UC Merced Connect: Wells Fargo grant supports water, energy, food projects

UC Merced researchers will develop solutions to regional problems that arise from balancing three limited resources – water, food and energy – thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation.

“Wells Fargo recognizes that the health of our environment is critical to fostering more sustainable communities today and for years to come,” said Ashley Grosh, head of Wells Fargo’s Environmental Affairs Clean Technology program. “We’re pleased to announce UC Merced as a recipient of Wells Fargo’s environmental grant program to help provide long-term solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges.”

The grant, part of Wells Fargo’s Clean Technology and Innovation program, funds the start of the Water, Energy, Food Challenge that will involve student teams from across campus.

“Decisions in the Central Valley about technologies or regulations related to water will impact energy and agriculture, and vice versa,” School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman said. “Most organizations focus on one of these, related to their mission, rather than all three as interrelated systems. But concentrating on the nexus of all three will bring about the best long-term solutions for the region and the world.”

As the lead on the challenge, Hirleman will develop three challenges and involve partner organizations or companies and student teams led by faculty mentors.

Student teams will develop preliminary designs for their solutions to their partners’ challenges and present them at the campus’s annual Innovate to Grow competition, held near the end of the spring semester.

Their work will be judged by a panel, and the best ideas will be developed into marketable proprietary products, with intellectual property rights assigned and patent applications in process.

The Clean Technology and Innovation program began in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally focused nonprofits, colleges and universities by 2020. Funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation, the program’s goal is to inspire innovation from entrepreneurs and fund research entities working on critical environmental issues.

“These are not routine exercises. These are real projects with real effects targeted to the huge problems the Valley faces,” Hirleman said. “UC Merced sits at the epicenter of converging world challenges in water, energy, food and the environment. This gift helps us define public-good projects that inform the hard tradeoffs and educate the next generation of people who will be making those decisions for the Valley.”

Spreading health information

For the seventh consecutive year, students in lecturer Yolanda Pineda Vargas’ Spanish for Health Professionals class have created projects that share important health information with the Spanish-speaking community in Merced County.

Students studied a topics including asthma, stress, diet and diseases, and presented their work in a variety of settings, including schools, health fairs and conferences.

“If you see everything you’re learning has a purpose, you can assimilate it better and retain it forever,” said Pineda Vargas, who is a microbiologist by training.

The class began in 2006 with six students. Thirty students were enrolled in the fall. There were 10 groups of three students, each focused on a different aspect of health and wellness. Some student groups went to the Women, Infants and Children office in Planada to make a presentation and others went to the Boys and Girls Club.

Students Esteban Rivas-Curiel, Ana Martinez Moreno and Yoandra Mendoza produced an informational video about congenital diseases and ways for pregnant women to reduce the likelihood of their child developing disorders.

“All the members of our group are from the Central Valley, and teen pregnancy is a big issue here,” said Rivas-Curiel, a management major from Dos Palos. “That’s why we decided to focus on this topic – to make a difference in the Central Valley.”

Martinez Moreno said the class is demanding yet rewarding, given the community service component.

“Helping people is always great,” she said. “I recommend students take the class.”