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Welcome to this edition of UC Merced Update, providing you with an inside look at recent campus news and developments.


November 17, 2006



Gary Hernandez Named One of the Nation’s 100 Most Influential Hispanics

Gary A. Hernandez

Gary A. Hernandez


Gary A. Hernandez, a member of the UC Merced Foundation Board and a partner with the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, has been named one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic Business magazine.

Hernandez, based in Sonnenschein’s San Francisco office, is chair of its national Insurance Regulatory practice group and a member of the firmwide management committee. He previously served as deputy commissioner and chief of enforcement at the California Department of Insurance and as a San Francisco deputy city attorney. He serves on the board of directors of the Latino Community Foundation and is a trustee of the University of California Merced Foundation.

He also was honored as one of the “Bay Area’s Most Influential Hispanics in 2005” by the San Francisco Business Times.

The Hispanic Business “100 Influentials List 2006” was published in the October issue. Others on the list include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Wal-Mart General Counsel Alberto Mora and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra. The list includes five diverse categories — government, corporate, education, arts, and entertainment and other vistas — and profiles “extraordinary individuals chosen for their insight and drive, and, most importantly, for the examples they set in their communities.”

Alumni Association Moving Forward with Lessons in Philanthropy

UC Merced is thrilled to launch the UC Merced Alumni Association. UC Merced’s first three alumni eagerly await the arrival of the Class of 2007 graduates. Between 50 and 70 students are slated to graduate next spring.

The Office of Alumni Affairs is offering a “Collegiate” membership in the UC Merced Alumni Association. Any UC Merced student is eligible to join the alumni association before graduation. Student members receive many benefits, including opportunities to network with UC alumni and community members, exclusive invitations to UC Merced events, special career preparation events, discounts in the community and free stuff!

Collegiate membership in the association not only encourages students to start thinking about life after graduation, but also teaches them about philanthropy. A portion of the $10 Collegiate membership pledge goes toward a scholarship endowment for UC Merced students.

The UC Merced Foundation Investments Committee has pledged support in helping establish an endowment for the UC Merced Collegiate Alumni Foundation, a new student organization of the UC Merced Alumni Association. Through the Collegiate Alumni Foundation (CAF), students will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of philanthropy, including investments, development and allocation. Jan Mendenhall, executive director of university relations and development, and her husband, Dan Mendenhall, have graciously given $10,000 to establish the endowment.

Students will continue raising money in order to provide scholarships and other philanthropic opportunities at UC Merced.



UC Merced Police Department’s Mentoring Program Making a Difference

UC Merced Police mentoring program

UC Merced students work with elementary school children to improve their school work and help them make good choices.


Having grown up poor on the south side of Merced, Nick Navarette knows the risks young children face.

He has already made some of the choices they’ll have to make. He became a father at 16, and said without mentors and role models, it would have been easy to get involved in destructive activities.

At 27, Navarette is a UC Merced police officer, a father of five and a mentor to almost 200 elementary school children who call him “Officer Nick.”

When he joined the university’s police force in January, the chief asked him to devise an outreach plan. He and his police partner Maria Botwright chose a mentoring program to help students on the traditionally low-income south side of Merced. They enlisted UC Merced students to be Trailblazers, helping fourth- and fifth-graders at Reyes Elementary School with homework, activities and by being role models.

“Kids are looking for the right relationships,” he said. “We want them to choose this one.”

Some of the Reyes children Navarette first approached didn’t know what a university was. The first time the Trailblazers invited a group of children out to tour the campus and have pizza with them, some of the kids were excited just to get to drink a soda or eat as much as they wanted.

Now the tours are held once a month, and all the kids who come to campus get to be Junior Bobcats, with their own ID cards.

After holding a drive to gather school supplies this summer, Navarette and the Trailblazers held a party at a community park and, with other social services organizations, gave out 344 backpacks stuffed with supplies. But more than 600 kids showed up. Their backpacks are being filled, too.

Navarette said the 26 UC Merced Trailblazers spend lunch hours at Reyes playing games and doing activities with the children, then go back after school for “T-Birds,” a homework clinic.

“We’re taking little seeds and planting them in fertile ground,” Navarette said. “They’re going to grow into big, strong trees.”

Plans are to expand the program into all of Merced County’s elementaries, and even include some parenting classes and other activities, as well.

Freshman Stacy Vang, 19, of Fresno, a human biology major, said she had always wanted to work with kids, and hopes to become a pediatrician. After her first Trailblazers meeting, she was hooked. Now she and the other mentors play dodgeball, soccer and basketball with the Reyes children every day. The children, she said, also want to learn how to play chess, and soon they’ll be holding Friday sports tournaments, too.

“We can be such a positive influence on young kids,” she said. “We’re trying to show these children a path that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. I hope they have a lot of fun and realize they can do anything if they put their time and determination into it.

“I just really want the kids to learn that they can change the world.”

Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center Opens,
Launching Sports and Yosemite Leadership Programs

Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation Center

Students check out the brand new basketball court on opening day.


On Nov. 13, UC Merced students helped unveil the campus’s newest building, the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center. The event also heralded the beginning of the school’s sports program.

Golden Bobcats will play baseball and soccer and compete in aquatics events with other universities’ clubs, including any of the UC sister campuses, as well as many of the CSU schools. The program is the foundation for the university’s NCAA sports program in the future.

The center offers brand-new fitness equipment, room to play volleyball and badminton, areas for aerobic exercise such as dance, and even performance space. It also has an NCAA-sized basketball court. Though the center is not open to the general public for health-club use, there will be many events there to which the public will be invited.

The $11.2 million, 36,000-square-foot center was paid for through a combination of gifts – including $2 million from Linda Jelacich and her brother, Michael Gallo, $500,000 from the Hostetler family and $1.5 million from the Gymnasium Expansion Campaign – campus funds and a loan based on student fee revenue.

Soon to open on the second floor is the Rajender Reddy Student Health Center, made possible by a $1 million gift from Dr. Rajender Reddy and his wife, Jhansi. The center will be the place for students to get primary health care and wellness education.

Inside the center, students will also find the Wilderness Desk – a place to learn more about national parks in the area, including Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon. UC Merced has a strong partnership with Yosemite, and officials from the park attended the recreation center’s grand opening event, as did local dignitaries such as Merced City Council Members, Merced County Supervisors and representatives from Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews’ and Congressman Dennis Cardoza’s offices.

The Wilderness Desk will be staffed by park rangers and students through a donation from the Yosemite Fund, and will offer information about the parks, their weather and other conditions, park and outdoor safety, ecology and more. The campus community will be able to rent outdoor equipment there and purchase park passes.

The desk is one portion of the Yosemite Leadership Program, an academic plan to help students learn to be ethical, responsible environmental leaders. They’ll study in the classroom and in the park, venturing into the Yosemite Valley for a variety of projects.

The event featured Acting Chancellor Rod Park, who spoke about the building and the importance of all its facets; Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs Jane Lawrence, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies and Yosemite National Park Chief Ranger Steve Shackleton, as well as Gallo, Jelacich and many others.




On Nov. 2, UC Merced celebrated Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The celebration, organized by the Office of Student Life, featured a shrine outside The Lantern where people could remember loved ones, as well as folk dancers Aguilas de Oro. Generally, Dia de los Muertos festivities include families welcoming their dead back into their homes and visiting the graves of their close kin. At the cemetery, family members spruce up gravesites with flowers. They socialize with other families gathering there, remember the departed by telling stories about them, and have elaborate picnics with such foods as meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread called "pan de muerto," or bread of the dead. Typical flowers for graves include marigolds and chrysanthemums, and other decorations might include religious amulets. Dia de los Muertos is a way of recognizing the cycle of life and death that is human existence.



Professor’s Paper Looks at Weather and Voting

Thomas Hansford

Thomas Hansford


Professor Thomas Hansford and two co-authors’ article on how weather affects elections has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Politics.

Hansford said he and co-authors Brad Gomez and George Krause wrote “Rain, Rational Abstention, and Republican Vote Shares: Weather and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections,” after testing the theory that inclement weather means lower voter turnout.

That theory has long been espoused by the media, political practitioners, and perhaps even political scientists. However, Hansford and his colleagues said, there is almost no solid empirical evidence. The authors conducted an extensive empirical test and also looked at the broader theoretical issue of voters’ response to marginal increases in voting costs. They looked at the effect of weather on 14 U.S. presidential elections, from 1948-2000, using data drawn from more than 22,000 U.S. weather stations and GIS interpolations.

They found that weather does affect Election Day, reducing voter participation by a rate of just less than 1 percent per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost half a percent.

The study also found that the lower voter turnout on rainy or snowy days helps Republican presidential candidates, because most of the potential voters who are deterred by weather would have voted for the Democratic.

Hansford said the project wasn’t necessarily the most challenging, but it was fun.

Hansford is a political science professor, Brad Gomez is a lecturer at the University of Georgia and George Krause is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Founding Professor to Publish in Monographs Series

Michelle Chouinard

Michelle Chouinard


Michelle Chouinard, founding faculty member and professor with the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, will have an article published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development in April 2007.

Her article, entitled “Children’s questions: A mechanism for cognitive development,” will appear in the monograph published on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development. The Monographs series aims to publish major reports of developmental research that generates authoritative new findings and uses these to foster a fresh perspective of findings on conceptually significant issues.

Chouinard earned her master’s and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Stanford after graduating with highest honors from UC Berkeley, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

She studies the role adult-child conversation plays in children’s cognitive development by looking at children’s ability to ask questions when they need more information, the information parents give to children comparing animals to humans and how this may play an important role in children’s understanding of naïve biology, and how parents’ and children’s attempts to make themselves understood during a conversation contributes to children’s acquisition of language.


UC Merced Honors Founding Students of Excellence

UC Merced recently honored 91 students who excelled academically last year.

These students, many from the Central Valley, earned grade point averages of 3.5 or better and completed 24 units or more last year, and will forever be known as UC Merced’s Founding Students of Excellence.

“In the year of the greatest transition of their lives, these students managed to make the most of their learning experience, rather than let the hardships of change shake their confidence and determination,” said Elizabeth Boretz, director of the Student Advising and Learning Center.

Each student received a certificate, a custom pin and public recognition by their deans and academic advisors.

These 91 students and their parents deserve thanks for helping further UC Merced’s reputation as an excellent university, and the ceremony is one way of doing that. It also shows this year’s students that our campus encourages and rewards those who strive to stand out.

Founding Students of Excellence come from Merced, Fresno, Modesto, Escalon, Madera, Atwater, Hanford, Dos Palos, Turlock, Manteca, Los Banos and other cities around the state.

New Online Efforts Aimed at Student Recruitment

Web teams from various departments on campus have availed themselves of the services of Web Editor Catherine Fredriks as they’ve prepared new sites to help potential students learn about UC Merced.

You can visit the new sites to learn about UC Merced’s student services offices and academic opportunities, then pass them on – especially to anyone you know who is applying for college this November.

Student Life
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Housing and Residence Life
Career Services
The Yosemite Leadership Program
Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts

Applicants should also be sure to visit the UC Merced home page. There they can find photos, stories and now a weekly podcast produced by student intern Alex Kang, designed to give listeners a taste of life at the newest UC campus.


Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium dedication

The Lakireddy family


On Oct. 14, Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy sponsored a dedication ceremony for the Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium in the Classroom Building. About 300 people attended the event and enjoyed East Indian food and entertainment, including dancing and music. Former Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey spoke at the event, thanking Lakireddy for introducing the East Indian community to UC Merced and helping build the relationship between the two. Congressman Dennis Cardoza, Assemblywoman-elect Kathleen Galgiani, other dignitaries and Lakireddy’s family also attended. Lakireddy spoke about his educational journey, and has said he is happy to be able to help the education system. His $1 million gift helped enhance the auditorium with extra performance space, better lighting and sound equipment and state-of-the-art acoustics. Lakireddy also expressed his happiness that the university has appointed Roderic Park as interim chancellor until a permanent replacement for Tomlinson-Keasey can be found.


Total amount of proposals this month: $79,153,430
Total amount of awards this month: $2,962,984

Total amount of proposals from July 1, 2006 to date: $91,046,006
Total amount of awards from July 1, 2006 to date: $6,595,140


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