Congratulations to our graduating students -- for more information, visit the UC Merced Commencement page.
I chose UC Merced because of its spirit of innovation and growth, and because of my own roots in the Merced area. Attending UC Merced feels a little like giving back to my hometown and being a part of its growth.
When I decided to pursue a career in STEM as a youngteenager, I wanted to be sure that the work I did could make a positive, measurable impact on someone’s life. Bioengineering seemed like the obvious choice, as a practical science focused on studying and treating human disease.
I can say with complete confidence that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my family’s incredible support and for their value of my happiness and well-being above my academic success. I am also grateful to the Spencer Lab, my friends, and to my favorite teacher for mentoring me and cheering me on.
Participating in undergraduate research in Dr. Joel Spencer's Lab has been invaluable to my growth as a scientist, an engineer and an individual. My time there has been by far the most formative period of my undergraduate education and has positively shaped the way I think and address problems not just in science, but in everyday life.
I hope to begin graduate school in Fall 2023, with an emphasis on neuroengineering and medical device design. In grad school and beyond, I want to maintain a vision of serving others and improving quality of life through collaboration with the medical community.
I chose UC Merced because when I was looking for colleges during my senior year of high school it stood out to me as a new campus near my hometown with the prestigious name of an University of California and the curriculum to back it up.
From a young age, computers fascinated me which is not that hard since the simplicity and complexity of computers go hand in hand to make them function. I also wanted to learn more about coding, so that helped further cement my decision on taking this major.
My family inspired me to go to college, as I am the first to graduate in my family. My family comes from a diverse background and the highest they had ever gotten was my brother taking a vocational course and my mother dropping out before she could get her degree when she was pregnant with my brother.
A memorable academic experience would be the clubs on UC Merced campus, there were so many and I felt like I barely had time to enjoy any, but the ones that I joined and went to I enjoyed very much.
I have joined a startup part-time, and can't go into details because of my contract, but I hope it goes somewhere profitable or if not at least becomes something stable. I also plan to apply for some work in my hometown to find a stable job to fall back on just in case.
UC Merced was the natural choice for me. I feel that I could identify with UC Merced's student population; I'm a first-generation college student, an immigrant, and from a low-income background. I was attracted to the financial aid and scholarships offered as well as the low cost of living in the city of Merced, which made college financially feasible for someone like me.
I've always felt that computer science was for me. I've been fiddling with computers ever since I was young, and I've always had a knack for being able to break things. Luckily, computer security and hacking are all about breaking things! I'm specifically interested in digital forensics and network security, and I enjoy analyzing attacks and hunting down threats as well as exercising offensive attacks within the network arena (ethically, of course!). It's just what I find really cool and fun to do, and I think it's great that there will always be more for me to learn.
I'm just the summation of the influences of all the people around me. I thank my parents, first and foremost, for working hard day and night in an unfamiliar country so that I could one day go to college. I thank my team, IrisSec, for teaching me so much and having so much patience for me, and for always being awesome! I thank everyone I work with at UC Merced Extension for always having my best interests at heart and giving me access to so many opportunities and connections. I thank my professors and TAs for having infinite patience for me these past 3.5 years.
I specifically want to single out and thank Professor Cerpa and PhD student Jothi for my experiences taking a grad class as an undergrad this past semester. Professor Cerpa has truly intellectually challenged me and I've grown a lot as a result (and it's REALLY been a great challenge!), and PhD student Jothi has always treated me with kindness and understanding and has mentored me not just with my research project, but with my life. I appreciate their patience and understanding, and I aspire to have their passion for their art!
I've had plenty of memorable academic experiences, from the series of events I hosted for HackMerced where I created some sort of vulnerable system and taught attendees how to hack them ("Hack the Power/Packet/Tracks!"), to staying up night after night to work on my projects for my computer networks class with my classmate (and later, friend) Nathan. Perhaps none are more memorable than my experiences teaching and mentoring at Willie Lewis Brown Jr. Youth Academy (Summer Youth Academy) hosted by UC Merced Extension each summer.
It was so deeply wholesome to see in middle and high school students the same spark that I'd had when I was their age. I'll always remember the middle school student I had who took my coding bootcamp series over Zoom during the middle of the pandemic and created a website to show off their art in a gallery. That student came back the next summer when we hosted the academy in-person and thanked me for my encouragement, because that's what led pushed them to continue doing art.
As much as I impacted the lives of those students, they've impacted mine.
I'm not totally sure yet! I'm about to be on the market pretty soon so it's time I start looking for a job more seriously. I would like to stay in Merced for a little bit longer to work on some personal projects before moving back to Orange County because I miss my family. There's a whole backlog of hijinks and shenanigans I've yet to blog about, and then I should probably join my team, IrisSec, in finishing to prepare for our first hosted CTF in early January. I'm definitely coming back as an alumni in March for HackMerced. In the meanwhile, in the gap after I graduate but before I find a job, I'll probably be working on a series of side projects and blogging about my computer hijinks.
This has been an awesome chapter of my life!
Sierra Lema grew up in California and tested out of high school, attending Diablo Valley College before transferring to UC Merced to earn her Bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering. Sierra tutored at Mathnasium in San Ramon, CA while in college from 2018 to 2020. She became actively involved in two research groups under Dr. Marie-Odile Fortier and Dr. Erin Hestir. Through these research activities, Sierra investigated how direct land use and albedo change contribute to the life cycle environmental impacts of electricity generated from coal in the US; identified the interrelated factors that could affect the efficacy of the climate engineering approach of ocean iron fertilization; used remote sensing to identify watersheds with wildfire-related sediment and carbon discharges to kelp forests in California coastal waters; and computationally modeled the impacts of wildfires on watershed hydrology.
Sierra is planning to continue building a research career with broader impacts to environmental protection and climate change mitigation by pursuing a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the Geospatial Energy Resources and Life Cycle Assessment (GERLCA) research group headed by Dr. Fortier.
As a decisive person, I identified materials science and engineering as the major I wanted to pursue my sophomore year of high school. Since it is a smaller field, there were limited schools in California that even offered the major. Among these schools, UC Merced emerged as the forerunner due to their prompt offer of acceptance. With my interest piqued, I attended an outreach mixer hosted by UCM, and after meeting some of the MSE faculty, their welcoming environment was something I came to associate with the school and the MSE department. I knew that my time at UC Merced would not only be academically enriching, but also would allow me to take advantage of all opportunities presented to me in order to make the most out of my college experience. Coming into college I wanted the full experience, including performing research and becoming a leader in the campus community, and I saw the potential for that early on at UCM.
As a first generation student, I didn't have any role models whose career I wanted to emulate. Something that my high school counselor stressed to me was the disparity between genders in STEM fields. Attending college in general was a leap of faith due to the financial and time commitment required, so I wanted to pursue a degree where I saw the highest chance of success for myself. With this in mind, I found an interest in engineering because it relies on ingenuity and creativity, and more specifically materials science and engineering because it is foundational for other disiplines. After my freshman year I found a genuine passion for the field, and after declaring my second major, computer science and engineering, I am proud of the skillset I have developed in my time at UC Merced.
Since the MSE student body is small, we have developed a close knit community at UC Merced. I ended up receiving contact info for someone a few years older than me before I even began my freshman year, and she was immensely helpful in my transition to college and in helping me navigate what courses to take. Although she has since graduated, her impact on me my first couple of years helped make me into the person I am today.
Additionally, I have had the pleasure of conducting research in three labs during the course of my undergraduate career. Dr. Sarah Kurtz took me in as early as my freshman year, mentored me, and showed me how research could be conducted with a variety of projects. From there, Dr. Valerie Leppert helped me develop lab skills and how to plan and successfully execute a detailed experimental procedure. Finally, I concluded my years with Dr. Jennifer Lu who has given me a peek at how graduate school will be by placing higher expectations on me and pushing me to perform effectively.
I will always look fondly back at the good times I had in my upper division courses with the other MSE students. Once I started my upper divs the same set of familiar faces began to emerge, and I found many friends from this group as we laughed in class together, formed study groups, and worked on projects in smaller teams despite the virtual setting. Additionally, I enjoyed my time employed as a Resident Assistant for three years, as my co-workers, supervisors, and residents made my time in the dorms memorable.
I have just finished submitting my graduate school applications, where I will be pursing a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering with a focus on computational methods. This field allows me to utilize both of my degrees cohesively in order to contribute to an up and coming area of research. I am excited to be attending a graduate school out of state, as I believe it is a great chance to have a new experience and see more of the world! Upon graduating with my PhD, I plan on going to industry to gain experience, before transitioning into a National Lab setting to return to my research roots. Before retirement, I would like to conclude my career back in academia with my own research group in order to give back to the students and mentor others who are just beginning their career.
I want to give a shoutout to the Society of WomenEngineers and Theta Tau, the professional engineering fraternity. All the SWEeties were a support system for me, especially my freshman year, and I appreciate their friendship and mentorship early on. I gave back by serving as Treasurer, then President to continue mentoring young women in STEM who were just beginning their college career. I joined Theta Tau my second year and made lifelong connections within the brothers, especially among my potential class and in my family, Hephaestus. Theta Tau helped me get more involved with the campus engineering community and I will always remember the good times we had.
Before coming to UC Merced, I was definitely not considered an 'outstanding student' so UC Merced was only school to accept me. What I ended up enjoying about Merced was the amount of research opportunities and the atmosphere that allowed me to focus on my academics.
I chose mechanical engineering because I wanted to understand how the world works. Also, mechanical engineering is a multifaceted major that gave me a strong basis for many different potential career paths.
One of my mentors while I was at UC Merced was Dr. Ricardo Pinto De Castro. I took his circuit theory class towards the beginning of my time at UC Merced and ended up doing research in his lab later on. He always provided the help and guidance I needed to do my best, all while pushing me towards bigger and better things.
One night, while studying with some friends for a circuit theory midterm, I figured out a good way to explain a difficult concept. As I was walking my friends through the process, another group of people in our class was walking by and stopped to listen in. As I kept explaining and going over more problems, more and more people from the class began to join us. What started as only a few friends studying together turned into a big group of people collaborating and working together.
After graduation, I plan on moving home to Los Angeles, where I will hopefully find a job that will support me getting a masters degree in the future. I am unsure exactly what kind of engineering job I am going to get, but I know that my time at UC Merced provided me a strong foundation for my career.
As a first generation low-income student I did not have a lot of knowledge about post secondary education. However, I did know that I wanted to attend a university within the UC system. With UC Merced being oneof my top choices due to it's affordability and size, I chose to attend Bobcat Day. After attending and getting to see the campus in person for the first time, I knew that I would be going to UC Merced. Not only was the campus great but the community of people from UCM that I interacted with werevery welcoming and comforting.
I chose my major because I have always been very intrigued by the STEM field and I wanted to have the knowledge to be able to work on my own personal projects one day.
I have many people that have motivated me and inspired me to become who I am today and who I want to be in the future. First is my family that have always encouraged me to do whatever will make me happy and have never discouraged me from pursuing my current endeavors.
Second is one of my high school teachers, Mr.Frank who always motivated me to do better academically for myself and no one else. Lastly, is my current faculty mentor Dr.Ashlie Martini. At the time of our first conversation I was not sure what I wanted to do with my degree. But now after having been apart of her lab and with her guidance I have found a path that I am very excited to take.
One of my most memorable academic experiences has to be working on and completing the Four-Ball Nitrogen Chamber Project with one of the Graduate students from the Martini Lab, Jose Arturo. I remember having the most satisfying feeling when we ran our first successful test after multiple days of work. Arturo even pointed out that I had a large grin on my face.
After I graduate, I will be coming back to UC Merced to begin the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program. I will continue to be a part of the Martini Group and working on my current projects.