UC Merced has a unique opportunity to help the San Joaquin Valley as the university forges the newest branch of the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
The $400,000, two-year seed grant through the University of California allows the university to launch its center, themed “Global California: The World at Home.” The UC Merced initiative is affiliated with the Blum Center at UC Berkeley, which was founded by a gift from investment banker and UC Regent Richard C. Blum.
“Many of the developing world’s challenges can be seen right here in the San Joaquin Valley,” said School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman, who directs the center. “We’re going to work directly with the region, but there are parallels all around the globe, and we can learn from those regions, and they from us.”
Hirleman explained the three-pronged focus the new center will have:
- Community-inspired innovation – examining ways to engage communities and the region in their own long-term success;
- Sustainable solutions – taking environmentally, economically, and socially sound approaches to growing prosperity
- And, the analytics of prosperity – using scientific measures to ensure that our activities actually improve quality of life
“This is a very exciting and unique opportunity for UC Merced, and especially for its students to gain a greater global perspective and work toward the betterment of all while directly benefitting the San Joaquin Valley,” UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said.
Blum visited UC Merced campus recently to learn from campus leaders launching the Center.
“UC Merced is a young institution brimming with ideas and energy,” Blum said. “The efforts they're planning in the San Joaquin Valley are critically important. I know this center will be a place of great progress in the years to come.”
One of the hallmarks of the campus – and the new center – will be its interdisciplinary research and projects.
“The Blum Center at UC Merced represents a unique collaboration of faculty and students in the schools of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, Engineering and Natural Sciences, working in conjunction with their colleagues at UC Berkeley to address a number of the problems of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Sam Traina. “We anticipate a steady increase in this effort and fully anticipate that it will evolve into one of the signature programs of UC Merced."
The center’s research and education initiatives will be led by Professors Elliott Campbell and Robin DeLugan, as well as Steve Roussos.
One key component of the center’s – and the Valley’s – achievement will be community involvement.
“We have to engage and educate people to help themselves through a series of channels,” Hirleman said. “We need to partner with them, instead of just handing out money, which alleviates immediate issues, but does nothing for long-term, sustainable success.”
Students will also be involved in the center, especially through Service Learning and senior capstone projects that align with the new center’s focuses.
Service Learning student teams develop real solutions to challenges faced by community partners, including nonprofit organizations and businesses, and under the Blum Center, new teams will be added that concentrate on poverty-driven projects.
Courses will also be developed around the center’s three main concentrations.
Because more than 60 percent of UC Merced’s students are first-generation, Hirleman said, they have a desire to help their own communities. But the global nature of the new center will help them understand the wide-ranging effects of their work at home.
There are Blum Centers on several other UC campuses, including UCLA, UC Davis and UC Berkeley, the school from which Blum graduated.
Each center has a slightly different focus, though all work toward the betterment of the global society. UCLA collaborates with Latin American institutions to concentrate on health challenges in Latin America; UC Davis casts a wide net with work in agriculture, the environment, natural resources, energy, public health and entrepreneurship; while UC Berkeley’s Blum Center’s mission is to improve the well-being of poor people in developing countries by designing, adapting and disseminating scalable and sustainable technologies and systems and by educating and inspiring a new generation of global citizens.