Skip to content

Grants, Accolades and Awards

UC Merced's campus Grad Slam champion Aneelman Brar took home the People's Choice award at UC Grad Slam finals held on May 5 at LinkedIn in San Francisco. View her talk online.

Cognitive and Information Sciences Professor Lace Padilla


Cognitive and Information Sciences (CIS) Professor Lace Padilla has been named a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) for her groundbreaking research on how people make decisions using data visualizations, such as forecasts of COVID-19 cases or hurricane trajectories. The designation is presented to "outstanding APS Members in the earliest stages of their research careers post-Ph.D.," according to the association's website.


Cognitive and Information Sciences Professor Lace Padilla

Physics Ph.D. student Md Mehdi Masud has been named an American Physical Society (APS) Student Ambassador.

Masud is one of 68 students from around the world who received this recognition and opportunity to represent their universities to APS and introduce APS opportunities to their own universities. Student ambassadors can build their professional networks and improve their leadership skills while working with diverse people in STEM fields.

Masud is studying the interesting behavior of materials at extreme conditions in Professor David Strubbe’s lab. His research focuses particularly on computational high energy density physics — which is a new subfield of physics that intersects condensed matter physics and plasma physics — at extreme conditions of pressure and/or temperature. He is working to provide an in-depth explanation as well as necessary predictions to future experiment groups working in this highly challenging area of research.

Cognitive and Information Sciences Professor Lace Padilla

Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. candidate Saima Aktar Sumaiya was awarded a Graduate Research Award from the American Vacuum Society (AVS).

Sumaiya is studying the atomic-scale structure and electronic properties of 2D materials by real-space surface imaging under ambient conditions in Professor Mehmet Baykara’s lab.

The Graduate Research Awards were established in 1984 to recognize and encourage excellence in graduate studies in the sciences and technologies of interest to AVS. Each consists of a cash award, a certificate and reimbursed travel support to attend the International Symposium.

EECS Professor Shijia Pan was awarded the best demo award at the Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2022) held in November. The demo abstract titled, "MOOCA: Miura-Ori Origami-Based Configurable Shelf-Liner for Autonomous Retail," is a project supported by AiFi Inc. to build a low-cost elastic sensor inspired by origami – the Japanese paper folding structure. Authors include Pan, Shubham Rohal and Yue Zhang from UC Merced and Carlos Ruiz from AiFi Inc.

Ph.D. student Kris Gulati was awarded a $50,000 Wikimedia Research and Technology Fund grant by the Wikimedia Foundation to look at its role in shaping and directing science.

Gulati, who works with Chair of Department of Economics and Business Management Professor Christian Fons-Rosen, is interested in the economics of science and innovation.

“Largely, I'm interested in how we can improve scientists' productivity to increase the quality and quantity of academic research and translate that into improved living standards for people,” Gulati said. “A quote by Ioannidis I love summarizes it well, ‘Science is the best thing that has happened to humans, but we can do it much better.’”

Director of UC Merced's Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education, or CARE, Yesenia Curiel was awarded Outstanding Latina Woman by the Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Each year, Merced County's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honors outstanding Latina women who demonstrate a true commitment to service and compassion.

Yesenia was nominated by Merced community members and was one of three women chosen to receive the award on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15/22). Yesenia also received recognition from the city of Merced, Senator Anna Caballero, Senator Adam Grey, Senator Alex Padilla, Congressman Jim Costa, and California's Attorney General Rob Bonta at this event.

In recognition of her ongoing support and advocacy for women in technology, Director of Cyber Infrastructure and Research Technologies, Sarvani Chadalapaka, has been appointed co-chair for Internet2's Inclusivity Initiative (I2I) Steering Committee. Internet2 is a consortium of 320+ member institutions that provides a secure high-speed network, cloud solutions, research support, and other technology services tailored for research and education.

Being chosen for this role represent a full-circle for Chadalapaka, having been awarded an I2I scholarship in 2017 that helped jump-start her career. A tireless advocate for women in technology, Chadalapaka delivers talks on equity and inclusivity at various conferences across the country and founded a Women in High Performance Computing mentorship program. 

"Chadalapaka's work has directly contributed to OIT's ability to attract and retain women in historically male-dominated technology fields," said Interim Chief Information Officer Nick Dugan. "Her recognition in this space demonstrates UC Merced's commitment and leadership in building a diverse, inclusive, and representative workforce, and I am grateful to have her as a stand-out member of OIT's leadership team!"


CIS Professor Tyler Marghetis is one of 74  named a Kavli Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at the 2022 Kavli Frontiers of Science U.S. Symposium, which is the Academy’s premiere activity for distinguished young scientists. A committee of NAS members selected the participants from among young researchers who have already made recognized contributions to science. 

The Frontiers of Science symposium series provides a forum for the future leaders in U.S. science to share ideas across disciplines and to build contacts and networks as they advance in their careers. More than 6,000 young scientists have participated since the program’s founding in 1989; to date, 298 participants have been elected to the NAS and 17 have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

The Kavli Foundation, based in Los Angeles, California, is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work. The Kavli fellowship program is aimed at helping outstanding scientists learn about research at frontiers of fields other than their own, and helping participants develop a network of connections. 

UC Merced Ph.D. student Reo Maynard and his advisor Professor Gordon Bennett have been selected as one of 51 student-adviser teams awarded with the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship.

The Chemical Engineering and Molecular Engineering and Sciences departments at University of Washington, Seattle, invite young scholars and scientists annually to present their research and provide professional development opportunities during the Distinguished Young Scholars Seminar 2022.

On Aug. 1, Postdoctoral Scholar Syeda Tajin Ahmed, Ph.D., in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UC Merced presented an hour-long seminar on “Interactions of Grafted Zwitterionic Polymers with Biomolecules at Nanoscale.”

“I explained how I measured adsorption of different kinds of proteins on zwitterionic polymer coated substrates, the adsorption mechanism and the surface forces that control polymer-materials interactions,” Ahmed said. “I also talked about my current postdoctoral work in Professor Roberto Andresen Eguiluz’s lab on the role of fibronectin in lubricating boundary film formation at the articular cartilage.”

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science undergraduate Shreya Shriram, in Professor Shijia Pan's lab, won the Best Poster Award at IPSN 2022 conference for their paper, “Sedentary Posture Muscle Monitoring via Active Vibratory Sensing,” co-authored by Pan, graduate students Shubham Rohal, Zhizhang Hu and Yue Zhang, and VP Nguyen from University of Texas, Arlington.

Interdisciplinary Humanities Ph.D. student Amanda LeonInterdisciplinary Humanities Ph.D. student Amanda Leong received the Medieval Academy of America’s 2022 Belle da Costa Green Award.

Belle da Costa Greene was a prominent art historian and the first manuscript librarian of the Pierpont Morgan collection. She was also the first known person of color and second woman to be elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America (1939).

Belle da Costa Green's legacy highlights the professional difficulties faced by medievalists of color, the personal sacrifices they make to belong to the field, and their extraordinary contributions to medieval studies. The award is granted annually to a medievalist of color for research and travel whose project speaks to the legacy of Belle da Costa Greene and whose research can contribute to the field of medieval studies.

As a recipient of the Belle Da Costa Greene 2022 Award Leong will have access to conduct in-person archival research in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the British Library in London.

“I look forward to expanding my research more with the hope that more support can be given to Ph.D. students like myself from the Interdisciplinary Humanities program given the nature of the research work we are doing and the acknowledgment we are receiving from external, professional organizations, Leong said. “I am grateful and excited for this opportunity!”

Ph.D. candidate Amanda Caterina Leong was awarded the Middle Eastern Studies Association's 2021 Best Graduate Student Paper Award. Leong, who is in the Interdisciplinary Humanities (IH) Graduate Group, works with professors Sholeh Quinn, Aditi Chandra and Humberto Garcia  to provide new understandings about intersections of race, class and gender from a premodern Persian perspective by building a genealogy of multimedia representations of female "javānmardī" — meaning chivalry.

“I am the first person from UC Merced to win this award and it will really help showcase and promote the work IH students, like me, are doing to contribute to the field,” she said.

Leong is an aerialist who uses acrobatic arts to translate and communicate her work on female power.

She has also been awarded travel and research grants from the American Institute of Iranian Studies, the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender, and the Middle Eastern Medievalists, and she received the Fred and Mitzie Ruiz Fellowship. Her research has also appeared in Ajam Media Collective (here and here), Chicago Review of Books' Arcturus Magazine and IranWire.


Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Ph.D. student Xueting Li is a recipient of the 13th annual Google Ph.D. Fellowship Program.

Li works in Professor Ming-Hsuan Yang’s Vision and Learning Lab and her research focuses on computer vision and deep learning, especially on the area of unsupervised learning and 3D computer vision. In 2020, Li was awarded a prestigious NVIDIA Graduate Fellowship.

The Google Ph.D. Fellowship Program was created to recognize outstanding graduate students doing exceptional and innovative research in areas relevant to computer science and related fields. Fellowships support promising Ph.D. candidates of all backgrounds who seek to influence the future of technology.


Quantitative and Systems Biology Ph.D. candidate Nadia Miranda received a two-year UC-National Lab In-Residence Graduate Fellowship from the UC-National Lab Fee Research Program.

The fellowship provides support for UC doctoral students to conduct in-residence dissertation research and receive professional training at Los Alamos or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). The program is a partnership of the UC Office of the President's Research and Innovation and the Office of National Laboratories.

Miranda studies Coccidioides spp., the fungal pathogen species responsible for coccidiodomycosis, also known as Valley fever, with UC Merced Professor Katrina Hoyer and Gabriela Loots at LLNL.

Professor Colleen Naughton has been awarded the 2021 Grand Prize in University Research by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). Naughton’s lab created an online dashboard titled “COVIDPoops19” to plot the location of global wastewater testing for SARS-CoV-2 during the pandemic. With the help of graduate and undergraduate students, Naughton's team scanned Twitter, publications, news articles and webinars to find the latest information on testing results. The dashboard was made possible through an emergency seed grant from CITRIS and now a sub-award from Michigan State University as part of a global data center for COVID-19 wastewater monitoring.

Ph.D. student Deseret Weeks was recently awarded a California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Doctoral Incentive Program fellowship for her MIST Management of Complex Systems studies offered by the Ernest & Julio Gallo Management Program.

“Deseret has been actively engaged in sustainability research on campus since arriving at UC Merced in fall of 2019,” her advisor Professor Catherine Keske said. “I’m proud of her scholarly growth and promise as an academic which is being recognized as a recipient of this fellowship.”

Acceptance into the program is a rigorous, competitive process. The fellowship award is intended to create a pathway to tenure-track faculty positions within the CSU system while providing important connections between the CSU and University of California campuses.

Weeks and other fellows will receive support throughout their Ph.D. in the form of professional development and mentorship, grants and forgivable loans. Fellows also have the opportunity to take part in the CSU Pre-Professor Program which includes a semester-long immersive teaching opportunity for doctoral students and post-doctoral students at a CSU.

Cognitive and Information Sciences graduate student Ketika Garg is the recipient of the 2021-2022 UC Guru Gobind Singh Fellowship. Each UC campus is invited to nominate a graduate student from a specific area of India and Pakistan to compete in a systemwide competition. The fellowship provides $30,000 in support.

“I am very grateful and honored to have received this award that was established in the name of a great spiritual leader to help out Indian students who are not eligible to apply for most of the funding opportunities available to U.S. citizens,” Garg said. “I feel very lucky to have been eligible for this fellowship and I hope that other international students can get similar opportunities in the future.”

The fourth-year Ph.D. student joined UC Merced in Fall 2017 after completing a master’s in biology in India. ​Her research interests include anthropology, evolutionary biology and human cognition, and she is studying human foraging patterns and their cognitive basis.

Third-year Ph.D. student Brittany Lopez Barreto has been named a NASA Future Investigator in Earth Space Science and Technology, known as the NASA FINESST program. Her proposal on wildfire and water supply was selected from 835 highly competitive proposals, 351 of which were in Earth Science. The program provides three-year research grants to graduate students who design and perform projects relevant to NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lopez Barreto is a first-generation Latina studying under Professor Erin Hestir in the Earth Observation and Remote Sensing Lab.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science graduate student Haoyu Niu is one of 24 scientists selected for this year's Bayer Grants4Ag program. He beat out over 600 proposals from around the world.

Parasitic nematodes can cause up to 20 percent of annual yield losses for walnut growers. But Niu is aiming to curb those losses through the early detection of nematode infestations with Scio, combining cutting-edge field devices with machine learning algorithms.

Read more

Political Science Professor Jessica Trounstine’s book, Segregation By Design, is the basis for a new initiative by the Association of Bay Area Governments/Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Trounstine and her research team will assess and catalog data in each of the 109 jurisdictions to develop metrics that identify politicies likely to have contributed to housing segregation and availability. This research will help tell the story of housing inequity for Bay Area jurisdictions as they revise their Housing Elements for AB-686.The work is facilitated through STIR Labs, a national applied research program funded by the National Science Foundation which connects governments and academic teams to co-develop and apply research that offer solutions to the critical issues that communities face. 

Sociology Professor Charlie Eaton and three graduate students recently submitted a winning entry in the Dignity and Debt Student Loan Data Visualization Contest. The contest, conducted through Princeton University’s VizE Lab, was created to pursue the potential in visualization in helping to solve the student loan debt crisis. The lab teamed up with the Dignity+Debt Network to call for data visualizations, maps, or short documentary films and photography that portray student loan debt. Eaton worked with graduate students Jay Colond, Luis Ruben Gonzalez, and Waleed Rajabally to produce the winning piece titled “Student Debt and the Hidden Racial Wealth Gap in Federal Aid Formulas”, which can be viewed here.

Sociology Professor Stephanie Canizales is a 2020 recipient of the American Sociology Association's Community Action Research Initiative grant award. Canizales' research is focused on migration and immigrant integration, children and youth, inequality, poverty, mobility, and race and ethnicity. She will use the award to interrogate the effects the converging refugee and health crises on legal, educational, health, and social service providers' lives. Canizales has partnered with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, a Los Angeles-based organization to more clearly understand the impact of these crises and government responses to them on the work dynamics, practices, attitudes, and overall well-being among service providers working with asylum-seeking Central American children, families, and communities.

Web of Science has named Psychological Sciences Professor Martin Hagger as a Highly Cited Researcher, which places him in the top one percent of researchers worldwide by citations. His work focuses on the nature of self-control and behavior change interventions. His research also identifies the psychological factors such as motivation, planning and habits that are linked to people’s health behavior, and how this information can be used to change people’s behavior. He was also recently ranked the 28th most-influential researcher in the field of Sport Sciences in a recently published study in PLOS Biology.

Sociology Professor Whitney Pirtle has been awarded the 2020 A. Wade Smith award by the Association of Black Sociologists. Established in 1998, this award honors A. Wade Smith’s tireless work as an advocate for racial justice and rising scholars in the field. Pirtle, who was nominated by her students, was recognized for excellence in teaching, mentorship and service to the study of sociology.

Soil biogeochemistry Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe has been elected to be a fellow in the Geological Society of America. As 2019's recipient of the GSA's Randolph W. "Bill" and Cecile T. Bromery Award for the Minorities, her fellowship this year was guaranteed. Berhe has often been recognized for her outstanding contributions to the geosciences through scholarly productivity, her scientific advances on soil carbon cycling and her work to broaden the participation of underserved and marginalized geoscientists.

Social psychology Professor Jenny Howell has been named a distinguished young alumna by her alma mater, Southwestern University in Texas. The awards are only given to one or two alumni annually.

Professor YangQuan Chen has been listed among the world’s most influential researchers by the Web of Science Group, which recognizes researchers most frequently cited by their peers. In 2019, fewer than 6,300, or 0.1 percent, of the world's researchers across 21 fields, earned this distinction. Chen researches unmanned aerial systems (drones), mechatronics, control systems, cyber-physical systems and applied fractional calculus in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the School of Engineering. He is the second faculty member in his school to earn this distinction.

For the second consecutive year, Professor Ming-Hsuan Yang has been named one of the world’s most influential researchers by the Web of Science Group, which recognizes researchers most frequently cited by their peers. In 2019, fewer than 6,300, or 0.1 percent, of the world's researchers across 21 fields, earned this distinction. Yang researches computer vision, pattern recognition and machine learning in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering.

Economics Professor Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes won the American Society of Hispanic Economists’ 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award, recognized for both her important and prolific research on issues that affect Latinx communities in the United States and the essential role she has played in promoting the vitality of Latinx economists through her coauthoring and mentoring.

Christina Lux, associate director of the Center for the Humanities, has been awarded Honorable Mention for Best Paper of the Year from the Ecological Society of America ’s Education Section. Lux was part of an interdisciplinary and multi-university team of collaborators who wrote a Bioscience article titled “Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science.” The piece, which draws upon peer-reviewed literature, explores the benefits of integrating science and poetry to further conservation scientists’ creative practices.

Sociology Professor Tanya Golash-Boza has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for her project "Prisoner Re-Entry and Gentrification." With this funding, Golash-Boza will explore how gentrified and diverse neighborhoods help or hinder prisoners' reintegration into society. Focusing on her hometown of Washington, D.C., Golash-Boza aims to develop an understanding of barriers the formerly incarcerated face to better inform policy for reintegration and reduce individuals' odds of returning to prison.

Political Science Professor Jessica Trounstine's book "Segregation by Design: Local Politics and Inequality in American Cities" has been recognized with two American Political Science Association (APSA) section book awards. The book was awarded the J. David Greenstone Book Prize from the Politics and History Section, as well as the Best Book in Race, Ethnicity, and Urban Politics from the Race, Ethnicity, and Politics section. In "Segregation by Design," Trounstine explores more than 100 years’ worth of data from thousands of American cities to understand how local governments generate race and class segregation within and between cities, often at the expense of people of color and the poor in order to enhance the wealth and resources of white property owners.


The Geological Society of America (GSA) named Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe the winner of this year’s Randolph W. "Bill" and Cecile T. Bromery Award for the Minorities for her internationally recognized outstanding contributions to the geosciences through impressive scholarly productivity, scientific advances on erosion and fire effects on soil carbon cycling, professional service and leadership, mentoring and training of a diverse team of early career professionals, and broadening participation of underserved and marginalized geoscientists. The GSA recognizes outstanding scientific achievement and distinguished service to the profession each year at its Annual Meeting & Exposition, which is scheduled for late September in Phoenix.

Professor Ahmed Sabbir Arif and his co-investigators received the Michael A. J. Sweeney Award for the Best Student Paper at the 45th annual Conference on Computer Graphics, Visualization and Human-Computer Interaction (GI 2019) , May 28–31, 2019, in Ontario, Canada. His paper, WiseType: A Tablet Keyboard with Color-Coded Visualization and Various Editing Options for Error Correction, presents a novel virtual keyboard. 

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded molecular cell biology Professor Nestor J. Oviedo and his lab $307,432 for one year to study the effects of direct-current stimulation in adult tissues.

The National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, has granted psychology Professor Sidra Goldman-Mellor $448,563 for three years to use California emergency department patient data to examine how suicidal behavior in adolescence affect teens' long-term risks for health problems and healthcare utilization.

UC Merced professor Ming-Hsuan Yang, in the School of Engineering’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program has received the AMiner Most Influential Scholar Annual Award in recognition of his “outstanding and vibrant contributions to the field of Computer Vision.” The award names the world's top-cited research scholars from the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and recognizes outstanding technical achievements with lasting contribution and impact to the research community.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science graduate student Thomas Thayer presented won the best paper award at the IEEE International Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (CASE) for his paper “Multi-Robot Routing Algorithms for Robots Operating in Vineyards,” that focuses on RAPID (Robot Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery), a scalable irrigation management solution that aims to help vine growers with water conservation efforts while improving yield and quality. 

Political science Professor Alexander Theodoridis has been awarded the Society for Political Methodology’s 2019 Miller Prize for the best paper in the influential journal Political Analysis with his paper "Worth Weighting? How to Think About and Use Weights in Survey Experiments."