UC Merced joins other campuses to encourage innovation

UC Merced was chosen as one of a dozen campuses across the nation to participate in a new program, Pathways to Innovation, designed to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among undergraduate engineering students.

“Engineering graduates have the greatest impact on their communities when they effectively blend the theories learned in the classroom, the practical experiences learned in the laboratory and in partnership with industry, and the ability to communicate complex technology to society as a whole,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Tom Peterson, who, along with School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman, is leading the campus effort.

“That philosophy is a hallmark of the UC Merced School of Engineering,” Peterson said. “Pathways to Innovation is a new and exciting way to help us meet that challenge.”

Pathways to Innovation will help faculty members incorporate entrepreneurship and innovation into courses and strengthen extracurricular offerings. Teams of faculty members and administrators will take part in a two-year program to design and implement a customized plan for each institution.

Participants develop models for integrating entrepreneurship into their curricula, build a national network of engineering and entrepreneurship faculty, and join a peer network of schools with similar goals.

“I joined UC Merced three years ago for the unique opportunity to facilitate rapid change in a start-up university that had already embraced a unique symbiotic relationship with its regional economic setting,” wrote Hirleman in the application letter. “Both the academic and local communities understand that diversification and economic development via technology-enhanced new businesses are the primary hope.”

Hirleman focuses much of his creative effort on finding ways the school can interact with and enhance the developing economy of the San Joaquin Valley, from engineering service learning courses to his Water, Energy, Food Challenge, which is in development.

Center makes maps come to life

Like many children on long car trips, Erin Mutch often asked “Where are we?” But instead of telling her, Mutch’s parents gave her a map to figure it out.

Mutch’s knack for using maps to tell bigger stories is a skill that’s taken her to the Silicon Valley to work at a startup, to the front lines of the BP Deepwater oil spill and now to UC Merced to head its new Spatial Analysis and Research Center.

The center is a resource for faculty members and students who want to use geographic information systems as one of their many research tools. “GIS may help you answer questions you never thought of,” Mutch said.

The center has about a dozen computers equipped with leading remote sensing and GIS software packages, large format plotters and scanners, a book scanner, a server for the hundreds of terabyte data sets and an LCD screen for demonstrations.

Printed GIS maps line the walls, including one about the Rim fire made by former UC Merced graduate student Paul Doherty. The fire burned more than 250,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

“Many people underestimate the power of GIS,” Mutch said. “Mapping is a great tool to learn.”

The power of GIS will be showcased during the fourth annual Geospatial Summit Conference, March 14, in the California Room. Doherty is the keynote speaker.