Professor Building USDA Connections Through HSI Fellowship

MERCED - As the University of California, Merced, pursues the federal designation of Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), one biology professor has already gotten a taste of the benefits that come with that status. Professor Andres (Andy) Aguilar recently returned from four weeks in Washington, D.C. on an E. (Kika) de la Garza Fellowship from the United States Department of Agriculture. On this fellowship, he was introduced to various USDA grant programs and potential collaborators in USDA facilities.

"In addition to opening doors for my research, this fellowship will help me find opportunities for UC Merced students at the USDA," Aguilar said. "Students may not have been aware of the educational and career opportunities there, but with more connections I can now help them better."

Aguilar studies population genetics of fish - specifically, trout, steelhead and salmon - studying their molecular biology and genetics in his UC Merced laboratory. While on his fellowship in D.C., he had the chance to visit the USDA's National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture in Leetown, W. Va.

"It was a good experience to meet the scientists there," Aguilar said. "They're using some of the same information I need regarding a particular gene that could be help rainbow trout evolve to be more disease resistant. It's a possible point of collaboration for the future."

The de la Garza Fellowships are awarded annually to promising young faculty members in HSIs recognized by the USDA, which requires an institution to demonstrate that at least 25 percent of its enrolled students are Hispanic. UC Merced meets that criterion, which allowed Aguilar to qualify for his fellowship.

To receive HSI status from the U.S. Department of Education - the designation that will make a difference for a large number of grants and other programs for UC Merced - the campus still needs to receive its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), a process that is already well underway.

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