At the end of May, graduate student Daniel Santillano will celebrate his birthday, and he can’t think of a better gift than being among the first to graduate from UC Merced. The Sacramento native is one of three students participating in the first commencement exercise on May 11.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in Molecular Environmental Biology, Santillano spent a year in Mexico as a Fulbright Fellow assisting the Zapotec people understand how the genetic structure of microorganism populations, including mushrooms, might assist in effective management of their forests.
“Biodiversity is an asset to forests and ecosystems,” Santillano said, “and while its resources can be mined for pharmaceutical or other utilitarian purposes, the generation of diversity, in itself, should be valued.”
Upon his return the UC Office of the President asked Santillano to teach an environmental course in Yosemite for Merced-area high school students.
“I benefited from programs like UC’s Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) and MESA, so I felt it was imperative to recruit other students into the academic pipeline,” he said.
As much as he enjoyed outreach, however, something was missing and he felt compelled to become the scientist he set originally set out to be.
He heard about UC Merced’s Environmental Systems Graduate Group and the chance to work at the interface of chemistry, biodiversity and ecology in a place in dire need of such understanding, the Central Valley. He is now finishing his Master’s in Environmental Systems with an emphasis in microbial ecology under the guidance of Professor Jessica Green. And though he will continue exploring microbial ecology issues while at an internship with the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., this summer and as he moves on to doctoral studies, nothing will replace the impact UC Merced has had in his life.
“I have made great friends here, and I will cherish them for the long haul,” he said. “I respect the faculty and it was an honor to have learned from them. It is now time to take these lessons and apply them to real world global environmental challenges.”