PG&E is given UC Merced's engineering Vanguard Award

January 31, 2013 

UC Merced on Thursday gave Pacific Gas and Electric Co. the School of Engineering's inaugural Vanguard Award as a way to thank the company for its service to engineering students, according to university officials.

As a result of a five-year, $1 million partnership between PG&E and UC Merced, the university was able to establish the PG&E Engineering Service Learning Lab, according to a news release.

The lab is the hub for students who work with nonprofit groups designing engineering solutions to the various organizations' real-life challenges, the release said.

School of Engineering Dean Dan Hirleman wasn't available to comment late Thursday afternoon.

Christopher Butler, assistant director for the Foster Family Center for Engineering Service Learning at UC Merced, said the center offers a class that's designed for undergraduate students of all majors and all grade levels. Student organize into teams to work with the nonprofits.

The problem-solving efforts are all student-led, Butler said.

For example, Butler said there's a team of students who are working with the Grasslands Environmental Center and Los Banos Wildlife Area Complex. They primarily work to bring elementary school children to the sites to experience nature.

However, there are disadvantaged communities in the county that don't have the resources to send their students to the sites, Butler said.

In response to that, the UC Merced team installed a remote web camera. Now people can see what's going on out there by logging onto a website and using the camera, he said.

There are four different student teams and each of them has a different partner in the community, Butler said. "These students have the opportunity to work on these teams and work on real problems that affect people," he said.

Without the support from PG&E, students wouldn't be able to have an impact in the community, Butler said. "(PG&E) plays a vital role to be able to offer this program to our students and to the community," he said.

Some of the funding for the Foster Family Center for Engineering Service Learning also comes from PG&E, Butler said. The company has made other contributions to the university.

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