UC Merced senior has big plans for after graduation

May 6, 2009 

Jackie Shay has applied for the Peace Corps and plans to apply for medical school after that.

At UC Merced, she's involved in the University Women of Merced Network, student government, Amnesty International, student tutoring center, a coed pre-health fraternity and she performed in the Vagina Monologues.

At a recent awards ceremony on campus, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jane Lawrence used far fewer words when presenting Shay one of the school's "service to student affairs" awards.

"I don't think I need to introduce Jackie Shay to this crowd," Lawrence said. "Senior. Feminist."

Shay shrugs off the inference that such a statement is an oversimplification of her personality.

"I'm really proud of it," she said. "I'm not shy about it at all. I was embarrassed to be so vocal at first, but then I came into my shoes."

Feminism today, Shay argued, is not just about women. It is about health care, the environment, the economy and making sure that any person of any background is subject to equal rights, she explained.

To that end, Shay cringes when she hears people use the words "retarded" or "gay" as derogatory adjectives.

She has no qualms when asking why someone chose that particular word when speaking.

"I just say that you are actually really hurting people using that word," Shay said. "Usually, they don't say it again."

When she was accepted to UC Mered, Shay had no second thoughts about enrolling -- the school's emphasis on interdisciplinary learning appealed to her eclectic mindset.

While earning her bachelor's degree in biological sciences with an emphasis in molecular and cellular biology, Shay has also dabbled in other areas.

This semester she is enrolled in an astrobiology course taught by professors in biology and astronomy.

"The interdisciplinary classes are just a smarter way to go about learning and research," Shay explained. "It makes learning so much easier and fuller."

Despite her activist tendencies, Shay said she didn't try to stir up a revolt when things didn't go exactly as planned during the campus' first year.

"I was a UC Merced lover the day I got here," Shay said. "I'm basically the biggest fan."

Shay encouraged other students to grin and bear it through the university's "growing pains."

That's how she met Jason Juarez "very quickly after I was hired," he said.

Juarez, the Student Life Coordinator for Intercultural Programs, said Shay basically came to his office, asked who he was and how he was going to have a positive impact on campus.

"She was a little more gentle than that," Juarez said, but that was the gist.

Juarez is the coordinator for intercultural workshops on campus, and he's worked with Shay on a task force to explore creating a cultural center on campus.

"I like to be on top of what the university is doing," Shay said.

Not only did she participate in Juarez' committee, she also checks out all of the long-range development plans and the campus' academic expansion.

Shay also formed a strong bond with the Merced community while she studied at UC Merced.

"Now I consider Merced to be my hometown," she said matter-of-factly. She's from Manhattan Beach in the Los Angeles area.

In town, Shay has volunteered with several organizations including the Valley Crisis Center and the hospital's maternity ward.

Each year the proceeds from "The Vagina Monologues," which Shay helped bring to campus, have been donated to the center.

So far, the University Women of Merced Network has given nearly $8,000.

Valley Crisis Center provides, guidance, legal services and temporary shelter to women in abusive relationships. In the first six months since they opened in July, the center served nearly 500 individuals.

"Sometimes we don't even have time to go out shopping," said Genevieve Bardini, a program manager at Valley Crisis. "Now we have a huge stock to just grab from," thanks to the most recent donation of goods and "womanpower" from Shay's group.

After Shay receives that medical degree, she plans to practice as a gynecologist before turning to public service because very few politicians have a background in medicine or engineering.

"I really want to make sure that our government in the future is well rounded in gender, race and background," Shay said.

On campus, Shay is everywhere. From the signs for various events plastered on windows and walls, to the nagging voice in the back of students' heads to be more sensitive.

She hopes that presence won't fade over time.

"We are going to miss her when she leaves," Lawrence said at the awards dinner. "But she will always be a part of this institution."

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.