Unlike many other schools, UC Merced allows freshman students to enter with a major of "engineering - undeclared." For Matt Nelson, now looking back on his freshman year more than five years down the line, the option proved a distinct advantage.
"I honestly had no idea what I would be doing now when I started school at UC Merced," Nelson said.
Although he didn't know at first what kind of engineer  he wanted to be, Nelson was sure he'd landed in the right spot. Having already been in the first groups of students in new schools during elementary and middle school, he was happy to continue the experience of being a pioneer as a member of the founding class.
"I had already seen firsthand what being that first group of students allowed you to do in terms of being involved with your school," Nelson said. "I was very eager to repeat that process."
Consistent with UC Merced's unique combination of providing world-class opportunities while caring for individual students, Nelson found plenty of support from faculty and staff. He especially credits Jeff Wright, the founding dean of UC Merced's School of Engineering.
"I was able to get to know the dean initially through an internship I did with the school of engineering before my freshman year," Nelson remembered. "It was his help and guidance that led to my internship and now my full-time job with PG&E."
Nelson, who eventually chose to major in mechanical engineering, interviewed with PG&E while he was a junior at UC Merced. That led to an internship  the summer before his senior year. After his 2009 graduation, that internship led him to a full-time job with the company in the Bay Area. He works as a program engineer in the Technical Product Support group.
"We review rebate applications for business customers, providing technical support through engineering calculations to determine energy savings," Nelson said. "We also do field verifications as part of the rebate process to ensure that the energy efficient equipment has been installed." He said his group also provides technical help for other groups in his part of the PG&E organization.
"I'm glad to know that my education at UC Merced allowed me to get a good job, even during a down economy," he said.
He advises current and future UC Merced students to take a cue from his experience to help maximize their chances of finding similar success.
"Get to know your professors well," Nelson admonished. "Networking is key, and faculty can be a great resource, especially when it comes to getting internships. And try to get an internship, because it really gives you an advantage when it comes time to find a job."
Nelson says he looks forward to completing the requirements for his Professional Engineer license and is also considering graduate school at some point in the future. His path now looks clear, thanks in large part to his experiences at UC Merced.