Paul Almeida a UC Merced sociology professor has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to study nongovernmental organizations and their role in community well-being in Honduras.
About 1,100 faculty and professionals travel abroad each year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.
Almeida will spend two months per year for the next three years conducting research at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, the national public university of Honduras. He will also serve as a consultant for the university’s new master’s program in sociology, while helping to build connections between Universidad Nacional and UC Merced.
As one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras relies heavily on NGOs – similar to nonprofit organizations in the U.S. – to provide services to communities throughout the country. How effective they are and what factors determine their effectiveness is something of a mystery, which Almeida is hoping to help solve by collaborating with Honduran social scientists and students.
“Are there better outcomes and greater impacts on health, poverty and education in locations where there are more NGOs?” Almeida asked. “Are local NGOs more effective than international ones? Or is it the type of organization, or its connectedness to other organizations?
“If we can answer these questions, the governments in these developing countries and humanitarian organizations can know better where to put their resources and which NGOs to invest in.”
Almeida will also lend support as Universidad Nacional launches its master’s program in sociology – of which there are few in Central America – in the fall. He will make suggestions on course content, give guest lectures, meet individually with faculty members, donate books from his personal collection and help seek donations from others.
Starting a new graduate program is an area in which Almeida can provide relevant expertise. UC Merced is in the final stages of establishing a standalone doctorate program in sociology, which Almeida helped develop in his role as a professor and past chair of the social sciences graduate group. Almeida said he learned many valuable institution-building skills and insights from sociology Chairwoman Nella Van Dyke that he hopes to share with colleagues in Honduras.
One of the goals of Almeida’s time in Honduras will be to build on his relationships at Universidad Nacional to develop strong connections between the university and UC Merced. And UC Merced’s status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution only increases the potential for engagement with Universidad Nacional, Almeida said.
“We have a substantial number of students at UC Merced with family roots in Central America,” he said. “Having these connections with their countries of origin is good for our students and our university.”
GradSLAM! wraps up inaugural year
Last week marked the end of the first UC Merced GradSLAM! competition, in which graduate students were given just three minutes to present their research to a panel of nonspecialist judges with the goal of increasing the students’ communication skills and ability to effectively present their work with poise and confidence.
Environmental systems student Nathaniel Bogie emerged victorious from among 10 finalists in the April 7 competition. Bogie will receive a $2,000 prize and the chance to represent UC Merced in the systemwide Grad Slam competition in Oakland on May 4.
Runners-up Joannee Zumkehr, a quantitative and systems biology student, and Holly Rus, from psychological sciences, will each receive $1,000. Each of the remaining finalists – who were chosen to advance from among 32 competitors in the March 3 qualifying rounds – will be awarded $250 in recognition of their performances.
“I am so pleased with the caliber of presentations that we have seen during the course of this competition,” Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Marjorie Zatz said. “Communicating complex research to a group of laypeople in a polished, professional and engaging manner can be quite difficult, but our finalists have risen admirably to the challenge.”
The 10 students selected as finalists represented the Applied Math, Cognitive and Information Sciences, Environmental Systems, Psychological Sciences, and Quantitative and Systems Biology graduate groups. The finalists were able to take advantage of individualized coaching sessions with representatives from Playhouse Merced, who helped them further develop their public speaking skills.
Judges for the event were Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson, Merced Mayor Stan Thurston, Merced County Supervisor Hub Walsh, Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations Kyle Hoffman, and UC Merced Foundation trustees Dorothy Bizzini and Phyllis Nusz.
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