Michael Pierick’s road to presenting as part of the UC Merced delegation at this week’s UC Board of Regents meeting started in 2012, with a pit stop on the way to a basketball tryout at Sonoma State.
Both of Pierick’s parents attended UCLA and encouraged him to check out the newest UC campus while driving to Sonoma from San Diego, where Pierick was finishing his senior year at Rancho Bernardo High School.
“When I got to campus, it was just this close-knit community,” Pierick said. “I could really be the person I wanted to be.”
Pierick, who has been the club director at the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County for the past year, shared his journey from incoming first-year student to someone who’s making a lasting and positive impact in the Merced community at the UC Board of Regents meeting in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, Merced Mayor Mike Murphy, and Jeff Gilger, interim dean of UC Merced’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, joined Pierick in addressing the board.
“What I am most proud of is our engagement with our community,” Leland said. “Our faculty and staff, as well as our students and alumni, are heavily involved in our community — creating strong and lasting partnerships.”
UC president Janet Napolitano commended the university for its connection to the Merced community that has been forged since the campus first opened its doors.
“The development of the UC Merced campus is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever had the privilege of being associated with,” said Napolitano. “The relationship between the campus and community is organic. It’s built into its DNA.”
A City on the Rise
Murphy also touched on the effect UC Merced has had on the city as a whole.
“Merced is a city on the rise and UC Merced’s expansion is a key reason why,” he said. “The creation of the Downtown Campus Center has brought a renaissance to downtown Merced, with renovation projects of old structures showcasing the economic development. With the first phase of the Merced 2020 Project now in place, a buzz has filled the city with anticipation for what is to come in the next few years.”
Gilger founded the Alliance for Child and Family Health and Development shortly after joining UC Merced in 2011. He noticed there was a need in Merced for a central location where families and professionals could be advised about various childhood conditions, including autism and other learning disabilities.
The Alliance partners with Merced County to run Help 4 My Child, a First 5 organization dedicated to offering resources that serve the needs of children at risk for intellectual or behavioral challenges.
Gilger said the Alliance was one of the first UC Merced buildings downtown, and said the university has built a presence that continues through student engagement and research projects that attract other universities, like UCLA and UCSF.
“It’s an honor that what we’ve been doing is considered valuable enough to be shared,” Gilger said. “It’s kind of a recognition that we are doing something.”
When I got to campus, it was just this close-knit community, I could really be the person I wanted to be.
‘Empowered people willing to stay’
After Pierick received his bachelor’s degree in management in 2016, he spent a year working in the UC Merced Admissions office, pitching the university to nearly 100 high schools in his coverage area. His message was similar to the one he presented Wednesday — the community of Merced and UC Merced enable and encourage students who have great ideas to make a profound difference in the community.
“We don’t need Albert Einstein to do things,” Pierick said. “We need empowered people who are willing and able to stay in an area like this and make change and use their expertise.”
Pierick helped the city launch a summer playground camp during his time at UC Merced and founded Student-Athletes Focusing on Education (SAFE) in October 2015. SAFE is a group of present and former UC Merced student-athletes who serve as mentors for local middle and high school students as they work to build positive opportunities and relationships in the community.
Pierick was excited to tell his story to the regents because he believes all UC Merced students share the same desire to help the Merced community that he discovered when he first set foot on the campus six years ago.
“Every student knew they could make an impact and they were striving for success,” he said. “But you knew how hungry they were because they had never been presented an opportunity like that before. It really humbled me to be in a position like that.”
Regent Sherry Lansing, who attended UC Merced’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2002 and at Michelle Obama’s commencement address in 2009, echoed Napolitano’s sentiments regarding UC Merced’s bond with the city.
“I remember looking and thinking, this is one of the most exciting things I have ever been part of,” Lansing said. “But I never dreamed that it would turn out to be what it is so quickly. Its growth is remarkable; its connection to the community, its students, most of whom are first-generation, its diversity, the pride that the community has.”
Gilger believes UC Merced’s expansion into the community is a gateway to the future of the city and region. In terms of community issues, he said, there are many programs and initiatives on campus now that are going to come to fruition over the next few years.