MERCED, Calif. — A generous gift from a Valley family with long ties to UC Merced will give the campus a legacy fund that firmly establishes its leadership role in regional entrepreneurialism.
The Dr. and Mrs. Vikram Lakireddy Innovation and Design Clinic Endowed Fund will also help transform engineering studies by giving students experience in applying engineering principles and methods to pressing engineering issues for real businesses and nonprofit groups.
“The Lakireddy endowed fund’s legacy is in supporting highly intelligent, capable students in creating and executing solutions to real problems outside the classroom,” said School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman. “It’s critical that students engage with the community and experience exactly how engineers help people and change the world.”
Solving the world’s problems, including delivering energy, food, medical services, and clean air and water, takes an understanding not only of complex theory, but of actual application, teamwork, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The School of Engineering’s Innovation and Design Clinic is a semester-long program designed to do just that.
Engineering seniors participate in the Clinic as they earn accredited degrees. The Clinic matches students with area businesses and nonprofits that become their clients and mentors, and challenges the students to become entrepreneurs of their knowledge, skills and research applications. Businesses and nonprofits give the Clinic’s four-student teams actual problems requiring innovative solutions, and client-partners provide funds to support the above-and-beyond learning experience.
That’s where the six-figure Lakireddy gift comes in. The money will give more nonprofits the ability to participate in the Clinic.
If the Lakireddy name sounds familiar, it should. Vikram Lakireddy, M.D., grew up in Merced and returned here recently to practice cardiology with his father, the principal donor for the Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium on the UC Merced campus.
"This gift continues their legacy of helping Merced thrive, but it is exceptional in the fact that the gift comes so early in Dr. and Mrs. Lakireddy's careers," Hirleman said.
Lakireddy said he wanted to give this gift now, rather than later in his career, to support businesses and help foster the community’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“The students get interesting and indispensable experiences partnering with community businesses and engineers to design, prototype and test solutions to engineering problems,” Lakireddy said. “I'm so pleased that UC Merced is mobilizing to help businesses and nonprofits while building capacity in the region. There is strong evidence that university graduates stay locally when they are able to develop their ideas and establish viable businesses locally. I look forward to other partners joining us in supporting this program."
The Clinic encourages students to achieve even their most idealistic goals, allowing them to be creative enough – as some were last year – to come up with such projects as a recycled-water system for Merced Irrigation District and a solar-powered drinking-water treatment system. One team created a unique valve that improves how medications are delivered intravenously, and it’s already in practical use on infant patients at Children’s Hospital in Madera.
The United States’ leadership slide in science and technology concerns many, especially in a time of declining U.S. manufacturing, according to the National Academy of Engineering. Educators see students choosing other traditionally high-paying career paths, such as medicine and business, over engineering.
According to a recent report from the National Academy of Engineering, 34 percent of American women and 31 percent of American men who started out as engineering majors in 2005 finished that way four years later. The report says about 4.5 percent of U.S. college graduates are engineers, compared to 12 percent in Europe and 21 percent in Asia.
Here at UC Merced, 17.6 percent of the students are engineering majors, compared with 32.1 percent of the students choosing natural sciences and 36.4 percent choosing to major in social sciences, humanities and arts.
“Gifts like the one Dr. Lakireddy has given will help us attract and retain the best and brightest students to engineering and science careers, which will help rejuvenate innovation and entrepreneurship,” Hirleman said. “We need more brilliant engineers, and that force can only come from the students who want to make the world a better place.”