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Blum Center Announces 2017 Seed Grant Recipients

June 7, 2017

UC Merced’s branch of the Blum Center for Developing Economies rebooted this spring with a faculty-led effort to spend two years working on becoming the hub for all food-security-related research and outreach on and off campus.

Part of that effort includes seed grants for UC Merced researchers. The Blum Center just announced this year’s winners:

  • Professor Paul Brown and his research team, including Professor Nancy Burke and graduate students Kevin Kwan, Tashelle Wright, Jazmine Kenny, Adriana Nunez and Ravi Singh, are studying malnutrition among the elderly, a serious public health concern. They plan to document the rates of malnourishment, understand the causes of malnutrition identify potential remedies.
  • Jaapna Dhillon, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Natural Sciences, will work with Professor Rudy M. Ortiz and Cooperative Extension Nutrition Specialist Karina Diaz Rios to examine the sensory and cognitive perceptions of local fruits vegetables and nuts among UC Merced students, a food desert campus, and study associations with metabolic risk factors, as well as the factors affecting consumption such as food cost, availability and prior exposure.
  • Graduate student Zahra Goliaeli will work with Diaz-Rios and professors Mariaelena Gonzalez and Nancy Burke to explore factors affecting food access, food choice and the risk of food insecurity among recently resettled Dari-speaking refugees in the San Joaquin Valley.
  • Rodolfo Rodriguez, a graduate student in the School of Social Studies, Humanities and Arts, will work with Professor Mario Sifuentez to analyze farm worker union contracts for the incorporation of food access in contract demands to determine which strategies are used to increase access to fresh foods.
  • Sifuentez also received a grant for his project entitled “The Color of Water; Race, Work, and Land in California’s Central Valley.” He will work with graduate student Laura Gomez to collect archival documents and primary-source oral histories of Central Valley farm workers, informing ongoing research in the areas of food and water, contributing to the burgeoning field of food studies.
  • Professor Zulema Valdez and her research team, including Professor A. Susana Ramirez and graduate students Katie Butterfield and Vicente Mata and undergraduate student Nicole Raygoza, will examine alternate food outlet contributions to the food environment. They plan to survey alternate food outlets in two Merced County communities to help identify resources and solutions to food access, providing a more well-rounded picture of the rural food environment.
  • Graduate student Tiebiao Zhao, with the School of Engineering and the MESA drone lab, and fellow students Jan Tana, Brandon Yang and Christian Tran are developing an autonomous rover to detect irrigation pipe leakage, saving agricultural ventures time, effort and money, ultimately increasing food production potential.

If you want to follow along with the teams’ progress, visit the Blum Center website.

Lorena Anderson

Senior Writer and Public Information Representative

Office: (209) 228-4406

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