UC Merced Connect: Early career award supports UC Merced professor’s climate work

The National Science Foundation is honoring professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe with a Faculty Early Career Development Award to support her examination of how soil helps regulate the climate.

The awards are given to junior faculty members “who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations,” the NSF said.

Berhe receives $479,000 for five years for a project looking at how fire and erosion affect the soil ecosystem’s ability to store carbon dioxide and keep it from going into the atmosphere.

The money supports graduate students and a postdoctoral researcher, and Berhe will also develop an annual seminar course for undergraduates. The course will include a weeklong field trip to Yosemite to learn about the critical zone – the thin layer of soil and air that supports life on Earth.

Her goal is to open up the field trip to area high school science teachers, as well, so they can learn more about the critical zone and pass the information along to their students.

“It will be great, because we’ll get to work with a lot of people who might not ordinarily think about the critical zone,” Berhe said.

The award is for a novel research project. Berhe plans to collaborate with Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national labs to learn the latest in spectroscopy techniques that can help her and her students learn the effects of fire on soil.

Scholarship empowers students to make a difference

Five words from one of American history’s most famous speeches inspired Dalton Rogers to contribute to society.

He was called to public service in high school when he read President John F. Kennedy’s call to action – “ask what you can do.” Rogers also believes that challenge has led him to seize many opportunities, such as the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship.

Rogers, a political science junior from Porterville, is one of two UC Merced students who received a $10,000 scholarship from the Strauss Foundation, which was established as a memorial to Don Strauss to fund public service projects that students will carry out during the upcoming academic year.

The other recipient is economics major Jennifer Anaya. As a senior at Merced High School, Anaya volunteered in a UC Merced tutoring program with the focus of helping students who had not passed the California High School Exit Exam.

She saw how many of her peers felt they had no hope of graduating, much less ever attending college. She knew that needed to change, but it wasn’t until hearing of the Strauss scholarship that she saw a possible solution.

Anaya plans to use the scholarship award to implement the Inspiring Great New Ideas Toward Education – IGNITE – project at her alma mater, where she will work with freshman English-language learners to encourage and inform them about the college eligibility and application process.

“A major goal is for students and their families to understand that the power lies in their hands to make college a true opportunity for them,” Anaya said.

Rogers and students in the Law Students for Restorative Justice club will work to redirect the lives of troubled youths in Merced County in collaboration with the Charles J. Ogletree Youth Court Restorative Justice Program, an organization that serves as an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system by providing constructive sentencing and rehabilitation for first-time youth offenders.

“The financial support from the Strauss Foundation will make it possible for me and my colleagues to start something that will have a positive long-term impact in changing the lives of our county’s most troubled youth,” Rogers said. “We hope to help change the direction of troubled teens’ lives for decades to come.”