UC Merced Magazine - Volume XVII, Issue 3

Cover image by Tomas Ovalle

Twenty-one years ago, when ground was broken on the newest University of California campus, in Merced, so many people in the community had already embraced the university's goal of transforming our region through education, research and service.

People generously helped build the campus and supported the students, many of whom came from the education-starved Central Valley, eager to make bright futures for themselves. Those pioneering students also went all in on the new university. They persevered through construction, found their community in each other and laid the foundations for the generations of students who would come after them by forming their own clubs and organizations, almost all of which centered on giving back to the community through volunteering. Many people also invested in the community itself, based on the idea that Merced would grow rapidly to accommodate students, faculty and staff. They anticipated a huge transformation. And to be sure, the billions of dollars the university has generated through jobs, research expenditures and retail sales have accelerated the Valley's economic evolution. Building a university and the community that inevitably grows around it takes time. But UC Merced is also positively impacting the region in ways that are not always so evident. This issue of UC Merced Magazine highlights many of those transformational programs and initiatives. Some of our first graduates have stayed or returned to start their own businesses here, helping grow the community. Our first cohort of students will be taking part this fall in our medical education programwith the intent to return to the Valley after medical school because they recognize the area's need for more quality health care. Other students are giving back by cleaning up parks, caring for animals at local shelters, running food banks and mentoring and inspiring younger students to graduate from high school and go on to attain higher education. Faculty and staff are running for office, volunteering with nonprofit organizations, holding diaper and food drives and even building a children'smuseum. We are thankful for the many generousfriends who believe in the university and have invested in transforming the region and people's lives. We are also thankful for UC Merced faculty, staff and students who have made their own investments of time and energy to make the university, the Valley and California shine more brightly.

Chancellor Juan Sanchez Munoz is committed to being part ofthe Merced community, pitching in at community clean-ups, student-led food distributions and dressing up as Jolly Old St. Nick for a Christmas toy giveaway to local children.

Fiat Lux, Juan Sanchez Munoz, Ph.D. Chancellor




Cover Story: Fred and Mitzie Ruiz


A Grand Community Connection


An Educational Transformation


Research Directly Helps the Community


Bobcats Giving Back 12 An Alumna Shares Her Art

14 Spring Commencement in Photos 15 New Teams Enjoy First-year Success 16 Graduating Hoopsters Celebrated 17 Boldly Forward Goals Expanded

Cha ncellor Munozaddressesth eaudienceat Illuminate.

UC Merced Magazine Volumn XVII, Issue 3

Photographers Veronica Adrover Josue Herrera Tomas Ovalle Shawn Overton Roger J. Wyan

Chancellor Juan Sanchez Mui'ioz Vice Chancellor/Chief External Relations Officer E. Edw. Klotzbier Editors Associate Vice Chancellor Jim Chiavelli Senior Writer and Public Information Officer Lorena Anderson

Graphics/ Design/ Printing Chris Abrescy Liz Lippincott Colemar Design Dumont Printing, Fresno


Mailing Address UC Merced External Relations 5200 Lake Road, Merced CA 95343

Writers Francesca Dinglasan Juan Carlos Flores


Patty Guerra Jody Murray Brenda Ortiz Sam Yniguez

UCMerced.edu @ucmerced

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders of any material printed in this magazine. Any omissions will be righted in subsequent issues if notice is given to the editors.






Fred Ruiz deliver sthekeynotea dd ressatthe2022 Spring Co m mencement. Image by Veronica Adrover, UCMerced

By Francesca Dinglasan, UC Merced

Since UCMerced's earliest days, Fred andMitzie Ruiz have believed in the transformative effects a major research and teaching institution could have on the Central Valley. "We are very underserved, especially in higher education and medical services,"Mitzie Ruiz said. "If we can get more kids in college and help them with their hardships, we have a better chance of them staying here." The Ruizes are devoted Valley natives and have long championed the success of local students, establishing numerous endowments at UCMerced to provide greater higher education access and opportunities to scholars. That's why they established the Fred andMitzie Ruiz Endowed Scholarship to provide comprehensive, multi-year financial support to incoming and transfer students who hail from the Valley or from out-of-state counties in which Fred's family business, Ruiz Foods, has operations. This new scholarship program represents the largest donation ever made to the university from a family, with Chancellor Juan SanchezMufioz unveiling the Ruizes' $15 million gift at Illuminate, an event in October that celebrated the public launch of Boldy Forward, UC Merced's first comprehensive fundraising campaign. Mufioz also announced the university's intention to name the administration and enrollment services building the Fred andMitzie Ruiz Administration Center in tribute to the donors' legacy of generosity, leadership and advocacy. That's just one of the numerous accolades the Ruiz family has received for their generosity, commitment and service in support of their beloved community and region.They also were honored by UCMerced as part of the campus's Celebration of Philanthropic Leaders, and Fred Ruiz is a recipient of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education's (CASE) James L. Fisher Award for Distinguished Service to Education for his contributions to educational initiatives in the San Joaquin Valley.The Fisher Award recognizes extraordinary service in education and the field of educational advancement The Ruizes' substantial contributions to UCMerced- through both philanthropy and service- span several decades. Fred Ruiz, who is chairman emeritus and

co-founder of Ruiz Foods, is a founding member of the UC Merced Foundation Board ofTrustees and served as regent on the University of California's governing board from 2004 to 2016. In addition to being the lead donors in establishing a $1 million UCMerced Foundation Board ofTrustees Presidential endowed chair to recognize an outstanding scholar at the campus, the couple created the Ruiz Family Chair in Entrepreneurship to support teaching, research and public service in entrepreneurship and related disciplines. The entrepreneurial spirit is a key part of the Ruiz family story. Fred Ruiz's father, Louis, and his brothers first opened a tortilleria in the late 1950s. Fred and his father teamed up to form Ruiz Foods in 1964, growing a humble business that started in a small warehouse to what it is today- the nation's top manufacturer of frozenMexican foods and the largest private employer inTulare County. That pioneering spirit is part of why the Ruizes feel an affinity toward the newest UC campus - the students are forging their own paths into the future. The Ruizes also recognize the rich cultural and socioeconomic diversity of UCMerced and the Central Valley and have created their endowments to ensure students have resources to help them pursue their academic and professional development goals. The Fred andMitzie Ruiz Endowed Fellowship specifically supports graduate students who contribute to the diversity of the campus, and the Rose R. Ruiz Endowed Scholarship and Fellowship Fund provides financial aid to highly promising scholars who face obstacles, such as being first-generation college students or meeting eligibility standards under the California Dream Act.The endowment was named for Fred Ruiz's mother, who inspired and encouraged her children to realize their dreams - reflecting the Ruizes' hopes for UCMerced students. "The Valley has benefitted greatly from a UC campus - it has contributed to our growth and helped our students," Fred Ruiz said. "My personal goal is to help UCMerced to grow, but I'm most interested in how its presence helps the region continue to develop and benefits the students."



In its short history, the venue also has been the site of major external events. Among the largest gatherings was a staff retreat for College Track, a national nonprofit focused on partnering with and supporting college students from underserved communities. Nearly 200 staff members from across the nation attended the retreat in August 2022. Another significant community event, the Merced County Fireman's Ball, is expected to include more than 200 attendees in May. UC Merced's own VIP events in the ballroom have included Illuminate, a celebration that marked the public launch of the university's Boldy Forward comprehensive fundraising campaign, as well as the official dedication of the ballroom itself. Debbie Henderson, who oversees event scheduling in the Conference Center as part of her responsibilities in the UC Merced Office of Auxiliary-Hospitality Services, said 223 event bookings have been made for the ballroom since the beginning of 2022, encompassing nearly 14,000 guests.


By Francesca Dinglasan, UC Merced

Since its inception, the Dr. Vikram and Priya Lakireddy Grand Ballroom in the UC Merced Conference Center has served as the site of numerous high-profile and large-scale events. As the first meeting venue of its kind for the university and the region, the 5,700-square-foot space has brought together the campus and community, helping fulfill the Lakireddy family's desire to create opportunities to expand community ties and strengthen bonds. Priya Lakireddy, an assistant regional director in the UC Merced Office of Research and Economic Development and a University of California Regents staff advisor, and her husband, Dr. Vikram Lakireddy, a UC Merced Foundation trustee and local cardiologist, have frequently attended events in the unique venue. "We are gratified that the grand ballroom has provided a welcoming and engaging space to connect UC Merced with people from throughout our region," Priya Lakireddy said. The variety of events hosted in the Lakireddy Grand Ballroom has enabled UC Merced to welcome not only guests from throughout the university and region, but also statewide and international visitors. Recent university functions in the ballroom have included: • The Afrikans for Retention Outreach (AFRO) Fest interactive conference held in conjunction with the Bright Success Center. • Research Week, the university's annual showcase of research projects and initiatives. • The Merced County Office of Education science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Fair, which aligned with Research Week and brought young students from the Merced area to present their own research. • A visit from Universidad Aut6noma Chapingo students, who traveled from Texcoco, Mexico, to learn about UC Merced's agriculture research and other programs. • The Community Labor Center's Farmworker Health Study event, which allowed researchers to present their findings about the challenges faced daily by farmworkers to local lawmakers and community leaders.

Dr. Vik ram an dPriyaLakireddy aregenerous suppo rters oftheUC Mercedcampus.


UC MERCED MAGAZINE// UCMe r c e d.e du


An Upward Bound high school student takes a deeper look at his subject.

THE VALLEY'S COLLEGE-GOING CULTURE On a recent field trip to UC Merced, Pioneer Elementary School students got a glimpse into engineering, building endurance-testable towers with dowels, playdough and other common household items. Isaac Mejia's roughly 2-foot tower almost withstood the entire 7-pound load, falling apart only when the final weight was placed. If he could do it again, he would probably distribute the weight more evenly. The event closed out UC Merced's annual Engineers Week celebration and was aimed at sparking an interest in higher education and possibly in attending the University of California campus in their backyard. Merced County Superintendent of Schools Steve Tietjen said the effects such experiences can have on a child are immeasurable. By Samuel Yniguez, UC Merced "But I think it only matters if you have fun," said Isaac, 11.

CalTeach offers Bobcat Summer STEM Academy, a series of weekly workshops for middle and high school students at UC Merced.The workshops are created by UC Merced faculty, researchers, students and staff and are designed to give students one-of-a-kind, hands-on STEM experiences.

"Many of our students don't have a home background that has experienced a four-year university and may not understand the advantages that having a degree creates for them," Tietjen said. "The hope is that, by visiting the campus at an early age, these kids in Merced County can start to see themselves as university students." But before a student even gets to that point, Teitjen said, there are benchmarks that in the past were not met. Since UC Merced entered the picture, he said, he has seen a change in how local school systems operate.


UC MERCED MAGAZINE// UCMerc e d .e d u




Professor Er icWal le's focus is on em otion and social developmen t in veryyoung child ren. Image by Elena Zhukova •

UC MERCED RESEARCH HAS IMMEDIATE IMPACTS IN THE COMMUNITY UC Merced has innumerable research projects with major implications for both the local community and the world. Just a few examples: • Wastewater monitoring that has effectively measured COVID-19 and other infections, helping public officials make crucial decisions. • A smart farm that will provide real-time, scalable data on everything from pest management to watering strategies for researchers at UC Merced and other entities. • The placement of solar panels over canals in a project that promises to provide energy, reduce evaporation and lower maintenance costs. • The study of Valley fever, a disease that's increasing in prevalence, caught when people inhale fungal spores stirred up by disturbing soil, such as through agriculture or construction. But in addition to these high-profile projects, there are a multitude of ways UC Merced researchers interact with and benefit the community nearly every day. Take the university's Child and Family Development Group, a consortium of UC Merced faculty who collectively study child and family development and who work with parents, children and caregivers in the community through workshops, events and research projects. "Many of the labs in the Child and Family Development Group have various ongoing research activities in which children and families can take part," said psychology Professor Eric Walle, who is the area head of the Developmental Psychology Program. One of Walle's current projects examines what's called "emotion brokering." This term refers to how people help others navigate differences in when and how people express emotions across cultures. For example, a child from a Latinx household may help their parent understand emotion expression norms in the United States. This project includes investigating the process of brokering novel emotion norms in young children, as well as examining the effects of emotion brokering on mental health and well-being in young adults.

Another of Walle's projects examines how college students and parent-child pairs talk differently about different emotions. Several other researchers have child development projects, as well: Professor Heather Bortfield is studying joint attention, when two people share an interest in an object or event and there is understanding between them that both are interested. "For example, a parent and child may both look at a toy they're playing with," described Bortfeld. "Their mutual interest in the toy may involve them using eye contact, gestures, or speech to get 'on the same page' about what they are looking at. These skills start to develop soon after birth, and by the age of 3, children are usually competent at gaining and maintaining joint attention from adults and peers. We are interested in documenting how this process unfolds in real time between a parent and their child." In a project funded by the National Science Foundation, Professor Rose Scott is investigating epistemic trust, or trust to teach new information, and social trust - trust that people will provide social support and keep their promises. "We are investigating how epistemic and social trust develops in early childhood, and whether children consider different factors when making these two types of trust judgments," said Scott. "We are also investigating whether children's decisions of who to trust are influenced by social categories (e.g., race, ethnicity) or children's environments."



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