The Good Call 2016 Best Schools for Scholarships Report has ranked UC Merced No. 8 out of 4,000 U.S. public colleges and universities for earning scholarships.
The report examined the amount of scholarship and fellowship funds available to students. UC Merced students received an average of $7,944 during the 2014 survey period.
“As loan debt continues to be a significant concern for students and their families, UC Merced is pleased to be recognized as one of the top universities in the nation in terms of the average scholarship and fellowship dollars awarded per student,” Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Ron Radney said. “This ranking is reflective of the commitment of our campus, the UC system and our donors to support student access to a world-class education.”
The ranking is based on the average amount of scholarship or fellowship funds per enrolled student, which was provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. At the time of the report, UC Merced’s enrollment was 6,508.
Ph.D. grad’s autism research hits close to home
When Nikko Da Paz decided to go to graduate school, she didn’t limit herself to one degree – or even one campus.
The mother of two young children with autism enrolled at UC Merced in 2011, and in May she became the university’s first African American student to earn a Ph.D. While completing her doctorate at UC Merced, she was simultaneously enrolled at California State University, Stanislaus, where she completed a master’s in psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis. Both campuses are roughly an hour’s drive from her Los Banos home.
Through those high-mileage academic years, Da Paz relied upon a supportive husband, prayer and a dry erase board that helped organize her thoughts and a multitude of tasks. She capped it all by handling her thesis and dissertation defenses just a few days apart.
Da Paz said she’s excited to be the first African American to earn a doctorate at UC Merced, but said that was never her motivation. Her research, in psychology, examined stress levels for parents of children with autism.
“My inspiration is the children and the families I serve,” she said.
Da Paz earned an undergraduate degree at Stanford University. She intended to major in electrical engineering but switched her focus after beginning to work with children diagnosed with autism.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she worked in schools as an inclusion specialist and classroom aide for children with autism. Da Paz enjoyed the work but said the chronic discord between parents and educators was stressful.
“It was always a war, us against them, and it was hard for me to ethically sit in the middle of it,” she said. Da Paz left to pursue other jobs, such as a guest lecturer at the University of Ghana in West Africa and a researcher in childhood obesity prevention at Stanford University.
The birth of her son, Evilasio, in 2005 brought about more change. When her son was 2, she began to notice familiar signs, such as lack of speech and eye contact.
“Then everything I knew about autism, everything I saw, came flooding back,” said Da Paz, who also has two adult children.
Da Paz quit her job to focus on Evilasio, who is now 10 and home-schooled. Her youngest son, 8-year-old Emilio, also has been diagnosed with autism, but is mainstreamed into regular education.
In returning to that world, she found little had changed. For example, parents were still expected to navigate complex systems to get help for their child while also dealing with the difficult emotions of an autism diagnosis.
“Inspired by my son and by my experiences as a parent, I understood and recognized that parents need a voice,” she said. “They are often the overlooked part of the equation.”
Da Paz chose UC Merced for her doctoral studies. She was part of a small cohort and prized the opportunity to work with professors who were accessible and generous in their mentoring and teaching styles.
“It was such a valuable experience that I don’t think I would have gotten at a larger university,” she said.
UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff. To contact them, email firstname.lastname@example.org.