Freshman Finds Connections, Opportunities at UC Merced
UC Merced freshman Chelsea Wood is allergic to animals. But she volunteers for Trails of Happy Tails, a local organization aiming to reduce shelter euthanasia rates in Merced County by raising awareness and placing photos of available animals on Web sites.
Her reasons are telling.
"It's a strong organization, and the people are great," she said. "It's a good cause and you feel like you're really making a difference."
It turns out those are the same reasons UC Merced is a perfect fit for Wood - even though it's not what she originally planned.
She applied to several other UC campuses during her senior year of high school in Valencia, but wasn't admitted.
"I was sad, but not surprised," she said. "It's really competitive."
Then she got a letter from UC Merced and found out she was part of what's commonly called the "referral pool" - students who are UC eligible because of their achievements, but are not admitted at the specific campuses they applied to.
All referral pool students are admitted to UC Merced.
"I figured I could go to UC Merced and then transfer in a couple of years to any other campus I wanted," Wood said. "And that's true, I could - but now, I don't really want to."
Visiting campus for the first time made a big difference in convincing her that this was the right place to finish her degree, she said.
"I made my decision sight-unseen, but once I came for orientation, I was like, "Wow, look at my school!"
And although Wood had heard of low faculty-student ratio, her UC Merced classes showed her how much that could mean.
"You're able to be really close to your professors," she said. "One of my writing teachers even sought me out this semester, after I had finished his class, to refer me to an internship for the summer."
Merced has been a relaxed and supportive environment for Wood, just far enough away to provide a little distance from the busy life of California's big cities. She's also appreciated her experience in the Sierra Terracesdorms - brand-new this year.
"It's hard not to make friends in the dorms, and the RAs are excellent," she said.
Wood is majoring in political science, one of UC Merced's newer majors and a growing area of strength for the campus. After a positive experience with historyand government classes in high school - and a stint working for the Republican Party last summer -- it was a natural fit. And her UC Merced mentors have cemented that choice.
"They have so many cool stories and experiences to share," she said. "And they're easy to go and talk to. I really like it."