An independent policy and research center recognized UC Merced this month, citing about 10 ongoing programs as examples of where the university has worked to connect with the region and the city for which it’s named.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presented the university with the 2015 Community Engagement Classification for its attempts to collaborate with the city’s businesses, schoolchildren and health providers, among others. The university celebrated that recognition with a ceremony last week.
The foundation gave 240 U.S. colleges and universities the Community Engagement Classification. Robin DeLugan, the faculty adviser for UC Merced’s Resource Center for Community Engaged Scholarship, called the award “prestigious.”
She noted that the classification is symbolic and doesn’t come with a cash grant or other reward, but said it carries meaning. “It helps us shore up our identity,” she said.
Because UC Merced is a research-based institution, she said it has the opportunity to spur change in people’s lives. For example, it’s through research that the university could develop technology for the marketplace or make a breakthrough that improves health care.
“It’s through research that we’re going to make really big gains in our ability to connect,” DeLugan said.
Two other UC campuses – UCLA and UC Davis – also made the foundation’s list.
Merced County Public Health Director Kathleen Grassi said health providers benefit from the research partnerships at UC Merced, which in turn benefits people who live in the region.
For example, the university was involved in the California Valley Fever Initiative, through which UC Merced’s Health Sciences Research Institute led a regional effort to address the disease.
Grassi said the collaboration has been a “very fruitful” relationship. “For us, it’s really been that cutting-edge work that a UC can bring in to really help us understand what we’re looking at,” she said.
That research translates into better-trained doctors at a faster rate in this region, she said, because of the university’s proximity. It also means the county can be more competitive when seeking federal money.
UC Merced collaborated with the Public Health Department on childhood obesity research. Grassi said that partnership helped the county bring in about $2 million regarding that effort in the last year.
Partnerships with nonprofit organizations have also paid off. Brian Mimura, the Fresno-based program director of the California Endowment, said his organization funded a project with UC Merced that looked to strengthen university faculty and student knowledge about local community health issues and the factors that influence health for low-income families.
That project has ended, Mimura said, but the California Endowment continues to work with the university on researching health disparities for young people of color. He commended the university for being “proactive” in the partnerships.
The collaborative efforts have been mutually beneficial, according to Dennis Haines, Merced County Office of Education Family Resource Council operations supervisor. He noted that the groups partnering with the university are learning, while UC Merced faculty and students are gathering the data they need to publish their research.
Haines said UC Merced faculty research aided a parenting program that he oversees, by tracking the efforts. “Anything that has a research-based backing that can be duplicated across the country, and across the world, that gives you so much leverage for funding,” he said.
He said that level of collaboration is not necessarily a given in every university town. Of UC Merced, he said, “they’ve really made that an emphasis here.”
BY Sun-Star staff writer: Thaddeus Miller