UC Merced Connect: A big year with multiple achievements

With record enrollment and research expenditures, a major economic impact on the San Joaquin Valley, construction of new buildings and a visit from the new University of California system’s president, UC Merced has had a big year.

Newly appointed UC President Janet Napolitano chose Merced for her first campus visit – in her first week on the job. Her message: The youngest UC campus is important to the UC system, and to Central Valley and state.

Napolitano didn’t exaggerate when she spoke of UC Merced’s role in serving the state and nation. By the end of this year, the campus will have pumped $1 billion into the region’s economy since operations began. Between wages and benefits, construction contracts, and goods and services purchased, the campus has significantly contributed to the area’s economic growth.

Statewide, UC Merced’s total economic contribution now exceeds $1.7 billion.

Part of that support comes from what was, this year, record research expenditures of $17.3 million. That money primarily come from grants and private donations. It is used to purchase equipment, supplies and services and as aid to graduate students.

Excellent research

Some of the groundbreaking work being done at UC Merced includes professor Rudy Ortiz’s work on diabetes – a huge problem in the Central Valley and beyond. Amylin Pharmaceuticals LLC, a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., granted him $192,000 for the next two years to work on developing new applications for medicines used to treat the effects of insulin resistance, such as preventing kidney damage in diabetics.

The National Science Foundation funded a program that will encourage gifted applied-math students to put their skills to use in big-data analysis, an up-and-coming, high-demand field.

A five-year, $5 million foundation grant will enable professors Roger Bales, Martha Conklin and Steve Hart, as well as their graduate students and post-doctoral researchers working in the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory, to continue addressing challenges to California’s water security and its link to the health of Sierra Nevada ecosystems.

A $400,000, two-year seed grant through the University of California will help UC Merced hone its focus on the Valley’s economy by establishing the campus’s branch of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, themed “Global California: The World at Home.”

The research UC Merced is rapidly becoming known for is one reason this year saw a huge jump in enrollment. This year’s 6,195 students – a 7 percent increase over last year – came from a record application pool of more than 18,000.

Gearing up for growth

Like many campuses, UC Merced faces a space crunch. To help accommodate growth, the campus added new housing – the new five-story residence hall called Half Dome, which allows 2,100 students to live on campus, an increase of 30 percent.

And the UC Board of Regents approved the 2020 Plan, a campus growth design that calls for higher-density buildings on the current campus footprint, to optimize space so the campus can accommodate 10,000 students by the year 2020.

Every single campus building will continue to be constructed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s exacting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria so as to earn LEED certification.

This year, the campus received its 11th such certification with platinum LEED status conferred on the new Social Sciences and Management Building.