Erin Hestir named director of CITRIS at UC Merced

Collage of two photos: Iconic statue on UC Merced campus, Erin Hestir sitting at a computer.
Photo of Erin Hestir by Veronica Adrover/UC Merced

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) are pleased to announce that Erin Hestir, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Merced, has been named the campus director of CITRIS at UC Merced.

In her new role, Hestir will help facilitate the development of research, industry and educational opportunities within UC Merced that align with CITRIS’s mission of using information technology to address society’s most critical challenges. Hestir brings considerable experience to the position as an acclaimed geomatics engineer and CITRIS principal investigator, and as the associate director of CITRIS at UC Merced since 2019.

“I am honored by this new appointment and excited to join my campus colleagues and broader CITRIS colleagues in advancing IT innovation in the interest of society,” Hestir said. “UC Merced is located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, and proudly serves a population as diverse as the population of California itself. 

“Our flagship work on applied AI, water, energy, food and biodiversity exemplify the interdisciplinary strengths of our campus, and I look forward to leveraging CITRIS’s cross-campus capacities in climate, aviation and more to advance this work further.”

Hestir learned of CITRIS soon after taking her current position on the UC Merced faculty — a position to which Joshua Viers, professor of water resources management and then-director of CITRIS at UC Merced, had initially suggested she apply.

“I became excited by the mission of CITRIS and the community it fosters,” she said.

When Joshua Viers invited her to the role of campus associate director, she remembers feeling inspired by his vision to enhance UC Merced’s leadership in agriculture and food technology (ag-food-tech), sustainability, and expanding equity and gender diversity in technology.

As the new director, Hestir will support the campus’s continued growth in ag-food-tech and sustainability, empowering faculty and student researchers to seek innovative solutions for feeding a growing global population in a warming world. 

UC Merced’s recent designation as an agricultural experiment station, announced last fall and a distinction now shared across all four CITRIS campuses, will spur further opportunities for cross-campus and interdisciplinary cooperation to create a more sustainable food future, she said.

Hestir will also work to expand academic, corporate and regional partnerships, including collaborations facilitated by the newly formed UC Merced Valley Institute for Sustainability, Technology & Agriculture (VISTA). She aims to ensure local impact for the campus’s research, using UC Merced’s innovations to enhance the economy and community of the Central Valley.

She will also advance her own considerable efforts to inspire, train and retain historically underrepresented students in tech. As associate director, Hestir spearheaded several CITRIS efforts to cultivate a technology workforce pipeline with a wide array of entry points and pathways.

One such endeavor is ¡Valle de Exploración!, a partnership among UC Merced, Merced College and Google ExploreCSR to provide mentorship and training for STEM undergraduates in the San Joaquin Valley, with a focus on recruiting students who identify as women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I remain committed to transformational experiences for students and training the next generation of leaders in technology research,” she said.

Hestir is the co-principal investigator of NASA’s first biodiversity campaign, the Biodiversity Survey of the Cape (BioSCape). This research collaboration between academic and government institutions in the United States and South Africa will document the ecosystem of the Greater Cape Floristic Region using sensors attached to NASA aircraft.

She is also an inaugural research member of IoT4Ag, a multi-university alliance to develop agricultural technology that grows crops while minimizing water and energy usage.

“We are delighted to see Erin step into this leadership role at UC Merced,” said Costas Spanos, director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute and the Andrew S. Grove Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley. “Her work with students and fellow faculty members has been inspiring both for its technical innovation and inclusive approach.

“We are grateful to outgoing CITRIS Director Josh Viers for his decade-long devotion and service to the CITRIS mission and its implementation at UC Merced.”

Hestir’s new position was effective Aug. 16. She succeeds Joshua Viers, who had served as UC Merced campus director since 2013.