Leigh Bernacchi, Ph.D., has officially joined UC Merced’s Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and Banatao Institute as the program director.
“Leigh has worked at the intersection of ag and water for several years and will provide valuable support for CITRIS in growing in the ag-food-tech space,” CITRIS Director Professor Joshua Viers said.
As one of four campus branches, Merced’s version of CITRIS is focused on agriculture, computer science and the San Joaquin Valley, and growing programs that focus on agriculture, computing and women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Before joining UC Merced in 2015, Bernacchi coordinated web and education components of a large USDA climate change and agriculture project at the University of Idaho, surveyed agricultural industry players as a post-doctoral researcher, and worked on communication around land and water conservation. She earned her doctorate in wildlife and fisheries sciences with an emphasis in natural resources management and public participation at Texas A&M University.
Bernacchi credits her early life experiences with driving her to pursue higher education and work in a variety of careers, from national parks and digital photography to agriculture.
“I grew up in the small mountain town of Mariposa, but always had tech at my fingertips,” Bernacchi said. “I want to advance the computer science workforce in the San Joaquin Valley, and help students find great careers here.”
Bernacchi previously coordinated the UC Water Security and Sustainability program, conducted social science research on agriculture and water resources in Texas, the Pacific Northwest and California, and now brings her passion for team science to CITRIS.
CITRIS recently earned a Google Explore Computer Science grant to connect STEM majors across regional community colleges and UC Merced with faculty mentors, which Bernacchi will help lead and organize under CITRIS’ new Women in Technology Initiative.
“I’m really excited about our computer science programs, especially where women get connected to future careers and kids build robots, write code and program them to compete in tasks,” Bernacchi said.
“Leigh has expertise in research coordination and communication and will foster CITRIS’s growth in both of these areas,” Viers said. “We’re interested in enhancing computer science in the Valley, especially around young women. Having tech innovators and tech-intrepid faculty, staff and students on our team helps young women see themselves in tech careers.”