UC Merced Connect: Boost in hiring increases scope of research

UC Merced has hired 32 faculty members for the 2014-15 academic year, giving the campus 212 tenure-track professors.

The new hires are focused in areas of rapid enrollment growth, as well as having the greatest potential for interdisciplinary collaboration and research.

“To fulfill the goal of enrolling 10,000 students by 2020, we are investing in faculty who further the already diverse areas of research found at UC Merced,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson said. “This year’s crop of new faculty expands the scope of research across all three of our academic schools.”

For example, history professor Ma Vang is the campus’s first Hmong studies expert – and the second Hmong-American to receive a tenure-track faculty appointment in the University of California system.

Joining her in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts are experts in Indian music and Bollywood film songs, social stratification, linguistics, health economics and world heritage.

In the School of Natural Sciences, professor Emilia Huerta-Sanchez joins the Quantitative Systems and Biology Graduate Group as a biostatistician with expertise in natural selection. She joins fellow new hires in chemical sciences, biological sciences, applied mathematics and biophysics.

The School of Engineering has added faculty members to fill roles in mechanical engineering, computer sciences and materials science.

“These outstanding faculty members offer our current and prospective graduate students terrific opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations and training,” said Marjorie Zatz, vice provost and dean of graduate studies.

To view a list of new faculty members, go to

Alumni association leader challenges students

Sacramento-native Keith Ellis regrets not taking a couple opportunities that crossed his path while attending UC Merced, urging current and prospective students to find opportunities or make them.

“Seize every opportunity that comes your way. Sometimes you have to create the opportunity,” said Ellis, who majored in political science and management. “Don’t let anything pass you by.”

Ellis made his mark in several areas as a student.

He participated in student government, on the Student Fee Advisory Committee and as business manager for the student-led newspaper. And he landed an internship with the Merced City Attorney’s Office.

Ellis’ participation on campus allowed him to get to know the staff and faculty members, especially former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jane Lawrence and interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies.

“Jane and Charles inspired me to want to give back to the institution that sculpted me in ways I didn’t think were possible,” he said.

Now, the Class of 2012 alumnus is working for California State University, Sacramento, College of Business. While he handles course scheduling discrepancies, he is working toward his master’s degree in higher education leadership and policy studies at Sacramento State.

“I am thrilled to be working in higher education,” Ellis said. “That’s where I want to be.”

Before coming to UC Merced, Ellis was considering a career in K-12 teaching. The inaugural You See Leaders Conference he chaired in 2011 had a hand in changing that.

He and his team helped high school students immerse themselves in the college experience. After the program concluded, Ellis said he had found his calling in higher education.

In April, Ellis was nominated as the second president of the UC Merced Alumni Association. He and his leadership team have big goals for the next two years.

Their first push is to increase regional events.

“My hope is that we are at least having one regional per month so our alums still feel engaged and connected even though they are not on campus on a regular basis,” Ellis said.

The other focus will be boosting alumni giving. Ellis says they have begun by working to dispel the idea that only the wealthy can afford to donate to their alma mater.

“It’s not necessarily the dollar amount that matters, it is the number of our alumni who choose to give,” he said. “One of the key metrics we are judged by is how our alumni feel about our campus. If you don’t feel connected, you aren’t going to give back.”