UC Merced Connect: Scholarship helps senior take education to Spain

Patricia Leslie is the first in her family to attend college. And the UC Merced senior is making the most of it, both on campus and beyond.

Leslie is studying abroad in Córdoba, a small city located in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. The experience has helped her not only with her language skills, but has given her a shot of confidence that she says will carry over into her own life back in the United States.

Choosing which city to call home for three months came relatively easy for the psychology major.

“I was intrigued by the Roman, African and Arabic influences. It’s a small city but there’s an amazing richness to it,” Leslie said. “Also given that the city has a historic reputation regarding incredible advances in intellectual wealth, I knew it was the place for me.”

Leslie, who’s minoring in Spanish, was given this opportunity thanks to the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, for which she was chosen from a pool of national applicants. It’s something she doesn’t take lightly.

“I don’t think that I would have had the opportunity to travel and study abroad if it wasn’t for the scholarship,” she said. “As a first-generation student, it’s an incredible feeling to be able to travel and share my experience with my family members who’ve never had the opportunity to travel.”

Leslie says her Spanish — something she gets to practice every day with her host family — has improved over the past couple of months. Additionally, Europe’s slower pace has made a big impression on her.

“I’ve had the chance to slow down and really become present with myself and environment,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed the light morning conversations with my host family over coffee and toast. I’ve been able to take midafternoon strolls down cobblestone streets, discover literary pieces, and enjoy the various forms of music and art entwined with the essence of genuine exchanges of ideas, laughter, kisses, among newfound friends.”

The experience has no doubt expanded her view of the world. Studying abroad is also increasingly more important in a global economy. Having grown up in nearby Atwater, choosing Córdoba as her first experience abroad was a no-brainer.

“I felt that in some ways it mirrored my own life,” Leslie said. “I’m from a small city, but despite what many naysayers believe, I think that great things and great people with real desire and potential are from Merced County. I’m a testament of that.”

Police officer, dispatcher lauded – UC Merced’s Department of Public Safety recently honored two of its members for their outstanding effort and collaboration.

Officer Kevin Warkentin was chosen by his peers as Police Officer of the Year. Before joining UC Merced two years ago, Warkentin served for eight years as a motor officer and field training officer at the Los Banos Police Department.

During his tenure at UC Merced, Warkentin has taken on many duties including radar coordinator, field training officer and motor officer, and is director of the Police Mentor Program. He also serves on the University of California’s Systemwide Response Team and the department’s newly formed Crime Scene Team.

“Kevin has quickly demonstrated his commitment to our local community by being an ambassador for the campus, particularly our students and for fourth-graders in Merced,” said Chief Rita Spaur.

In September 2013, Warkentin was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Office of Traffic Safety and the Avoid the 11 program for his efforts to apprehend drunken drivers.

Josh Lutz was chosen by his peers as Public Safety Dispatcher of the Year. Lutz joined the department in May 2012 from the Atwater Police Department and quickly became an integral part of the team. The job of public safety dispatcher requires a caring, compassionate and hardworking demeanor, and the ability to remain calm during stressful situations, make quick decisions and complete numerous tasks at the same time.