Valley is going to benefit from this campus. “In hindsight, it was true. It’s come to fruition.” UC Merced’s tenacity in those early years was matched only by that of its leader. Tomlinson-Keasey was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 but was undaunted by her treatment, Salinas said. She would routinely go to chemotherapy on a Friday, take the weekend off, and be back in Sacramento for another grueling week of meetings at the Capitol on Monday. “She worked that building like nobody else,” he said. “My job was to open the doors and be an advisor to her. She was the one selling the vision.” Tomlinson-Keasey led the campus to its proud opening in 2005 and remained chancellor until 2006, ultimately losing her battle with cancer in 2009 at the age of 66. Salinas left UC Merced a year later for a position in the UC’s state governmental relations office in Sacramento, where he coordinates systemwide advocacy efforts — and often crosses paths with Bigelow, who is now a state assemblyman. “We were just doing our jobs,” Salinas said. “Frank and I are good friends, and now we’re working together again. It really shows how vital relationships are in politics.”

A Modern Success Story The two have played major roles in the creation of the first American research university of the 21st century — and they’ve done so in a state where economy has gone through extreme highs and extreme lows all along the way. Salinas helped UC Merced find its footing while the state was flush with cash, then helped it survive when the bottom fell out. Lucero faces an altogether different challenge, working

with local and county officials whose support and cooperation will be critical as the campus pursues Chancellor Dorothy Leland’s vision of doubling its physical size by 2020 in order to accommodate growing student demand. Yet as much as the names and faces and budget allocations have changed, the foundation of the job has not. “The relationships make what we do possible,” Lucero said. “When you need help or guidance or assistance, or when you need to ask for something, it makes it so much easier when you have an established relationship with a person. “Our local officials want to make sure they’re doing the best thing for their area, and they realize the success of this campus directly ties to the success of the city and county.” Like so many at UC Merced, Salinas and Lucero have lived professional lives of constant change, of one adaptation after another, of commitment and determination to help the campus grow and thrive — and of fierce pride, which Salinas still wields anytime someone speaks ill of his former campus. “There are still legislators here today who are questioning UC Merced’s viability, questioning students’ desire to go to Merced,” he said. “They are a little misinformed. I know what’s going on in Merced. The word is out — the experience is wonderful for students. It really is a special place. “If Carol were here today, she’d be beyond thrilled to see the growth of the campus and the success of its students. I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.”


New Chapter, New Challenges As the campus transitioned to the next chapter of its development, so did its government relations office. Salinas hired Cori Lucero in 2007 to be his director of federal governmental relations. It was a natural fit for the California native, who grew up in Mariposa but worked for four years in Washington, D.C., after graduating from UC San Diego. When Salinas left UC Merced in 2010, Lucero ran with the baton. As executive director, Lucero has built her own team, with Lacey Kiriakou handling federal relations and UC Merced alumnus Miguel Lopez working in community relations. She has spent much of the past six years in Sacramento, building relationships in the spirit of — and with frequent advice from — her predecessor and mentor. “I don’t think there’s anybody who has more energy or commitment to this than Larry did,” Lucero said. “That really shaped the way I knew I would have to approach this position. He left some very big shoes to fill.” “She’s done a great job building her own team and making her own mark,” Salinas said. “I’ve tried to step out of the way and not be in the shadows, but always be a phone call away. Ultimately, I get to sit back and watch the great work she’s doing with a new set of legislators and a new chancellor.”

“Our local officials want to make sure they’re doing the best thing for their area, and they realize the success of this campusdirectly ties to the success of the city and county.” — Current Director of Governmental Relations Cori Lucero



Sustainable Future focusing on a


hen Colleen McCormick considers the future of UC Merced, she sees a campus where everyone is fully engaged in sustainability efforts, where being green is just how things are done. The campus is already well on its way, but Sustainability Director McCormick and others have big plans for the coming years, from landscaping all the way to the curriculum. The campus’s Triple Zero commitment to using zero net energy, creating zero net landfill waste and creating zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is one of the most prominent green programs on campus, but it’s certainly not the only one. Part of amplifying the campus’s green culture is in helping students understand why a sustainable future is necessary. “I don’t think we can afford not to have sustainability in our curriculum,” Tom Hothem, co-director of the Merritt Writing Program, said. “We live in an area where resources are becoming increasingly limited. We need people to live in an environment without taking too much from it.” A Green Pillar of Education Sustainability is one of the eight pillars of general education at UC Merced, and is part of the curricula in more than 30 classes, a number that grows each year. Some courses are explicitly about conservation, such as ecology, but others incorporate it into lessons on different topics, such as health, economic and even electoral system sustainability. That’s in keeping with UC President Janet Napolitano’s UC Global Climate Leadership Council initiative, which includes the goal of developing broad faculty support and participation in UC’s 2025 carbon-neutrality goal and to advance UC leadership in climate change and sustainability education. The group intends to make sustainability and climate neutrality part of the curricular and other educational experiences of all UC students by 2020. Hothem and Professor Marilyn Fogel will be the campus’s first officially trained sustainability educators. Fogel teaches ecology, and Hothem, who teaches science writing and general education, is taking on a new class this fall called the LEED Lab, to prepare students to become U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. That will help them if they choose careers in sustainability-related fields.



By Lorena Anderson University Communications

Once they have completed the course, students can take the LEED Green Associate exam and will have met the requirement for one of the LEED Accredited Professional exams. Students in the class will also help the campus by auditing the Classroom and Office Building so it can be LEED certified for operations and maintenance, adding to the university’s long list of LEED certificates. There are many other ways for students to learn sustainability lessons. For example, the Center for the Humanities is focusing on water for the next three years. The center will sponsor faculty, guest speakers and research, all of which offer opportunities for student involvement. Water was also a main topic in the CORE 1 curriculum this year. Students were asked to develop statewide water-management plans based on their analyses of reservoir data, groundwater pumping rates and forecasts calling for little, if any, precipitation. “It led to some very intense discussions,” Hothem said. Creating a Sustainability Culture Teaching students about sustainability is only one part of the puzzle. Getting the entire campus community to be active recyclers and composters is a massive challenge for Matt Hirota, the waste reduction and recycle coordinator for Facilities Management. He operates the campus sorting line, where every bag of garbage is sorted each day to remove recyclables, reusables and compostables. The goal is to divert as much waste as possible from area landfills, generate compost and make sure everything that can be recycled is. It takes 30 labor hours a day to sort the garbage, and that’s only from the upper half of campus, where most of the offices, classrooms and labs are. Hirota wants UC Merced to be like other UC campuses that have central locations for dumping garbage and compostable and recyclable materials. That would require each person on campus to separate their own trash and take it to the proper containers.

“We wouldn’t need garbage pickup at individual offices, so it would allow the maintenance staff to focus on other campus needs,” Hirota said. But people on campus — like people everywhere — seem to have trouble knowing what goes in the compost bin, what’s recyclable and what goes to the landfill. Hirota is working on a series of educational signs, but “We just need to get people thinking differently about trash.” Right now, the upper half of campus is diverting 70 percent to 80 percent of its trash from landfills. But to meet the Triple Zero pledge, the campus has to be at 95 percent or better. In the coming years, Hirota would like to see the campus develop its own compost-making area, and use the compost to help a campus garden grow food that could be eaten in the dining facilities. “If we’re going to reach our goals, we have to be aggressive — more aggressive — about all our sustainability efforts,” Hirota said. “What we’re trying to do here, no one has ever done.” Sustainability Director McCormick agrees that green goals need to be a priority in every aspect of campus life. “We’re in the business of teaching, and we can teach people to think more sustainably,” she said. Sustainability practices are making strides forward, including some key changes this year: • Transportation and Parking Services switched the library parking lot to a high-volume commuter lot with designated spaces for carpool vans and solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles. • The university added more electric vehicles to its fleet. • Facilities Management is testing “smart” electrical plugs that show users when they can recharge electric vehicles using only energy from renewable sources. • Facilities Management is also testing a quick-response code in the Social Sciences and Management Building that lets people report water leaks in specific rooms just by using their smartphones. • Smart irrigation has been installed to monitor soil and weather to make sure water is only used when it needs to be. • Students are increasing their participation in spearheading programs from expanding Earth Day to the annual residence hall water battle, taking part in the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and offering suggestions on how to be more sustainable.

Water, Solar and Greenhouse Gases McCormick and others want to take campus efforts further forward. She said she has spoken to campus leaders about removing the lawn from the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad and replacing it with xeriscaping — natural materials that don’t require water or are drought tolerant and don’t require mowing. There’s no word yet on whether that idea will be realized. She’d also like to see the campus have its own water reclamation and recycling facility, because moving water from one place to another uses a lot of energy and “in this time of drought, we need to be using water more than once,” she said. Other factors contributing to meeting the energy goal — likely by 2018 — include amplifying the campus’s 1 megawatt solar array with rooftop solar-system installations and through a University of California purchase of 80 megawatts of solar power from two solar fields near Fresno. With the right moves, UC Merced could be the only campus in the country to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2018. “As a campus, we are constantly looking for ways to exceed expectations and sustainability standards,” former Assistant Vice Chancellor of Strategic Facilities Planning Graeme Mitchell said. “We employ new and innovative ways to do everything, from planning and construction to everyday operations.” The goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be enhanced by the campus’s renewable energy efforts, not just in using solar energy to power the campus, but from using electric vehicles — and making sure to recharge them using solar power during times when electric grid supplies come from renewable sources — to smart-building technology that can improve energy efficiency. Across campus, efforts continue to explore sustainability in many possible ways. The campus strives to use as many recyclable and compostable products as possible, reduce packaging, create community gardens through which Dining Services can supplement its local purchases, recycle lab chemicals to reduce waste and save resources, research into biofuel, solar energy and water conservation, and much, much more. “There are many people at UC Merced working on sustainability in ways we don’t usually think of,” McCormick said. “There are so many opportunities for enhancing our campus culture of sustainability.”




UC Merced installed a 1-megawatt solar array in Fall 2009. This array produces two-thirds of the campus electricity load on a summer afternoon and 20 percent of its annual electricity needs.

UC Merced is the only university in the nation to have a triple-zero commitment — to use zero net energy, emit zero net greenhouse gases and contribute zero waste to area landfills by 2020.

UC Merced began installing rooftop solar panels this summer, and the work should be online by the end of 2016. They will provide approximately 1 megawatt of electricity.

UC Merced has installed 20 water-bottle-refill stations — including 13 in the on-campus residence area — that allow students, faculty and staff members to reuse water bottles.

UC Merced Dining Services customers used reusable food containers for takeout meals more than 161,600 times in the 2014-15 school year, reducing landfill waste by the same number of packages.

UC Merced has campuswide standard contracts for purchasing everything from furnishings and equipment to services from vendors who can show the products are green and sustainably sourced and produced.

UC Merced developed an aggressive food-waste composting program for pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste and has developed best practices recognized by the entire 10-campus system.

UC Merced has 15 LEED certificates for new construction, and one LEED certification for maintenance and operations, with more certifications pending.

The campus has a 33-percent-minimum requirement for locally sourced fresh food products from prime food suppliers, and remains closer to 40 percent, depending on the season.

The campus installed a Web-based control system for irrigation on the entire campus (except The Bowl). The system reads weather data and applies it to irrigation needs and water output.

The campus used 30 percent less water this June than in June 2013.

From January to May 2014, the upper campus (the area north of dining and housing) recycled 27.52 tons of material, composted 9.27 tons and sent 45.35 tons to the landfill. In the same time period in 2015, thanks to the work of students who collected and sorted all the upper campus waste, the campus recycled 47.23 tons, composted 29.58 tons, and sent 27.65 tons to the landfill.



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SEPTEMBER 2015 | 22,075

UC Merced Magazine, Fall 2015  

Sept. 5, 2015, is the 10th anniversary of UC Merced's opening day. Please join us in looking back at how the campus started and how it is gr...