By JUAN SÁNCHEZ MUÑOZ
When I was named UC Merced’s fourth chancellor in mid 2020, I knew the story of this great university — the battle for its creation here in the San Joaquin Valley, which engaged so many local business and civic leaders; the meteoric rise in national recognition; the remarkably unique public-private partnership that doubled the university’s footprint; and the compelling stories of student success and research excellence.
But what I could not experience until I arrived here and spent time talking to those closest to UC Merced is the depth of passion and true sense of ownership felt by every member of this community, from first-year students to longtime philanthropic supporters to the county and city leaders who see the university as a vital component to the growth and success of this region.
There is a feeling of shared purpose here that transcends the physical campus and even the Valley — a sense that we are all part of something that will change the world.
Our faculty and students are doing that every day, and their work doubles and redoubles with each passing year.
We have lived through and adapted to troubling times in 2020 — personal, national and global — and learned yet again how important it is to draw strength and support from one another. UC Merced welcomed its largest student population in history and has excelled in its mission of teaching, research and public service precisely because this community has been strong and united.
But the arrival of this new year is more than a symbolic fresh start. Help and hope are on the way. The COVID-19 vaccine is being administered, which promises to restore what we remember as normalcy in our lives. We have again set records for undergraduate and graduate applications to UC Merced — young people eager to further their educational journeys with us, who have maintained that light of hope even through our nation’s dark times.
And the University of California has set a stake in the ground of returning to primarily in-person instruction this fall.
This is a challenge we embrace. Make no mistake, though: It is a challenge. We must plan — together, campus and community — how to keep everyone’s wellbeing foremost in our minds and our operations before we can return to the joys of daily communal interactions. We must do so with purpose and with discipline, but also with hope.
We have set other ambitious goals for UC Merced. Having completed the Merced 2020 Project, with all its residential, classroom and laboratory space, we must now fill it with both faculty and graduate students to truly be a research university second to none and achieve the Carnegie R1 status that opens so many doors for future research support. Among the major projects to be housed here is our Bio Safety Level 3 laboratory, which will intensify our faculty’s efforts to address Valley fever, a major health care concern for California, as well as other public health concerns.
Health care itself is of course high on our agenda. We will accelerate our efforts to expand medical education in the Valley with UCSF-Fresno and a growing network of clinical partners. We will advance our planning for our next facility, a Health, Behavioral Sciences and Medical Education building that will bring together top faculty, promising students and clinicians to build a future in which the Valley’s physical and mental health issues are no longer left underserved.
We will work even harder to explain to every single family in the Valley — and across California — why UC Merced should be the top choice for their student’s future, and why those students should graduate to live and work right here in the Valley.
And we will do this together — university and community — by learning from one another, leveraging each other’s strengths and drawing more supporters to see why engaging with UC Merced is investing in our shared future.
Together, we are UC Merced, and together we will continue to thrive.
Juan Sánchez Muñoz, Ph.D., is chancellor of UC Merced.