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Fall 2016 Update - December 1, 2016

December 1, 2016

 

Dear Bobcats,                                                                                       

 
I trust your 2016-17 academic year is off to a strong start. One of the things I value most is the opportunity to talk with students, listen and learn from you, and respond as needed to concerns you may have. Every Friday, I hold open office hours from 1 to 3 p.m. in the first floor Lantern, and I invite you to stop by.
 
With so much happening on campus, it‘s sometimes a challenge to get the word out to all students. As such, I want to provide an update on some issues of concern that you have brought to my attention thus far.
 
Student Housing
 
As some of you know, the University of California established aggressive enrollment growth expectations for all of its undergraduate campuses this past year, including UC Merced. This has created some challenges for both students and campus administrators. 
 
For example, although we were able to provide on-campus housing for 95 percent of our first-year students, we did not have space available for all continuing students who preferred to live on campus. It was necessary to lease 450 beds in off-campus apartments. The rapid process to lease these units — plus the need to comply with UC’s safety and accessibility regulations — meant students moved in before everything was finalized. This was not an ideal arrangement, but our staff continues to meet regularly with students living in the Heritage Apartments complex to address their concerns and needs. I appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone involved.
 
The housing shortage both on and off-campus is real, and we have been working closely with city officials and housing developers to support the construction of more off-campus apartments designed for students. One is currently under construction and three more are in the planning stages.
 
On-campus housing will be significantly improved with the first-phase delivery of our campus expansion, the Merced 2020 Project. That delivery, to be completed prior to the start of the 2018-19 academic year, will include new residence halls and a dining center.
 
In the meantime, a limited number of spaces are available on campus and at Heritage Apartments. Email Housing and Residence Life if you are interested. Director Martin Reed welcomes ideas you may have for coping with the temporary housing shortages we currently face.
 
Intercultural Center
 
Student interest in an intercultural center has been growing, and the Merced 2020 Project will enable us to provide additional space for cultural groups and programs as early as 2018.
 
In the interim, the university is using a temporary space as an intercultural hub, Room 159, also known as the Acorn Room, in Kolligian Library. During the past month, Onar Primativo, coordinator of Social Justice Initiatives in the Office of Student Life, conducted student focus groups to develop an implementation plan regarding the room’s use and remodeling the space. The space is currently available but will soon be taken offline for renovations. Expect an official re-opening in January.
 
Graduate students of color also have advocated for space dedicated to underrepresented graduate student populations, which is less diverse than our undergraduate student population. I will soon meet with the Graduate Dean’s Advisory Council on Diversity and with Dean Zatz as we identify space and create an implementation and use plan. We expect this room to be available in January as well.
 
Food Security
 
Food security, which is broadly defined as having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food, is a concern of student leaders and others systemwide. For many students and administrators at UC Merced, this is a critical priority.
 
To date, our efforts to improve food security for our students included opening the UC Merced Food Pantry in 2013.
 
Thanks to a recent grant from the Office of the President, UC Merced will provide food vouchers for students to access the Produce on the Go truck that visits campus every Wednesday. Fresh fruits and vegetables provided by our partnership with Produce on the Go will help expand options for students. Those interested in more information can send an email to foodpantry@ucmerced.edu.
 
Recently, we have been working on the launch of CropMobster Merced, an exciting new program for our students. CropMobster Merced is an online local food network that will be led by local community leaders and campus interns. Its mission is to support hunger relievers, tackle food waste and build a “farm-to-fork” food system. It combines social media, instant alerts and a community-wide network to reduce food waste and it to people who need it and will use it.
 
I welcome ideas you may have for supporting food security at and beyond UC Merced and encourage you to contact me.
 
Campus Expansion
 
A number of students have asked me questions about the Merced 2020 Project, how students were involved in the initial planning that began more than two years ago, how the project is funded, and how students will be involved as the project moves forward.  Plans are in the works for an open forum with students to share information and gather your ideas about the best use of student space and other matters related to the 2020 Project. Stay tuned for announcement with the date, time and place soon.
 
Student Success
 
I hope you heard the news that UC Merced received national recognition for social mobility and graduation rates that far exceed predicted averages. That didn’t surprise me — UC Merced students are the most dedicated scholars I’ve had the privilege to work with.
 
I want every single one of our students to graduate, and we have been working hard to add resources that facilitate student success. I am pleased to tell you about several new academic support programs that will soon be launched thanks to a collaborative effort with Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education Elizabeth Whitt, faculty members in writing and applied math and academic advisors:
 
  • U.Direct, a tool that allows students to create a four-year, semester-by-semester course plan that links to your degree audit. This resource is currently in the implementation phase with a goal to launch in January.
 
  • A student writing center to support writing skill development and a math lab with supplemental instruction are being proposed for implementation in summer 2017.
 
  • The Student Success Internships program, which links theory to practice through on-campus employment opportunities, is currently recruiting applicants. These positions provide undergraduates with on-campus opportunities for self-directed learning, professional development and career exploration.
 
Finally, I am happy to announce additional resources for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Drs. Greg Crawford and Kamaljit Virdi will join the CAPS staff in November. Both are highly-skilled in working with college students and are adept in integrating cultural, behavioral, and cognitive approaches for people who have experienced trauma. Dr. Crawford has specific experience working with veterans and Dr. Virdi has experience working with women of color, LGBT identified students, and those who’ve endured religious oppression. They join a great, dedicated CAPS staff as the campus continues to grow services to meet student needs.
 
UC Merced is proud of the educational experience we offer all of our students, in particular, resources and support available to first-generation students, undocumented students, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As a public university, we value the respectful exchange of ideas and viewpoints, and we take seriously concerns held by our campus community members. We are committed to expanding resources that support our students as the campus grows.
 
Thank you for taking the time to read this update. I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we continue to build and strengthen our campus community.
 
Sincerely,
 
Charles Nies
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs