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UC Merced boosts new group for closer community ties

UC Merced said it's looking for members for the University Friends Circle (UFC), a new organization aimed at strengthening ties between the university and the local community.

UFC was formed to foster collaboration between the campus and the community and help new faculty, staff and their families become familiar with the Merced area.

Under the encouragement of Mia Kang, associate of the chancellor, a steering committee of people with university affiliation strong community ties was formed in December 2007. Committee members developed the organization's mission and by-laws, organized programs and recruited members, according to a statement.

UCM now has more than 130 members on its roster. Events have included "The Central Valley: The Valley of the World," presented by Jan Goggans, UC Merced assistant professor of literature; "The Current Status of the State of California," presented by state Sen. Jeff Denham; "Today's Economy Plain and Simple: How We Got Here and Where We're Going," presented by Shawn Kantor, UC Merced professor of economics; and "Yosemite - Its Wonders Revealed," presented by Steve Shackelton, chief ranger for Yosemite National Park.

Five community members have been elected to the UFC Board of Directors. Founding directors are Jennifer West, president; Gaye Riggs, first vice president; Christine Long, second vice president; Carole Whitehill, treasurer; and Christie Hendricks, secretary.

West is owner of marketing consulting firm J. West Group, and wife of UC Merced professor Shawn Kantor. Riggs, serves as assistant superintendent for the Early Care and Education Department, Merced County of Education and is a UC Merced foundation diplomat. Long is vice president of Hilltop Ranch Inc., one of the largest privately owned processors of almonds. Whitehill, owner of Whitehill Accounting, also serves as a UC Merced foundation diplomat. Coordinator for Child Care Support Services for Merced County of Education, Hendricks has been extensively involved in the local community.

UC Merced said the board will guide the group in its mission of inspiring and maintaining strong relationships between the UC Merced campus community and communities of the San Joaquin Valley. It hopes to do that through social and intellectual interaction, service programs and fundraising initiatives that will support scholarships. Committees forming include communications, fundraising, interest groups, membership, programs and scholarships.

If you're interested in learning more about UFC, please contact Christine Howe at (209) 228-4138 or