Fresno State to lead dairy innovation project with $1.8M USDA grant

The push to develop new products in the nation’s leading dairy state is also the impetus behind a new, three-year $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service aimed at dairy business innovation. Graduate student Daniel Olmos is channeling his love of science and food to integrate two of his favorite campus farm products into his graduate research project.

Working with food science and nutrition faculty Dr. Carmen Licon Cano, the Fresno-native Olmos is creating a new, wine-infused cheese product that he hopes to produce at the campus creamery for the Gibson Farm Market, and later potentially on a larger scale. “When you try to produce cheese and wine, there is a fair bit of chemistry and microbiology to consider,” Olmos said. “An infused cheese like this is an artisanal product that you might see produced in Spain or other parts of the world, so it’s exciting to consider its potential here. Dairy products are exciting to work with since they’re very functional, nutritious and delicious.”

Licon will work with Dr. Susan Pheasant, director of the Institute for Food and Agriculture at Fresno State, to coordinate a program that will position students, faculty, staff and campus facilities to support industry partners in California, Oregon and Washington to launch a newly-created Pacific Coast Coalition for dairy processors.

Fresno State, UC Merced ranked high on lists of nation’s best colleges. What to know

Fresno State, Fresno Pacific, and UC Merced are among the nation’s best universities in social mobility, according to U.S. News and World Report’s new 2022 college rankings. For this year’s rankings, the organization looked at the percentage of Pell Grant students who enter each university and the 6-year graduation rate of those students. Students eligible for Pell Grants are typically from low-income households. UC Merced ranked no. 4 on the list, with 62% of its fall 2013/2014 cohort Pell Grant-eligible, and 68% graduate within six years.

Fresno Pacific University, a private Christian university, earned a spot at no. 13. Fresno State ranked no. 21 — tying with UCLA — with 69% of Pell Grant receivers entering its fall 2013/2014 classes and 52% graduating within six years. Fresno Pacific also ranked no. 41 in regional universities in the west. Fresno State also earned the no. 53 spot on the list of best undergraduate engineering programs where a doctorate isn’t offered. The university earned no. 13 in the civil engineering category, no. 16 in electrical/electronic/communications, and no. 24 in mechanical, tying with several other schools. UC Merced moved up a few spots this year, tying at No. 93 in the national universities category, No. 38 in top public schools, and No. 57 in most innovative schools. It earned a No. 8 spot for the economic diversity of its students. The newest UC earned a few other spots, including tying for No. 58 in best undergraduate teaching and ranking no. 129 in best value schools.

Last year, UC Merced tied with UCLA and UC Irvine to earn the No. 1 spot for best student outcomes. The university has ran up the ranks in the last few years, improving in many categories, said Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “This confirms yet again that what we do at UC Merced is making an impact on the world and greatly improving the lives of young people,” said Sánchez Muñoz. “Our reputation is solidly grounded in our world-class research and teaching, in the amazing students who join us every year and the successful alumni who tell our story.” This year Fresno State fell two slots to earn the No. 211 spot in the overall national ranking. It also fell in the category of top public schools, ranking No. 107 this year and 101 last year.

Now in its 37th year, U.S. World and News Report’s rankings evaluate more than 1,400 colleges and universities on up to 17 measures of academic quality, according to the organization.

Assemblyman Salas secures $6 million for Bakersfield College health education programs

Bakersfield College has reason to celebrate this week after getting word that the local community college will receive an additional $6 million in state funding secured by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield. According to twin news releases from BC and Salas’ office, the funding will help the college expand and implement workforce training programs related to nursing and health care.

The funding comes in addition to $44.4 million Salas secured this year for a range of Central Valley projects and educational investments, Salas’ office said. “I am happy to champion more money coming to Bakersfield College,” Salas stated in the releases. “This additional $6 million will help train more nurses and health professionals for the valley so that our local families will have greater health access and options.” The funding is authorized in Assembly Bill 132, the higher education budget bill, which was signed Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

According to BC’s release, the projects proposed will include expanding the college’s Rural Health Equity and Learning collaborative, the Certified Nursing Assistant and Registered Nurse programs, and the allied health programs such as the new Physical Therapy Assistant program, while also providing funding for new post-pandemic student health and wellness services, and new certification programs, such as the Mental Health Worker Certificate. Sonya Christian, Kern Community College District Chancellor and past president of Bakersfield College, lauded Salas for his continued support of BC and higher education. “Assemblymember Rudy Salas makes things happen and his work embodies keeping the #ValleyStrong,” Christian said in a statement.

The college has been able to scale up several programs thanks to some $22 million in funding Salas has secured for BC in recent years, Christian said. “His continued commitment to career education directly supports students in ways that matter to their futures, health and success,” she said. Bakersfield College will use the direct $6 million investment for the following programs:

• Expanding the Rural Health Equity and Learning collaborative.

• Expanding the certified nursing assistant and registered nurse programs.

• Providing nursing scholarships for students who volunteered to serve in vaccination clinics.

• Expanding the Allied Health Simulation Laboratory.

• Expanding the radiology technology mammography and sonography programs.

• Adding the Mental Health Worker Certificate.

• Adding postpandemic student health and wellness services.

• Providing educational services to prevent chronic illness among at-risk rural residents.

AB 132 also provides an unprecedented $47.1 billion statewide investment in college affordability and access including:

• $115 million for Zero-Textbook-Cost Degree grant programs and open educational resources at community colleges to help address the rising costs of textbooks.

• $100 million to create Basic Needs Centers to help homeless and food insecure students access resources and enroll in CalFresh.

• $100 million for community colleges to increase student retention rates and enrollment.

• $2 billion to address housing and space needs at the UC, CSU and community colleges.

• Provides $20 million for CCCs to establish and expand High Road Training Partnerships and Construction Careers workforce development programs.

• Provides $6,000 per student in non-tuition support for Cal Grant students who are former foster youth.

• Expands the California Kids Investment and Development Savings Program to provide $500 base deposits to college savings accounts for public school students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

• Establishes the Learning-Aligned Employment program to help underrepresented students with financial need gain relevant work experience, promoting long-term employment opportunities.

• Establishes the Golden State Education and Training Grant Program to provide grants for education or high-quality training for workers displaced by the pandemic.

• Authorizes community colleges to use federal emergency relief funds to waive student fees for students who have unpaid fees due to impacts of COVID-19.

Three Central California colleges receive donations from MacKenzie Scott

Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has made a larger donation and recipients include three campuses in Central California. On Tuesday, Scott and her new husband announced a $ 2.7 billion donation to 286 different organizations.

The list includes UC Merced, West Hills College Lemoore, and Porterville College.

UC Merced states that the $ 20 million it receives is the largest charitable donation in campus history.

Porterville College states that it has received $ 7 million used to educate underserved students and communities.

Scott is one of the wealthiest women in the world and has become known for his multi-billion dollar donations to charity and racial equality issues. Since divorcing Bezos last July, Scott has donated a total of $ 8.5.

Stanislaus State programs ranked as best bachelor’s degrees

Stanislaus State is no stranger to accolades, and this week three of the university’s undergraduate majors were named among the best in the nation. The national recognition comes as part of the online platform’s Top 25 Best Bachelor’s Degrees list released this month, which names Stan State’s sociology, social science and anthropology programs as part of the top degrees in the nation when it comes to their respective fields.

Stan State’s sociology program ranked No. 12 on’s list of top 25 sociology programs in the country, while social science earned a No. 20 ranking compared to other similar programs and anthropology was ranked No. 23. According to the list, Stan State boasts an 89% acceptance rate, 59% graduation rate and 90% of students receive financial aid for the $7,542 tuition. The high rankings are also thanks in part to the university’s acceptance of AP credits from high school, as well as available placement services and career services on campus.

With standout professors and initiatives pertaining to each department, it’s no secret that these three programs thrive at Stan State. Last month, sociology professor Ann Strahm was honored for her outstanding service in faculty governance after concluding six years as a Stan State representative to the Academic Senate of the California State University, serving as chair-elect of the University Educational Policies Committee and as vice president of the Stanislaus chapter of the California Faculty Association, all while serving as chair of the Department of Sociology and Gerontology.

Over in the anthropology department, associate professor of visual anthropology Steve Arounsack recently shared his cultural expertise with Walt Disney Animation Studios for their film “Raya and the Last Dragon” over the course of two years, lending his knowledge of Southeast Asian culture so that the movie could accurately represent the region’s identity.  And in the area of social science, Stan State has taken a stand in recent years when it comes to social issues like race, equality, diversity and inclusion, from installing a Peace Pole on campus to starting a program to recruit more young black men to enroll in college. considered hundreds of universities across the nation and selected its top choices based on academic and career resources, quality of educational offerings, faculty and other criteria. Founded in 2002, its mission is to assist in making higher education more affordable, effective and engaging. More than 40 million visitors per month use the online platform to research potential schools, degrees and careers. The rankings come on the heels of other accolades for the university received earlier this year, like recognition for offering students more bang for their buck when it comes to receiving a high-quality and affordable education, according to an April report by the CSU Office of the Chancellor which highlighted the university’s economic impact on the San Joaquin Valley. According to the report, every dollar the state invests in the University produces a return of $7.41 in positive economic activity.

The report also shed light on the value of Stan State degrees to alumni, their families and the regional economy. In 2019, Stan State alumni who remained in the San Joaquin Valley earned an additional $1.2 billion in earnings attributable to their degree, and alumni who remained in the state earned an additional $1.45 billion.

Delhi Unified unveils plans for $15M Career Technical Education building, plus new school

Delhi Unified School District students can look forward to more vocational training opportunities, as the district moves forward to develop its new Career and Technical Education building. District officials say the 15,000 square-foot building, with a projected cost of $15 million, will be geared toward offering real-world technical skills in agriculture, welding, metal work, fabrication, and computer-aid design, to name a few.

The building will be located along Schendel Avenue and Shanks Road, on an area of Delhi High that’s currently occupied by basketball courts. “It really opens a whole new world of opportunities,” said Adolfo Melara, Delhi Unified superintendent. “This provides students a high school experience where they can learn many skills, and explore different venues for the future. We see this as an enhancement of our academic program to our students.”

In addition, classes will be held for middle school students in the new building, plus residents will have access to welding and manufacturing classes. The district first contemplated the idea for a new technical education building six years ago as parents expressed a desire for more vocational education training for students. In 2016, the board passed Measure W, a bond measure that authorized the district to use $12 million for the career technical education building. While the board unanimously voted to approve of the building project in 2016, it wasn’t until recently the district began executing plans for the building, Melara said. The district applied for a competitive state grant for construction, and was awarded $3 million, aiding in the $15 million cost for the entire project.

The building is expected to break ground either in the summer or fall next year, and open in mid 2023. New school in the works Aside from the technical building, Delhi Unified is working with Maracor Development to secure 30 acres for a new school near Bradbury Road. The district wants another school to accommodate more families who choose to enroll their children as more than 940 homes are being planned at the corner of Vincent and Bradbury Road in Delhi. Melara said the board hasn’t approved of the project just yet, as the district is still working on the details of the cost, where the district could get the money, when construction could begin, and if the school will either be a middle school or elementary school. “These are very exciting times for Delhi Unified School District,” Melara said. “We’ve had very hardworking people, wonderful parents and students and these are resources our community really needs and we will make the best investment of these resources on behalf of our children.” “I’m very excited and positive and happy for the benefits both of these projects will bring to the Delhi community,” he added.

Robot-building siblings from Clovis have won some big money. Now, they plan to team up

Clovis North student John Benedict Estrada recently took home the $50,000 grand prize at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. “It was a big shock, and I honestly didn’t expect anything, so hearing my name being called was really surprising, really exciting. That whole weekend was just really exciting from the win,” Estrada said. His model, a robot that detects plant drought, won him the grand prize. If a robot that detects how plant thirst sounds familiar to you, that is because another student also placed in a science fair recently.

Estrada’s sister, Pauline Victoria Allasas Estrada, a Granite Ridge Intermediate School student, won $10,000 in the national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics middle school competition the Broadcom Masters with a similar device during the fall of 2020. Although both models have the same function, they work differently and show off duo’s ingenuity and engineering talents. Both siblings had the opportunity to enter international science fairs due to their Fresno County science fair participation.

In fact, according to Jennifer Weibert, the Fresno County fair director, participating in the county fair could open doors for others the same why it did for the Estradas. “In my opinion, his win is amazing, and so I hope it opens the doors for more parents and students to be aware that this opportunity exists in Fresno. So, take advantage of it because it can change your life,” Weibert said.

Every year the Fresno County fair sends four kids to participate in the international science fair. The county covers all expenses for the final four participating students. “We have about 100 kids who enter in the high school division, and they can come from anywhere in the region. Because we are one of the only fairs in central California, besides Bakersfield or Sacramento, that gives kids a chance to move on to the international level,” Weibert said.

Estrada’s first-place project uses a robotic arm with an infrared camera to measure the light reflecting off of bell peppers. The infrared can help farmers identify “at-risk” plants, which will help them determine what measures need to be taken before long-term damage occurs. Estrada’s sister, Allasas Estrada, also uses an infrared camera; however, her model is a rover, and it detects drought stress from the ground. Ultimately both models will help farmers deal with a problem that has plagued Central Valley farmers for decades. “The $50,000 I won is going to be for a scholarship for college. Right now, my main focus is continuing to improve my project for the future because I already have some plans for what I want to do with my project later,” Estrada said. Both siblings hope to team up during next year’s science fair as high school students.

Why tech giant Samsung wants to give these Tulare school students thousands of dollars

A group of Tulare Union High School students recently took home top honors at the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow engineering competition. The students, led by teacher Erik York captured the Community Choice Award for their device that uses artificial intelligence to alert drivers about other vehicles, approaching intersections, and traffic lights, among other features.

The Tulare-based robotics team finished the competition’s top 10 and, along with winning the Community Choice Award, claimed about $80,000 in prize money. “It still doesn’t feel real,” said lead student engineer Jayen Bhakta. “I’m still in shock that a company like Samsung has awarded us a win.” At least some of the prize money will help the school purchase laptops for students. The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest is a national competition that gives students real-world problems to solve. Before entering the competition, York and his students experimented with artificial intelligence and felt the competition would be an excellent opportunity to flex their new skills.

STEM education is growing in importance in our country. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. STEM education also has other benefits. It teaches kids critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. “A big role of our STEM program is to expose students to the different careers that are available in STEM. Different aspects of engineering and manufacturing, so we are putting a lot of those skills and a lot of those job opportunities in the hands of the students. It’s a hands-on course where they are using a lot of the materials,” York said. “This is further than we initially thought we ever could go. We set the bar so that next year’s kids can hopefully go even higher and hopefully win the grand prize of $130k,” Bhakta said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

Merced College breaks ground on new Ag complex

Merced College supporters and government leaders joined in with educators to break ground Wednesday on the 29,000-square-foot Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, kicking off construction of the first new building on campus in more than a decade. “Merced College has been educating students in agriculture and related fields for decades in the historically underserved San Joaquin Valley,” said California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who attended the event along with U.S. Rep. Jim Costa and State Assembly member Adam Gray. “Countless students in this region will benefit from this beautiful new space, and in turn they will bring benefits back to the region through their education and service. The future is bright in Merced.”

The ceremony highlighted the college’s flagship agricultural programs. Once moved into the state-of-the-art building, the program will be positioned to train more students for well-paying and plentiful jobs in agriculture, industrial technology, and other related workforce programs in this region. “This is a capital project many years in the making,” Merced College President Chris Vitellisaid. “As an agricultural community, and an institution of higher education committed to training our future workforce in ag and related industries, we are proud to provide this incredible new facility to better serve our students, faculty and partners.”

Assembly member Gray said: “This really shows what happens when state, local, and private resources all come together in the right way. Raj Kahlon’s generosity and President Vitelli’s leadership made this an easy sell. Working together, we brought then Lt. Governor Newsom down to tour Merced College and learn about this project firsthand. Just a few months later, we delivered by securing the final piece of funding in the State Budget. Sometimes we have to fight a little bit harder to get the recognition we deserve in the Valley, but in this case, I am proud to say we got our fair share.” Congressman Costa added, “It fills me with pride that Valley students who want to dedicate their lives to agriculture production will have a new, high-tech facility to hone their craft,” Costa said. “California agriculture feeds the world! I’m honored to have Lt. Gov. Kounalakishere to see how underserved students from the San Joaquin Valley have the opportunity to train for a career that has an impact across the globe.”

The Merced College Board of Trustees approved the $20,971,000 construction bid from F&H Construction out of Lodi on May 11. The full cost of the project will be $24,894,000. The Merced College AgIT building is a publicly funded project using $12.6 million from a 2002 local bond and $12.3 million in matching funds from the state via Proposition 51, a community college capital projects bond from 2016. Local farmer Raj Kahlon is contributing $5 million through a venture partnership with the college. It is the largest donation commitment in school history and the funds will go towards ongoing support of the agricultural programs. As a result, the complex is named after Kahlon. Construction is expected to take 15 months and should be completed in August 2022.

Darden Architects out of Fresno designed the complex on the northern edge of campus. Darden is a frequent collaborator with the College, having also designed the Plaza Project, the first phase of which was completed in 2019. The animal science, crop science, plant science and horticulture programs will move out of buildings original to the campus from the 1970s when they take up residence in the new AgIT building next year. The project will include new labs and an upgrade in training equipment for industrial technology programs in HVAC, industrial maintenance, electronics and computer networking.

Merced College ag department faculty, who had occupied offices in a handful of different buildings since the College opened, will now have a central home in the AgIT complex. The complex will also house conference rooms for staff and a dedicated room for agstudent leadership groups. There will be a courtyard area for events and a multi-use room that can accommodate large groups or be split into two classrooms.


In recent years higher-education institutions in Fresno have attempted to evolve and expand to meet the demands of the Central Valley manufacturing industry. According to the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance, the industry employs more than 100,000 residents of the Central Valley and accounts for $15 billion of the area’s gross domestic product.

Over the last decade, educational programs have made great strides to partner with the industry to create the kind of employees they need, said Mike Betts, CEO of the Betts Company in Fresno. “The level of collaboration, cooperation and trusting relationships that have been built in this community over the last 5-10 years is off the charts,” Betts said. “It keeps building on itself to where we are doing remarkable things, it’s a community effort.”

One significant advance was the integration of dual credits for high school manufacturing programs at Fresno City College, said Robert Pimentel, FCC vice president of Educational Services and Institutional Effectiveness. Before late 2015, FCC couldn’t offer dual enrollment to high school students because California state law required any course the college offered must be open to the public. High schools didn’t want their campus to be open to any member of the public in order to offer the courses, Pimentel said.

In October 2015 Assembly Bill 288 changed those rules, and instead of requiring students to spend a semester testing out of courses they took in high school, FCC could offer their courses with college credit for the high school students exclusively. This change allows students to work towards an associates degree in high school and offers students a chance to take college courses for free, Pimentel said. The change also allowed companies to partner more closely in ensuring workers with the skills they need are able to access the right education from a young age, Betts said. “We try to offer a pathway between high school and university, or into the industry,” Pimentel said. “We are using that pathway to close equity gaps for students.”

Educational programs aim to expand manufacturing workforce – The Business Journal