A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

School Caps Year with Successes, Poised for Growth

January 21, 2014

It has been another exciting year at the School of Natural Sciences that I can best characterize as great work and great people to work with.

The School of Natural Sciences is growing with four new faculty members who began Jan. 1.

There’s Chih-Chun Chien, theoretical physics, from the University of Chicago and Los Alamos National Laboratory; Clarissa Nobile, biochemistry/molecular biology, from Columbia University; Ramendra Saha, biochemistry/molecular biology, from the University of Nebraska and postdoc at NIEHS, National Institutes of Health (NIH); and Jason Sexton, population genetics/genomics, from UC Davis and postdoc fellow at University of Melbourne. 

Hrant Hratchian, chemistry and chemical biology, also joined us July 1. In addition, we are in the middle of another exciting recruiting season with 10 faculty searches.

Our faculty members have been incredibly successful, so much so that I can only provide a few highlights here:

  • Michael Cleary received an R01 grant from NIH for a neural development mRNA decay network;
  • Erik Menke received a grant for a nuclear magnetic resonance  spectrometer system;
  • Jessica Blois had a peer-reviewed publication in Science called “Climate Change and the Past, Present and Future of Biotic Interactions;” and
  • Marilyn Fogel received the Alfred Treibs medal from the Geochemical Society for her work in inorganic geochemistry. She is the first female recipient.

I am also extremely proud to announce that we received two Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants from the National Science Foundation.

These awards are extremely competitive and difficult to obtain, so having two in one year is an amazing accomplishment. Carrie Menke and Jess Vickery’s REU grant, for Applications in Modern Materials (AiMM), will support students engaging in undergraduate research on a wide array of materials science projects with applications in soft matter, biomaterials, nanoscale materials and solar materials.

Roummel Marcia and Karin Leiderman’s REU grant for Applied Research in Modeling and Data-Enabled Science (ARCHIMEDES) will provide training for promising undergraduates to gain research experience in modeling and data-enabled science. 

Our graduate students continue to make strong research contributions. In recognition of these accomplishments, the School of Natural Sciences awarded four dean’s distinguished fellowships, to Derya Sahin (Applied Math), Shelly Rohde (Applied Math), Gary Abel (Chemistry and Chemical Biology) and Jose Amaral (Physics). We appreciate the collaborative support with the Graduate Division, Provost Tom Peterson and the Campus Budget Office in providing financial support to our graduate students.

We also have accreditation proposals for applied math and physics under review by the Graduate Council. This is the first step in a process we hope will result in formal recognition of these graduate degree programs by the UC Senate, CCGA and WASC.

Our undergraduate majors continue to grow and we welcomed 557 new freshmen and seven new transfer students in fall 2013, bringing our total undergraduate student population to 1,856.  

This past year, we officially opened our STEM Resource Center jointly with the School of Engineering. There are 55 scholars participating in this program. The STEM Resource Center provides tutoring/mentoring services and one-on-one advising related to research opportunities for undergraduates. The center held its open house event in October and had an excellent turnout of staff and faculty members and students.

We've also been busy strengthening our staff support, adding five new members to our team. I'm happy to report that Erica Robbins was promoted to the position of director of Student Services and formally started this role in November. Erica will continue to advise our students and work with faculty members to enhance our students’ experiences.

Monica Sozinho joined as our event coordinator and is organizing and managing a variety of School of Natural Sciences related events. Anthony Sali is the new executive assistant to the dean works closely with me, faculty and staff members to support the administrative function. Amanda Sargent, the new academic personnel specialist, works closely with faculty members on hiring post-doctoral scholars, lecturers and other academic titles. Anne DiCarlo is the new graduate student specialist working with our faculty members and graduate students. Bobbi Ventura accepted the position of by-law unit specialist and will work with the bylaw unit chairs to support their administrative needs.   

We are also excited that Becky Etheridge and Michelle Dutra have transitioned from the Office of Research to the School of Natural Sciences to support faculty and staff members with research administration and compliance of awards.

These accomplishments reinforce my belief that UC Merced is a special place, and that I work with a talented group of people here.

I can't wait to see what this new year will bring!