MERCED — Uday Bali is a self-proclaimed nerd.
The 24-year-old received perfect scores on his physics, chemistry and math SAT subject tests and is a University of California at Merced graduate student in mechanical engineering.
His main focus now is his eponymous tutoring center in north Merced.
What's striking about Bali is that he doesn't quite fit the nerd stereotype. For starters, he was the UC Merced associated student body president when he was an undergraduate. He helped start the campus radio station and nearly a dozen clubs, including the Engineering Club, the Indian Club and the Martial Arts Club.
He wasn't always so outgoing.
Bali moved to Modesto five years ago from New Delhi, India. As a freshman at UC Merced, he had been in the country for only a year, and he experienced some culture shock.
"The school had no international students at the time, so I was the closest thing to one," he said. "I was the only one walking around with the most weird accent."
In India, Bali's life revolved around studying. When he came to Merced, he said, he wanted to transform from a supergeek to being super- social.
It was during this transformation that he got the idea for the Bali Learning Center.
"I started talking to teachers and counselors, and I asked, 'Why don't you send more high school students to UC Merced?' " he recalled. "They said that they would, but it's a fact that many (Merced) students aren't prepared to go college."
Bali wanted to change that.
On Saturday, Merced High School sophomores Caelin Nito and Madison Foss sat at tables in the Bali Learning Center with a handful of other students and practiced basic high school math concepts in preparation for the SATs.
It was their second week of SAT prep classes.
Caelin said she comes to the center during the week for math tutoring. Her math grade has improved, and her overall grade-point average jumped from a 2.0 to the mid-3 range, she said.
Madison also comes during the week for help in Advanced Placement biology.
"The teacher I have right now used to teach at the college level, and she would use big words," Madison said. "It sounded like she was speaking a different language."
Both girls attributed their recent successes to how the tutors explain concepts. The tutors are young and teach in a way they can understand, they said.
The center has 12 college-age tutors, mostly from UC Merced, and serves about 75 students from kindergarten through 12th grade in all subjects. Families come from as far away as Modesto and Fremont to attend tutoring sessions, Bali said.
What draws these families is the price, he added. The center, which opened in August, offers tutoring services for as low as $9.99 an hour.
Bali, who has worked as a tutor for more than six years, said some tutoring centers charge more than $50 for one session.
"Would my parents spend $50 on me for tutoring? No," he said. "(The learning center) is affordable and accessible to people in Merced."
Merced is going to be the start of what Bali refers to as his education revolution.
"When people talk about Merced, they don't talk about the great education," he said. "We are trying to bring in some positivity here."
These days, the term that better describes the newly reformed geek is social entrepreneur.
Bali Learning Center is at 2808 Park Ave., Suite C, Merced; 201-6850.