UC Merced Connect: Grad student finds dream work in Sierras

Graduate student Ryan Lucas is living a mountain-lover’s dream through his research.

As part of engineering Professor Martha Conklin’s meadows-hydrology lab, he gets to spend a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada at Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon national parks, collecting data on how much water is flowing through the meadows, how it’s moving and by what process. Meadows are important to the ecosystem, providing food, water and habitat for many creatures.

“I grew up on the coast, but I’ve always been a hiker and skier,” said Lucas, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

He worked as an environmental consultant for a few years until deciding an advanced degree would expand his options.

Lucas applied to the master’s program at UC Merced on a whim, knowing little about the newest UC campus. He was scheduled to look at the campus with a bioengineering professor, but two weeks before his visit Lucas got an email from Professor Roger Bales suggesting Lucas look at his lab and the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, too.

He said he wasn’t concerned with the size or the newness of UC Merced, but he was excited by its location.

“I came here because of the research and because the Sierra Nevada would be my laboratory,” Lucas said. “And it’s right next door.”

Lucas said he will defend his master’s thesis before the end of this year, and has applied to the doctorate program. He hopes to become a professor when he’s finished.

“A career with a heavy teaching load is definitely in my future,” Lucas said. “I really enjoy it.”

Regents’ Scholarships for exceptional students

Stephanie Gamboa was so worried about money that she considered enrolling in community college.

But those financial worries disappeared once Gamboa learned she’d been awarded a UC Merced Regents’ Scholarship. The scholarship bridges any gap between financial aid and parental contributions, assuring each recipient that they can afford an education at UC Merced.

“I was really concerned about going to college,” said Gamboa, an undeclared freshman from Oxnard. “My mom is going to National University and has taken out loans. So I was very excited to get the scholarship.”

This year, 28 incoming UC Merced students received that good news — joining 31 continuing students who have the scholarships. The university will disburse about $500,000 this year in Regents’ Scholarships, which are one of the highest honors awarded to undergraduate students.

“The Regents’ Scholarship is designed to recruit the best and brightest students to our campus,” said Diana Ralls, director of financial aid and scholarships at UC Merced.

While the criteria can vary slightly from year to year, officials consider factors such as academic performance, leadership and extracurricular activities in choosing scholarship recipients.

All entering UC Merced students are considered for the awards, which range from $7,000 to more than $30,000 annually. Recipients must maintain full-time status and a 3.25 GPA to retain the scholarship for four years, or two years for transfer students.

It’s easy to see how Gamboa made the cut. Aside from her 4.2 GPA (including honors classes) in high school, she was active in water polo, prepared speaking and a variety of clubs.

Other recipients of Regents’ Scholarships are equally impressive. Eduardo Hernandez, a freshman from Bakersfield, posted a 4.38 GPA (including honors and advanced placement classes) in high school and was active in clubs and sports.

A devoted community volunteer, he helped make food baskets for the needy, read to children and worked at fundraising events such as school carnivals.

Hernandez said he was pleasantly surprised to receive the UC Merced Regents’ Scholarship.

“I ended up not having to pay anything,” he said. “And I’m getting a world-class education.”