Chancellor: Many roles for UC Merced

University leader overseeing campus' relationship with community, region.

July 21, 2011 

California stakeholders and community leaders want to see a medical school at UC Merced.

That was among several topics UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland touched on during an editorial board meeting Thursday afternoon with the Sun-Star and The Modesto Bee.

In the 20 days Leland has been on the job as leader of the university, one of the tasks she's been carrying out is meeting with various people with a stake in the campus.

"Medical education, that's probably the first thing out of everybody's mouth, is 'How's the medical school coming?'"

Earlier this week, the university introduced the five students who will be the pioneers of its San Joaquin Valley Program in Medical Education, or PRIME, which will start this fall. It originated from a partnership between UC Davis and UC San Francisco's Fresno facility.

There are two ways to view the med school program, Leland said. "I think the best way to see it is to see it as something we can do and should grow until we are at the position where we can actually establish a medical school," she said. "I think that the UC Merced San Joaquin PRIME is extraordinarily significant on its own because you listen to the students that we recruited to the program and they are all committed -- deeply committed to serving their communities in the Valley -- so these are not people who are going to go off and work in San Francisco. They are going to come back to their communities. I urge you to see it as not only a step, but as something that is really valuable in itself."

That's not the only benefit UC Merced can offer the region. "I think the role (of UC Merced) is multiple," Leland said. "Clearly, UC Merced is an important part of the economic future of the community -- not just with the dollars it brings in, although that's very important, but it's also with potential to attracting new industry to Merced and to the San Joaquin Valley, and that will happen as the institution matures."

One of the ways in which the university is already making a difference in the community is by having its students volunteer in the area. "It's a two-way street," Leland added, since the students in return get to learn about local organization, local challenges and local government.

Leland helped create The GIVE Center at Georgia College and State University. The center was a community outreach arm of the university, which received state and federal grants to help support community service, she said. "The GIVE Center happened to house our local Boys & Girls Club and several other organizations that really couldn't survive financially without support from the university," she added.

Leland said what she particularly liked about the center was that students learned leadership skills. "They worked with local agencies to create new initiatives responsive to the needs of those agencies," she said.

UC Merced is already doing a lot in terms of getting students involved in the community, Leland said. And it's something that will only continue to expand as the campus grows. "I think that we have a generation of students now who have grown in the spirit of volunteerism," she said. "We have students who many of them want to give back to their communities because they understand how important it is."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsun-star.com.

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