Tech research at UC Merced grows under Faculty Success Initiative Fellowship

Computational Training Expanding at UC Merced Through New Grants

CITRIS co-sponsors two fellowships at UC Merced for early-career faculty.

Launched in 2020, the UC Merced Faculty Success Initiative Extramural Funding Fellowship (EFF) program helps early-career faculty learn key ways to synthesize their work for wider audiences. The aim of the program is to support faculty in the pursuit of extramural funding, with the goal of growing UC Merced’s research enterprise, advancing concepts in science, and enhancing national health and welfare.

For the 2021 EFF cohort, CITRIS and the Office of Research and Economic Development at UC Merced are co-sponsoring two early-career faculty members pursuing novel technology research.

“Despite the training we receive in graduate school, the professor career path requires constant growth,” said Joshua Viers, director of CITRIS at UC Merced. According to the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, early-career faculty highly benefit from mentoring, connections with colleagues, and access to new resources.

The 2021 EFF program began in January with grant writing training and will continue throughout the spring semester. Fellows will also have the opportunity to visit congressional and agency leaders in Washington, D.C.

One of the selected fellows is Spencer Castro, a new faculty member in Management of Complex Systems who is building on a family legacy. His grandfather self-produced safety videos for arborists and started the Yosemite National Park prescribed burning program. Both his parents fought wildland fires, and growing up in Yosemite gave Castro first-hand experience with challenges faced by local communities.

“As someone who has evacuated many times and has multiple family members scattered throughout the foothills, I would personally like to help find solutions to these problems,” said Castro. He wants to improve how we educate communities about wildfires. “Like other natural disasters, the intermittence of fire leads to apathy when easily accessible training and proper preparation could save lives, especially in nearby communities.”

His work is precisely geared at enabling smart decision-making to prepare Californians for the next big fire. “The EFF training will provide me with the skills to create a sustainable research program and increase confidence when interacting with large government agencies,” Castro said. The practical nature of his work is also supported by cognitive science, and a long-range goal of his is to develop a human-computer interaction lab that tests the cognitive workload during disasters. “I want to improve the safety of everyday technologies, and especially those used in emergencies.”

EFF Fellow and Professor of Life and Environmental Sciences Rebecca Ryals is famous for getting her hands dirty, turning all matter of waste—including human waste—into fertilizer for agriculture. And her work doesn’t stop there. Storing waste in a useable format reduces greenhouse gases and more. “Healthy soils feed us. Climate change is a wicked problem but there are many solutions. The way we steward soils and their incredible capacity to store carbon can help solve our climate crisis. More carbon in the soil improves our ability to grow food, reduces nutrient pollution, and more efficiently use water,” said Ryals.

Her work contributes to a growing body of literature around the idea that agriculture is both the contributor and the solution to climate change. By composting everything from manure to human waste, Ryals is closing the loop through agroecology. Ryals recently discussed her work during a Down on the Farm podcast interview.

When asked about the EFF program Ryals said, “I am excited about this training. For me, it is an opportunity to not only hone my grant writing skills, but also to learn how to more successfully navigate the complex funding ecosystem.” 

Castro and Ryals recognize the importance of growing as successful faculty and community members. “As scientists, we have the incredible privilege to explore the world by asking questions, collecting data, and building onto the wealth of knowledge in the world,” said Ryals. “I want to use that privilege to do impactful, solutions-based research.”


The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.

To learn more about CITRIS, sign up for our newsletter: