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Thousands Enjoy a Big ‘Welcome’ at Bobcat Day

April 22, 2024
UC Merced's Professor Valerie Leppert at Bobcat Day
Valerie Leppert, professor of materials science and engineering, talks to visitors at UC Merced's Bobcat Day.

Fernando Malagon and his mom stood at the head of a line for guided tours of the university he plans to attend this fall. The informational stroll around UC Merced would be more for her than for him; he visited the campus five years ago on a seventh-grade field trip from Modesto.

Of course, the university has grown since then, not just in square footage but in opportunity and possibility.

Also growing significantly is Bobcat Day, UC Merced’s annual open house for incoming and prospective students and their families. Nearly 5,000 people poured onto campus on a crisp, cloudless Saturday. They got face-to-face expert answers on student housing, financial aid, career paths and research opportunities. They attended standing-room-only presentations by faculty from many fields of study They chatted up members of clubs, fraternities and sororities and enjoyed bands and dance teams and food.

“For you to be admitted here, you had to demonstrate amazing talent — and not only talent, but also purpose and resolve and commitment. You have made it clear to your peers, your friends and your families that you want to do something extraordinary,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said in welcoming remarks at University Plaza.

UC Merced soon will be a home away from home for hundreds of college transfers and admitted first-year students like Malagon, who is wrapping up his senior year at Gregori High School. He is confident UC Merced can stoke his interest in computer science. He also appreciates the campus being less than an hour from Modesto.

Mom appreciates that, too.

“I want him to go anywhere he wants to go and can be happy,” Norma Ramirez said. “But him being this close to home is a plus.”

It’s a similar story in the Hinds household in Stevinson. Jenna, currently attending Turlock Christian High, plans to major in psychology. “I like the feeling of community,” she said of UC Merced. “And it’s close to home, but not too close.” Her dad, Gilbert, said, she will be visited now and again but “we’re going to let her live her life.”

Another perspective: Rocio Rodriguez said her parents are comfortable with her coming to Merced from Los Angeles because the campus strongly supports Hispanic, first-generation students like her. Rodriguez will study biological science with an eye on a medical career. She described the campus as peaceful and just the right size: “I'm excited about doing research here and building connections with my professors.”

One more: Bailey Goldsmith of Hanford is giving herself a couple of weeks to decide to register at UC Merced. If she does, it will be because she knows her goal of being a forensic pathologist can be nurtured there. But it also will be because she fishes on the Kings River with her dad, Chris, and she heard the trout and bass are biting pretty good at Yosemite Lake.

About 170 people packed a classroom to learn about UC Merced’s burgeoning medical education programs. The university will break ground next month on a cutting-edge hub for its public health and psychology instruction and research. The building also will host the university’s academic pathway to medical careers in the Central Valley, a partnership with UCSF and UCSF Fresno.

The second cohort of new students in the career pathway, known as SJV PRIME+, begins classes this fall. One of them will be Bakersfield’s Anmol Kaur, who made her first visit to the campus Saturday after being accepted into the pathway a few months ago.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in medicine,” Kaur said. It runs in the family. Father Gurmit Singh is a physician’s assistant and her mother, Jaspinderjit Kaur, is a nurse practitioner. One more family element: a cousin, Ikleen Kaur, is wrapping up her first year at UC Merced.

Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, as the temperature outside rolled into the high 70s, visitors browsed the sprawling encampment of shaded tables occupied by faculty, staff and students.

Graduate Division staffer Jess Ventura and division Dean Hrant Hratchian talked to parents and Bobcats-to-be about paths to upper-division learning and ways to get a taste of grad life, such as with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center .

“Bobcat Day is so important to us because there are only three times a year in which we get all the student’s stakeholders in one place,” Hratchian said. The others: commencement ceremonies and the dorm move-in days that kick off each semester.

Elizabeth Matheson sat at the student Crochet Club table, answering questions and stitching peacefully. She said the weekly meetings are an opportunity to “unwind after class and calm your mind.” A few feet away, a young girl in a magenta bucket hat stared, transfixed, at the toad and spiders and lime green Madagascar gecko at the Paleontology and Life Club table. “Oh, we have attractions, for sure,” club volunteer Katie Vargas said.

All considered, the day was about family — the one you have and the ones you make. Tracy Gatwiri of Sacramento, who plans to study bioengineering, said it feels like a community. “It’s really big and very beautiful,” she said. “And because of its location, there aren’t many distractions so I can focus on school.”

As for Gatwiri’s proud mom, Doreen Kirai, she takes comfort in the university being only two hours away. “I’m a little bit sad,” she said, “but it’s the process of growing up.”

Jody Murray

Jody MurrayPublic Information Officer

Office: (559) 259-8504