A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

School of Engineering Dean E. Dan Hirleman

February 27, 2013

The Jan. 18 topping-off ceremony for the Science and Engineering Building 2 started 2013 on a high note. The new building will fulfill our long-standing need for more STEM teaching and research laboratory space. But it will already be full the day we move in.

As I contemplate the future of UC Merced, its students and our impact in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond, I am encouraged by solutions we are developing to address the fiscal challenges posed by budget cuts and shrinking state and federal funding.

But even in this environment, we still have the responsibility to continually improve the educational opportunities we provide — after all, “reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century,” as President Barack Obama recently said.

In this environment, partnerships with the private sector will be increasingly important. One of the School of Engineering’s focuses has been to broaden our support base to include companies that are involved in relevant research, that espouse a philanthropic community outlook and are willing to engage our students to help them get the most out of their education.

One partnership vehicle we use is the Innovation and Design Clinic (IDC), UC Merced's unique flavor of the "capstone" senior-projects course that we are using to satisfy design requirements for accredited engineering degrees.

Of our 27 interdisciplinary project teams this semester, 18 are working on projects inspired and mentored by our partners, including Alta Health Clinic, Aquacue, California Strawberry Commission, Children’s Hospital of Central California, Center for Vision Enhancement, E. & J. Gallo Winery, Grundfos Co., Hilmar Cheese, PG&E, UCSF Medical Center and the California Department of Water Resources, as well as our own UC Merced Facilities Management group.

This type of experiential learning is especially important for our engineering students, because our most recent survey shows that only about 26 percent of UC Merced's engineering graduates have had paid or unpaid internships. 

By way of reference, that number for paid internships for top-tier, well-established engineering programs would be above 90 percent.

It’s also important to note that about 60 percent of our students report that neither parent has a four-year college degree. The IDC serves as a proxy for those gaps and for the missing experiences of "rubbing shoulders" with engineers and other professionals in work and home environments, and to eventually increase internship opportunities for our students.

The campus's partnership with PG&E is particularly strong; in the past few weeks, the company’s president, vice president for gas operations, research and development and innovation managers have visited and reviewed the PG&E-IDC projects.

A few days after his visit, PG&E President Chris Johns stated in a newsletter to all PG&E employees: “Without question, the challenges that face California's energy industry in the years ahead are daunting. ... But then I have days like last Thursday, and I breathe a lot easier. I visited the School of Engineering at UC Merced, and I got a real sense of the positive future that awaits us. I take comfort in knowing that this is a training ground for the engineering workforce of tomorrow.”

On another high note, please join me in congratulating the following faculty on their accomplishments:

  • Professor Alberto Cerpa, recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award 2013. His work focuses on wireless sensor networks (WSNs), an area crucial to both UC Merced's strategic focus on sustainability and to the nation's energy scenario.
  • Professor Erik Rolland took over the co-editor-in-chief position for the journal Information Technology & Management (Springer) in January 2013.
  • Professor Paul Maglio was confirmed as editor-in-chief of Service Science, from March 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2015.
  • Professor Elliott Campbell’s research and paper on mountaintop removal mining was named one of 2012’s best in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
  • Engineering students in Professor YangQuan Chen’s MESA Lab won the University Outreach Click&Move Design Contest for “Robust Heliotropic Servo Design for Concentrated Photovoltaic Systems.” The team includes students Peter Ferrell, Grant McGregor, Trevor Murdock, Brennan Stevenson and Brandon Stark, as well as Chen.

Thanks to all the staff at UC Merced who help us create this great environment for our students and faculty. We should all be proud.