CVV News l December 21, 2022
Neither chilly temperatures nor a thick blanket of dense fog could dampen the smiles and spirits of hundreds of Bobcats as they participated in UC Merced’s Fall 2022 Commencement. Nearly 450 graduates took part in three separate ceremonies at the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre.
“The Class of 2022 has persevered through challenges and overcome obstacles — never more so than during the pandemic — and these graduates leave UC Merced more prepared than ever to succeed in their careers and in their lives,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said. “They are boldly setting out to contribute to a world that desperately needs their ideas, problem-solving abilities, passion, and their willingness to explore, create and innovate.”
The festivities kicked off Friday evening with the inaugural Graduate Division Commencement Ceremony, which celebrated the accomplishments of 12 master’s candidates and 33 Ph.D. candidates.
Duval Johnson (’14, ’18) served as the keynote speaker for the graduate ceremony. While at UC Merced, he earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, and was also part of the Fundamental Tribology Lab. He currently works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.
Johnson was born in Downey. When he was 8 years old, he and his family moved to Mariposa, where he said his story of courage began.
“As a young boy, I remember overcoming tremendous amounts of fear to perform in front of others in my first piano recital, my first wrestling match, or to aim my motorcycle towards the biggest jump on our property,” he said. “I can tell you that mistakes were made at that recital, matches were sometimes lost, and I still have the scars from that first big motorcycle jump.”
Johnson dropped out of high school during his junior year and enlisted in the U.S. Army after he turned 17 in 1986. After his service, he moved to Merced, where he attended Merced College and then transferred to UC Merced in 2012. Now, he leads the Applied Tribology Lab at JPL and has been instrumental in various missions, including the Mars Perseverance rover.
“This journey would not have been possible without the courage to make hard choices and the dedication required to endure,” he told the crowd.
As he neared the end of his address, Johnson said he wanted to impart some wisdom to the graduate students of the Class of 2022. He quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said, “If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”
Undergraduate students were celebrated with a pair of ceremonies on Saturday. Two hundred graduating students from the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts took part in the morning ceremony, while 128 students from the School of Engineering and 75 from the School of Natural Sciences participated in a combined event that afternoon.
Max Espinoza was the keynote speaker for Saturday’s ceremonies. He is a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he focuses on advancing educational equity and economic mobility in the United States. The first-generation college graduate holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Espinoza served as the 24th student regent on the University of California Board of Regents. In that role, he was an active member of the Special Committee on UC Merced, charged with overseeing the creation of the 10th UC campus, and also was a member of the UC President’s Advisory Committee on the selection of the first UC Merced chancellor.
In his speech, Espinoza shared how the creation of UC Merced was never a given, and that it took hard work and collaboration to make the campus come to fruition.
“With fierce competition for state resources and as the new kid on the block, UC Merced was automatically the underdog — and there were always some who did not believe a new campus should be built at all,” he said. “Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey was a very hard-working and convincing person, but she knew that was not enough. So, with determination, she enlisted everyone to the cause, regardless of their title or position. Everyone was mobilized to help make UC Merced a reality.”
Espinoza said when things get tough, he thinks back to his time as an undergraduate student to remind himself of who he was then and to refuel his ability to keep fighting. He suggested the undergraduates take a similar approach as they geared up to cross the stage.
“Acknowledge the hard work it took to get here today. But also remember who you were and who you became through this journey,” Espinoza said. “Hold on to that. Hold on to that feeling, to the idealism and to the belief that anything is possible.”
Nearly 550 students became alumni with the completion of the fall semester; and 448 students participated across the three commencement ceremonies. Students who completed their coursework over the summer were also invited to join in commencement.
People who would like to learn more about the Class of 2022 or view video recordings of all three ceremonies can check out UC Merced’s Commencement Chronicle.
Incoming Student Excited to Participate in Public Health Research
CVV News-Posted: July 27, 2022
UC Merced is highlighting incoming first-year students for fall 2022 — a dynamic, diverse and accomplished cohort of new Bobcats.
Jordynn Lewis is excited to start her journey as a UC Merced Bobcat when the fall semester begins in August. The first-year student recently graduated from Holy Names High School in her hometown of Oakland.
As an incoming public health major, she is ready for all that UC Merced has to offer — the academic, extracurricular and research possibilities.
“I chose UC Merced because it is the newest UC, it has great research opportunities, and it has an amazing community, “she said.
Despite limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis participated in numerous activities at the college preparatory high school, including track and field, volleyball and as the school’s photographer for its yearbook and other publications.
Lewis took three years of American Sign Language (ASL) classes in high school. When she became fluent, she started translating the school’s prayer services in ASL.
“I got involved in American Sign Language because I wanted to take another language other than Spanish and French (offered at her school). I have always been interested in how deaf people communicate and deaf culture,” she said.
She also served on Student Council, where she participated in fundraising, planning trips and orchestrating painting the senior class mural.
California’s Largest Charter School Network Launches First-of-Its-Kind Program
By CVV News MAY 18, 2022
Amid Book Bans and Race Education Restrictions in States around the Country, School Embraces Black Experience and Culture
Aspire Public Schools (Aspire), has partnered with Nzinga Incorporated, an education nonprofit organization, established to disrupt inequitable and racialized outcomes for Black scholars. The Black is Lit program, developed to promote Black student literacy and leadership, launched this spring at two of Aspire’s California schools, with plans to expand to all 17 Aspire secondary schools over the next year. The novel program was created by Tiffany Herndon, an Aspire Black educator and founder of Nzinga, to address the disproportionately low literacy rates of Black students.
Nationally, nearly half of Black eighth-grade students scored below basic in reading and literacy assessments, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card. The Black is Lit program was developed to address low literacy outcomes among Black students and to celebrate Black culture. The program was inspired by Black American literary societies—gatherings that emerged during the early nineteenth century to improve literacy and exchange ideas among free Black men and women for social advancement. Under the mentorship of Black educators, small groups of students attend weekly seminars to discuss a literary work that has cultural and historical significance and addresses a social justice issue. The inaugural group, consisting of 22 students in Stockton and Sacramento, will read Kimberly Johnson’s “This Is My America,” which explores inequities in the American justice system.
“Schools across the country are banning books and rejecting curricula that merely mention race. As an anti-racist organization, we must offer our Black scholars greater opportunities to thrive academically and provide them with a sense of agency when it comes to their education,” said Aspire Public Schools CEO, Mala Batra. “Programs like Black is Lit not only validate our Black scholars’ history and culture, they also provide opportunities to deepen academic engagement and enrichment.”
Students develop critical thinking and analysis skills, eventually graduating to become “Lit Leaders,” literary experts who develop a social change project addressing an issue highlighted in the book. Lit Leaders also mentor new “Lit Crew” members, coaching them in literary practices and developing them as Lit Leaders for the next project. Framing literacy as the ultimate form of liberation, the program empowers scholars to develop an academic mindset through cultural and identity development.
“With 85% of all juveniles who interface with the court system considered low literate, the Black is Lit program seeks to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by empowering our Black scholars to embrace education as a tool for social justice,” said Herndon. “Our goal is to reframe literacy as a liberatory practice among Black students and empower them to unleash their brilliance.”
Black is Lit launched in February at Aspire’s Langston Hughes Academy in Stockton, California and Alexander Twilight College Prep Academy in Sacramento. Next year, Nzinga has plans to further expand the program. Students from Stockton Unified School District are also invited to participate. The program is one of several at Aspire that elevates Black experience and Black excellence. Black Student Unions and scholarship opportunities for college-bound scholars of color exemplify the school’s mission to support the academic and life success for students of color.