By David Kligman
MERCED — For Bezait Ali, coming to the University of California, Merced, and studying environmental engineering looked like a window to her future.
The school opened in 2005, the newest UC campus. And the College of Engineering had just received a $1 million grant from PG&E, which meant funding for new facilities like the Engineering Service Learning Lab and other student projects.
This spring, Ali has become involved in a new project that looks at water and wildlife on the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley. It promises to take what she’s learned in the classroom and show how it can be relevant and valuable as she moves toward graduation and her career.
“It’s learning in a different way. I do like it. It’s challenging. It lets us be creative,” said Ali, a junior engineering major from San Jose, who was one of many students on hand when the school recently thanked PG&E for its contribution.
Engineering Dean Dan Hirleman said the projects let students experience real-world issues as they work to benefit community partners such as an area hospital.
“Service learning is a program where students even as a freshman get involved with community organizations and bring engineering solutions to those organizations,” Hirleman said.
The partnership is getting students to think about a career at PG&E where engineering know-how is vital to running the gas and electric business that provides power to 15 million California residents.
“Really, their needs align with a lot of what we’re looking for in engineers as we look down the road and so being able to partner with them, help them be able to get moving on their goals is just a great feeling,” PG&E President Chris Johns said.
The real impact of PG&E’s donation is seen every day at the Engineering Service Learning Lab. At any given time there are four projects that give back to the community. Instead of just learning theories, students are achieving real-world results for blood banks, hospitals and other community partners.
Engineering students currently are brainstorming how to design a kiosk to educate the public on the impacts of global warming on the San Joaquin River.
“The people who are guiding us, the professors here, don’t really tell us the step-by-step thing,” Ali said. “They want us to figure out on our own because it’s supposed to mimic an actual work field.”
PG&E’s investment in UC Merced engineering program is more than just financial. It’s transforming the educational experience of California’s brightest students.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.