Sports and education are inextricable from each other in the life of Assistant Dean James Ortez. As a small child in nearby Madera, he honed his math skills figuring baseball statistics. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, he saw that one way to make the leap from his Hispanic, Central-Valley background to his new Ivy-League surroundings would be to participate in the school rowing crew, and so he spent time pulling oars through the Harlem River. His doctoral dissertation focused on student athletes who were the first in their families to attend college. And now, at UC Merced, he's watching it all sprout in a new location.
For student athletes, it doesn't seem to matter whether or not other members of their family have attended college before them, he explains. The friendships, support systems and school services they find through athletics really ease the transition for them. There are ways we can offer that level of support to any student who needs it, and you can bet that we will have students who need it at UC Merced.
Of course, it takes a long time for a school to develop an intercollegiate athletic presence. But Ortez has been in close contact with Student Affairs about the importance of sports, even for the first students at UC Merced. Students arriving this fall will be able to participate in intramural sports on the new recreational field. There may even be rowing opportunities at Lake Yosemite, adjacent to the campus.
As Assistant Dean at UC's first campus in the San Joaquin Valley, Ortez savors the thought of working with students he anticipates will mirror his own past, students who have to make a big cultural leap to receive a university education.
After going to school in New York and at the University of Washington, I never thought I'd return to the Valley, he admits. But the opportunity of having a new UC practically in my own backyard is amazing. I'm really looking forward to making Merced my new community.