Hiking to the top of Marin County’s iconic Mount Tamalpais gave a group of UC Merced students not only a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, but insight into how they, as individuals, can contribute to their communities’ enrichment.
The 19 first-year students are members of the campus’s Leadership & Service Living Learning Community (LLC), which allows them to live together to build relationships with one another while developing their leadership and service skills through volunteer efforts in Merced County and California State Parks.
Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in January, the students went on a two-day retreat, learning about conservation work at Mount Tamalpais State Park and the region’s Watershed Project, and providing volunteer service in nearby Richmond.
The team learned how park leaders have overcome procedural and bureaucratic differences by forming one organization, One Tam, to align the efforts of four federal, state and county agencies that manage Mount Tamalpais.
“Our trip to Mount Tamalpais was a unique experience,” said Adrian Buitron Boada, a mechanical engineering student. “I had a chance to learn about the problems that state parks face every year and how creatively they are solved by the leaders who preserve them.”
Janet Klein, who directs One Tam conservation science programs at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, said she was impressed by the students’ fortitude in hiking through wind and fog on the mountain.
“I very much enjoyed the collective awe at the unique perspective offered by the top of Mount Tam, with San Francisco to the south and national parks to the north. It is gratifying to see a rising generation of leaders step onto their public lands,” she said.
On the second day, the students worked at the Richmond Greenway, a stretch of abandoned railroad property that is being transformed into a community open space. They spread mulch around native plants to prevent weeds.
“Going on the retreat, I learned more about how the communities that are close to my home — communities that struggle — can see hope,” said Brianna Chavez Mancella, a psychology major. “It is amazing to see them all come together to help protect their environment for the future.”
Paula White, community programs manager for The Watershed Project, said the work was appropriate for the holiday’s day-of-service theme.
“It's really inspiring to get to work with young people like the students from UC Merced who came to the Richmond Greenway on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday,” she said. “While the students worked to smother the weeds with wheelbarrows full of mulch, they helped create a joyful atmosphere of good will that was infectious. There's something about working outside next to a stranger that creates connections — to nature, to a place, to a new friend. I think this is the kind of service that Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of.”
The Leadership & Service Living Learning Community, one of 11 LLCs at UC Merced, is the result of a partnership between the Margo F. Souza Student Leadership Center and the university’s Community Engagement Center. It is also supported by the Office of Housing & Residence Education.
A grant from the California State Parks Foundation supports the retreat and other projects in the community.
Leaders of the Leadership & Service LLC have announced that it has been selected to pilot a second year in which students who complete their first year in the program will be able to continue the living-learning experience. Those who choose to continue in Fall 2020 will be introduced to a new career-readiness component, supported by UC Merced’s Center for Career & Professional Advancement.
“I’m grateful to be a part of the community of scholars that we’ve built within the Leadership & Service LLC,” said Jess Evora, associate director of the Margo F. Souza Student Leadership Center. “These first-years began the Fall 2019 semester as strangers. They have since grown into a family that both supports each other and holds each other accountable to the community expectations we have set for ourselves as an LLC.
“I’m extremely excited because these students have already shown what leadership in action can look like, yet they’re only in the beginning stages of their leadership journey here at UC Merced. The best is yet to come for these students.”
The Leadership & Service LLC is open to first-year students who are willing to commit themselves to exploring and developing their own leadership skills and style, understanding their personal values, and learning how to ethically and effectively engage with and in the local community.