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Electrical Engineering to be Focus of 15th Endowed Chair

December 18, 2003

MERCED, CA. — Former Merced mayor and retired electrical contractor Reno Ferrero will help launch the academic discipline of electrical engineering at the University of California, Merced. His gift of $500,000 to endow the Reno Ferrero Family Chair in Electrical Engineering will offer a dramatic boost to teaching and research at UC's San Joaquin Valley campus.

“Reno Ferrero's generous gift provides another reason to celebrate this holiday season as it will help secure the strength of our engineering program for generations to come,” says UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. “This support will allow us to attract a scholar in engineering who will conduct research on issues of critical concern, fuel innovation and educate engineers of the future.”

Ferrero's interest in the academic discipline of electrical engineering stems from his own professional background as the owner of one of the nation's largest electrical contracting businesses.

Purchasing the three-person Dutra Electric operation in 1947, he earned an excellent reputation for quality work, and eventually expanded his company to include seven electrical shops around Central California and 200 electricians. During approximately 40 years in business, he won contracts for projects ranging from hotels and airfields to hospitals and schools, and a variety of projects for the state and federal governments, including electrical work for the second phase of the “Star Wars” program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Born in Italy in 1912, Ferrero and his family sailed to the United States in 1915 and moved to Merced in 1920. Having spent most of his life in Merced, with a stint in Mariposa County, he says he feels a need to give back to the community.

“UC Merced will be a strong asset for this community,” Ferrero says. “It feels good to be able to contribute to this project and my hope is that others, especially students, will become interested in the field of electrical engineering.”

UC Merced hopes to offer a B.S. degree in electrical engineering as early as the 2006-07 academic year, and M.S. and Ph.D. programs in the 2007-08 academic year.

“Electrical engineering will become one of the cornerstone programs within the School of Engineering at UC Merced, ” says Dean of Engineering Jeff Wright. “This generous contribution to our university from Reno Ferrero and the Ferrero family will forever help shape the lives and careers of our students.”

A dedicated patron of higher education, Ferrero first became involved with UC Merced when he joined the Chancellor's Associates, the primary support group for critical academic and student programs on campus. He also is a benefactor of Merced College, funding the Reno Ferrero Technical Institute at Merced College and donating 160 acres in Mariposa County to the community college for its use. The remainder of his Mariposa County acreage was given back to the county for the preservation of natural resources as well as forestation.

“For Merced to have both a community college and a university to meet the needs of all students is great,” Ferrero says.

For more than 50 years, Ferrero has given extensively of his time to serve the community and support its positive development.

He sat on the Merced City Council for six years, including two as mayor. Among his many accomplishments, he formed the first Committee of 100 to Plan Merced's Growth, established a problem-solving committee of Castle Air Force Base officers and local citizens, and earned respect as a hard-working man of his word. He also was instrumental in promoting the city's first industrial park.

Extended over a broad range of civic organizations and clubs, Ferrero's community involvement includes serving as the chairman of Merced's Private Industry Council, president of the Merced City Boosters Club, a director of the Merced County Fair Board and Exalted Ruler of the Elks Club. He has received the Merced Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Award and was the first recipient of the Elks Citizen of the Year Award.

Ferrero has two daughters and a son. Judith, the oldest daughter, attended UC Santa Barbara; Elizabeth, the younger daughter, went to San Francisco State University; and Robert studied electrical engineering at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

Endowed chairs and professorships at UC Merced will facilitate the hiring and retention of outstanding faculty. Income generated by the endowments assures a continuing income flow to fund the research of faculty members appointed to fill these positions.

With the commitment of 15 endowed chairs, each of which will be funded at the $500,000 level, UC Merced has received a greater number of such endowments than any other university campus in the United State prior to opening.

UC Merced is the 10th campus of the UC system and the first major research university to be built in the United States during the 21st century. Scheduled to open in fall 2005, the campus ultimately will grow to serve a student population of 25,000. The university has a special mission to serve the educational needs of San Joaquin Valley residents and is already serving area students through a concurrent admissions program at three Valley community colleges and UC summer session courses offered in Fresno, Bakersfield and Atwater. UC Merced currently has about 165 employees - educators and other professionals who are working on developing the physical and academic infrastructure of the campus.