UC Merced received its first visit by a U.S. senator Wednesday, as Sen. Barbara Boxer met with Chancellor Dorothy Leland, learned about the work of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), interacted with faculty and student researchers and spoke to a select group of students and news media.
Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the nation needs to create jobs by increasing its use of clean energy technology, which is one of UC Merced’s primary areas of research .
“We can and we must ensure that America is the leader in clean energy technology,” Boxer said. “You’re right in the middle of this, right here.”
The senator likened UC Merced’s progress to that of UC Berkeley in its formative years, lauded the campus’ achievements in sustainability in design and architecture, and encouraged students to be appreciative of the opportunity they have to attain a UC-quality education in the San Joaquin Valley.
“You already are a driving force,” Boxer said. “You are becoming, in this short period of time, the center for research for renewable energy. You are an example of how we should build buildings. This is going to mirror what happened (at UC Berkeley). I hope I’m around to see it all, but I can see it now.”
Leland thanked Boxer for her visit, which coincided with the first day of classes in UC Merced's seventh academic year.
"Over 5,000 students will spend the next nine months learning, growing and conducting research on our campus," Leland said. “With this visit, Senator Boxer has had the opportunity to personally see the world-class research conducted by SNRI  in the fields of resource management and ecosystem sustainability.”
During a tour of SNRI's Environmental Analytical Laboratory, Boxer learned about the important research being done by SNRI, which includes developing better and more efficient ways to measure the Sierra snowpack, one of California’s chief sources of water.
Roger Bales , director of SNRI and a professor in the UC Merced School of Engineering, said the work SNRI does would not be possible without federal funding from the National Science Federation and other entities.
“Most of the research at UC Merced is supported by the federal government,” Bales said. “The Sierra Nevada Research Institute is no exception to that. A healthy budget for the National Science Foundation is the best thing the senator can do to support research at UC Merced.”
Ryan Heller, a senior cognitive science major from Los Angeles, said it was inspiring to hear from the senator on the importance of federal support for higher education and renewable energy research.
“I think her visit is a testament to this community and this university,” Heller said. “This is really ground zero for new jobs, green jobs and economic growth here in the Valley. It was exciting, and I’m very honored and I think all of my classmates are very honored that the senator chose this place.”