A generous gift from UC Merced alumnus Eric Chen, Ph.D., ’11, and his wife, Joanne Hsu, to establish a new scholarship is advancing the university’s efforts to encourage and support students pursuing medical studies and training in the Central Valley.
Scholarship funding — which includes contributions from the Chen Family Foundation and Chen’s employer, Megaforce International Corporation — will benefit promising UC Merced undergraduates enrolled in the campus’s Bachelor of Science to Medical Degree (BS to MD) program, which is scheduled to launch in Fall 2023.
“I made a promise to myself 10 years ago when I graduated that if I were able to contribute to UC Merced, I would be one of the first donors to give to a significant new program,” said Chen, who earned his doctorate in Biological Engineering and Small-scale Technologies under the Individual Graduate Program (IGP).
He first learned about the university’s emerging medical education program from UC Merced bioengineering Professor Wei-Chun Chin and was highly motivated to support the initiative, which aligns with both his philanthropic and professional goals.
“My mission is to let the global community learn about UC Merced,” he said. “I think it’s important for a global audience to understand where the university is and where it will be, and I was very excited to hear about the new program and how it is gearing up UC Merced in the medical field.”
Additionally, Chen said he looks forward to the positive effects a medical education program, and eventually medical school, will have on healthcare access and options throughout the Central Valley, where he remembers “a lot of people lining up for medical care” at the local clinics serving low-income communities, including the un- and under-insured.
“Part of my personal dream is to find ways to build mobile clinics,” he said. “I hope that in the not-too- distant future, to find the right partner to build mobile clinics that can travel from Merced to other areas in the region.”
Chen said that during the six years he spent in Merced for his doctoral program, where his research focused on climate and environmental issues and their impacts on human health, he first learned of the shortage of health care providers in the area.
“I understand the needs from hearing stories about the lack of medical facilities and funding,” he said. “I grew up in an area where access was not an issue, so it was surprising to me. I wanted to find a way to help.”
Now, through the new scholarship, Chen’s philanthropy will ensure that up to five undergraduate students enrolled in the medical education program who demonstrate academic achievement and financial need will receive funding to help them pursue their studies.
“Eric was my first Ph.D. student at UC Merced and was also the first Ph.D. to graduate from our bioengineering program,” Chin said. “This generous gift from Eric and his family will benefit our medical
education program tremendously by easing the burdens of incoming students, enabling more talented students to pursue their medical careers without financial concerns.”
Chen said a series of serendipitous events enabled him to attend UC Merced, “but when I first arrived, there weren’t many opportunities for student scholarships,” Chen said. “So, it is really nice to have the capacity to give back.
“I hope this scholarship inspires other alumni to donate and also help spread the word and continue to raise awareness of UC Merced,” he said.