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School of Natural Sciences Dean Set to Begin New Leadership Position

November 16, 2016

Juan MezaAfter 5 1/2 years leading the School of Natural Sciences, Dean Juan Meza is getting ready to embark on a new journey at UC Merced: as the senior advisor to the provost for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and diversity initiatives.

Meza’s new role — which he will step into once a new dean has been selected and is in place — calls for a focus on leadership for large-scale integrated research programs and for academic diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“I’m very excited by this new role. This position combines two of my passions: these large-scale projects and diversity,” Meza said. “It’s important for us to be inclusive and to bring more people from underrepresented populations to UC Merced. This new position is an integral part of fulfilling UC Merced’s mission in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson announced the planned change last week in an email to the campus community, outlining the brand-new position’s responsibilities.

“I am delighted that Juan has agreed to take on these new challenges,” Peterson said. “He is ideally suited for this role given his strong record of accomplishments in securing funding for STEM and diversity initiatives. I know his work in these areas will bring significant benefits to UC Merced.”

Diversity in STEM fields is still a national challenge, but Meza has made it a key component of many of his initiatives at UC Merced at all levels including in his hiring of faculty.

During his tenure as dean, he has so far hired 37 new faculty members. Of these, 19 were female and six were Hispanic/Latino/a. To date, more than 40 percent of the faculty members within the school are female. In applied mathematics, the ratio is 50-50.

Role Will Help Attract Diverse Students, Faculty

Meza said the new senior advisor position will help attract a diverse group of potential students and faculty members who will see the campus’s potential being fulfilled.

Meza is also the co-PI on a new National Science Foundation-funded National Research Training: Innovations in Graduate Education Award that focuses on increasing diversity within the computational sciences.

His long involvement with the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), a national organization that fosters success for underrepresented minorities in science careers, also brings a wealth of experience in student success to this position, Peterson said.

One of the reasons large-scale integrative research programs will be among Meza’s priorities is because such programs are signature elements for most Carnegie R1 institutions, particularly in STEM fields.

University leaders said it is critical for UC Merced to develop a strong research portfolio that includes these programs as the campus moves toward an eventual R1 designation. The campus is now an R2.

For the most competitive of these programs, integration takes place across many dimensions: deeply within a given discipline, across disciplinary collaborations including those outside of college/school boundaries, and beyond the limits of one’s own university, connected by partnerships with other academic institutions, national labs and industries.

Structurally such programs could be compared with the campus’s NASA-supported Merced nAnomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing (MACES) Center or the CREST Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines, in that they are large centers with multiple faculty members and involve interdisciplinary research.

But the large-scale integrated research programs Meza has in mind would involve multiple universities from inside and outside the UC system, national labs and industry.

Campus leaders recognize that proposals for such programs are difficult and time consuming to manage. Meza has 25 years of experience in this area including leading a $5.85 million multi-institution project for developing scalable algorithms for studying nanostructures. He was also the technical integration lead for a $12 million-a-year multi-laboratory, a multidisciplinary project for developing an advanced simulation capability for environmental management. He will lead efforts to support the development of such program proposals at UC Merced.

Meza is a computational and applied mathematician and earned his degrees from Rice University. He headed the Computational Research Division and the High Performance Computing Research department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was a research engineer at Exxon Production Research.

He has a long list of awards and honors for his work and research, including winning the Rice University Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award; being named an AAAS fellow; and being named a Distinguished Scientist by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS). He served on the board of directors at SACNAS and on the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure, and he serves on the National Academies Board on Mathematical Sciences and its Applications and the American Association for the Advancement of Science council, representing the Section on Mathematics.

In his new role, Meza will work with deans, faculty members, Development and Alumni Relations and others across the campus to identify and secure funding for STEM pipeline programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In collaboration with the vice provost for the faculty, he will also provide leadership for creating and implementing programs and best practices for hiring and retaining a diverse faculty in all of UC Merced’s academic program areas.

Peterson said he will issue a call for nominations for people to serve on a search committee for a new dean with the expectation of beginning the formal search process in the early part of the spring semester.