UC Merced Connect: Giving back during holidays

December 4, 2012 

From canned food and toy drives to collecting school supplies, UC Merced students, staff and faculty have found many ways to help others have happier holidays this year.

For the third consecutive year, members of Kappa Sigma fraternity fanned out across Merced the week before Thanksgiving to collect canned and nonperishable foods for the Merced County Food Bank. The fraternity collected nearly 2,500 pounds of food -- about 200 pounds more than last year.

UC Merced's Staff Assembly is in the midst of its annual canned food drive, which continues through Dec. 7.

"It's going really well," Staff Assembly President Rachael Martin said.

This year's food drive also benefits the county food bank. "Staff has a genuine sense of wanting to give back and the Merced County Food Bank is always grateful to receive the donation," Martin said.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Chancellor has agreed to donate $1 for each pound of food collected, up to $500.

The Office of Student Life hopes to make the season brighter for area children through its annual toy drive, which ends Dec. 3. This year's OSL toy drive benefits All Dads Matter, a program for fathers administered through the Merced County Human Services Agency.

"We've seen so many single parents who are struggling," said Student Life Programs Manager Enrique Guzman. "In these hard economic times, any help they can get is appreciated."

Toys that encourage family time between parents and children are especially welcome, and even a $5 gift can make a difference in a child's life, Guzman said.

Toys and food aren't the only items being collected this season. The Merced North Soroptimist Club is collecting school supplies -- pencils, paper, notepads, erasers, books in Spanish and other basic items -- for children in Somoto, Nicaragua, Merced's sister city, said Lisa Silveira.

The holiday giving efforts are a prelude to the 2012-13 United Way campaign, which kicks off Jan. 15.

Since 2001, UC Merced has managed an annual campaign to raise funds for the United Way of Merced County. The campus campaign strives to increase faculty, staff and student awareness of -- and support for -- the needs of others in the community and is another example of UC Merced's continuing commitment to public service.

'Impossible' problems get creative solutions

The tougher a problem, the more creative a solution it needs, from the increasing power in orbiting satellites and saving tigers to saving state parks and catching thieves.

And when a problem seems absolutely impossible?

"That's when you call me," said Professor Erik Rolland. "I love modeling problems people haven't been able to model or solve before."

Rolland, with his varied interests and research, is another example of UC Merced's wide reach and of all the ways in which the campus and its accomplished faculty members are changing the world.

His background is in theoretical computer science, applied mathematics and management, but what he's really all about is solving problems.

If it's a problem of crime -- such as fraud -- criminals had better look out.

Rolland, who works with the School of Engineering and the Ernest & Julio Gallo Management Program, spends a lot of his time working on issues of risk and technology management, disaster response and social networking.

He and colleagues from the universities of Connecticut and Alberta, Canada, recently published an article in the journal Computer Fraud and Security, connecting fraud cases to an algorithm called the Steiner Tree designed by Swiss mathematician Jakob Steiner.

"We can find perpetrators by looking at the connections between people," Rolland said. "Fraud research has shown that, typically, the shortest connections between people will point to the perpetrators. It's hardly ever a huge, elaborate scheme."

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, e-mail communications@ucmerced.edu.

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