The following article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Merced Monthly, an e-newsletter for the UC Merced campus community and friends. To subscribe, click here.
A unique collaboration between UC Merced students and inmates from the Sierra Conservation Center is helping Tuolumne County attract new businesses.
The Captivated Thinking Project — funded by the Foster Family Center for Engineering Service Learning and conducted in partnership with the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority (TCEDA) — gives students the opportunity to contribute to a local community while developing their academic skills and sense of civic responsibility.
The students gather economic data, which the inmates are tasked with formatting, organizing and summarizing into a quarterly snapshot. The TCEDA uses the summary to attract new businesses and to inform existing businesses about shopping trends and behaviors.
Last semester, the UC Merced student team created a web tool that will streamline the process by automatically pulling economic data from the internet for the inmates to work with. They continue to fine tune the tool to reduce the amount of time it takes to gather the data and to increase its user-friendliness.
“As a team, we are learning how to professionally and effectively communicate with different leaders and members within a community,” mechanical engineering major Danny Mauricio said. “This collaboration helps show how undergraduates, inmates and the county can work cohesively in targeting an issue.”
A Culture of Service
Captivated Thinking is just one of many examples of UC Merced students holding true to the university’s mission of serving the public. In a recent campus survey, 68 percent of UC Merced undergraduate students reported volunteering at local nonprofits and organizations on a consistent basis.
One way students demonstrate their civic commitment is through outreach efforts. Some of these efforts combine service with learning, through credit-based courses that integrate community-based research or community service.
Merced County Project 10% is a collaboration between UC Merced and community leaders, including District Attorney Larry Morse and Merced County Superintendent of Schools Steve Tietjen, to motivate and encourage middle schoolers to stay in school.
The goal is to increase Merced County’s high school graduation rate by 10 percent. When the project began in 2012, the county was falling significantly behind the state average. Now, nearly 94 percent of students graduate countywide, compared with the state average of 83.8 percent.
English major and Anaheim native Monica Perales leads about a dozen UC Merced and Merced College students working on the program. They visit middle schools in Merced County and speak with nearly 4,000 eighth-graders annually to try to inspire them to finish high school despite personal challenges.
“The presence of UC Merced students in the classroom is profound. Many of our mentors come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, so it is an opportunity for young people in our community to envision themselves in the college setting.”
Leading by Example
In 2012, the Lift While You Lead outreach program began after local high school teacher Annie Delgado contacted UC Merced’s Office of Student Life to connect college students with those in her women’s studies class, through mentoring and shared dialogue.
As mentors, UC Merced students present on relative topics and issues in a classroom setting, connecting with local high school students who are either facing similar challenges or could be facing them in the future.
“The presence of UC Merced students in the classroom is profound,” said Delgado, who coordinates the program. “Many of our mentors come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, so it is an opportunity for young people in our community to envision themselves in the college setting.”
The initiative expanded in 2015 to include middle school girls entering the eighth grade, and Delgado’s ultimate goal is to connect UC Merced students with female leaders from various industries and professions throughout the local community.
“The selfless devotion of their time and willingness to take an active leadership role in our community is greatly appreciated,” Delgado said. “I would encourage other UC Merced students to find ways in which they can connect with our local community to build a stronger bridge between the campus and residents of Merced.”
To learn how to get involved on and off campus, email firstname.lastname@example.org.