UCMAA Board Vice President Jackie Shay

Degree: Biological Sciences/BS/2009

Graduate school program: San Francisco State University

Current residence: San Francisco

Board Term: October 2012 to April 2016

Since her first trip to Africa when she was 13, Jackie Shay always wanted to be a humanitarian and serve as part of the Peace Corps.

She didn’t know where she would go, or what the experience would be like, but she knew it was something she wanted to do. On Feb. 28, 2010, two months after taking her last final at UC Merced, she left home to start her two-year service with the Peace Corps.

“Peace Corps has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life," Shay said. She lived in rural Morocco for about two years now and completed her service in 2012.

"This is by far one of the biggest accomplishments not only since graduation, but in my lifetime. The lessons I have learned, the friends I have made, and the unique perspective I have gained will remain with me forever," Shay said. "I am proud of my smaller accomplishments within my service as well, such as establishing a peer health education program with the local middle school and building an official LGBT group to support Peace Corps volunteers during their service. To be honest, every day is an accomplishment when you live abroad, and I am proud of myself for maintaining a positive attitude when faced with difficult situations, for my newfound resourcefulness, and the acquired insight that living simply and modestly could change our world.”

One of the challenges of volunteering in a foreign country is the language barrier. Before starting work, Shay and her group had three months of training in Morocco while staying with a host family. During those months, she had to learn, practice and speak a new language.

Inspired by a fellow volunteer and her work for HEROES, she developed the peer health education program. The model is to train students in topics of health care and have them teach their community what they've learned. The students choose the topics of healthy motherhood, pre- and post-natal care, dental care, diarrhea dangers and dehydration symptoms, and created skits and poetry to aid getting these messages across.

Her program gave the students avenues for creativity and independent activities, as well as opportunities to hone their leadership skills, something they never had before. Americans are brought up with the ideas of developing our own voices, but the structure of these students’ classes are not the same.

“It is fascinating to watch kids develop from discomfort speaking in front of a crowd, especially the girls. It’s cool to watch them gain confidence,” Shay said.

Impact of UC Merced on her experience: “I am sure the majority of my science courses will be most valuable during graduate school, but while living in Morocco different subjects were useful tools in my intercultural interactions. One that truly surprised me was an anthropology class I took entitled Death, Dying, and Dead People. I can't even count the number of times I have had conversations about death and the afterlife with my Moroccan friends. Comparing and contrasting different methods of dealing with death between cultures has been fascinating for both of us. Another class that has improved me as a person was my Writing in the Natural Sciences course with Anne Zanzucchi. She helped me hone my writing skills, which led me to journaling. I have filled two books with my stories and adventures in Morocco, and continued writing when I returned to the States. Of course, I also know how to write a killer research paper, but again, that will come in handy later.”

Current focus: Youth Development Volunteer and Rural Health Educator in Peace Corps Morocco 2010-2012. After Peach Corps, she began working on a master's degree in mycology, the study of fungi. “My background in molecular and cellular biology gave me an excellent foundation that has not only made me a competitive applicant, but has prepared me for a wonderful career in research and academia.”

Why UC Merced: "UC Merced is a place for people who want opportunities, who want to have a part in the creation of an enriched community. The culture on campus is hard to find elsewhere. UC Merced is an education family. If that’s something that is important to you, if having an interdisciplinary education is important to you, choose UC Merced. Students can have a real impact. California needs the impact from the UC. Come to the Valley because it needs changing for the better."

Advice to undergrads: Shay advised that finding careers aside, students should look into volunteer work. "It makes and builds your character, though it’s not for everyone. Not everyone can live their life to volunteer in a foreign country like I did, but you don’t have to. You can volunteer for the Marine Corps, AmeriCorps (who helped with Hurricane Katrina), or the Fulbright Program (a grant based program to teach in foreign county), for example."

UC Merced’s influence: “I have always believed life is like a river. It flows, changes and evolves over the course of its exciting journey to the sea. My life goals are constantly in flux. UC Merced prepared me to be flexible, open-minded, and courageous. UC Merced was a blank slate when I arrived. They handed me a marker and said 'Go for it! Be creative! Build a community, a culture, and make it yours.' I did just that, and it taught me a plethora of life lessons and gave me a variety of excellent skills that I will use constantly for the rest of my life. It enhanced my independence, ignited my adventurous side, inspired my curiosity, and gave me the gift of leadership. Life is a river and the people I've met, the communities I've been a part of, and the individuals who have influenced me are the rocks and boulders that shape who I am. If there was ever one goal in life it would be to have as many rocks and boulders as possible to teach me how to overcome obstacles, to guide me over cliffs, and to encourage me through valleys. UC Merced is a vibrant community comprised of diverse and intelligent people. I am a member of the UC Merced community, and that is all I need to continue my journey through life.”

Student activities: ASUCM; University Women of Merced Network (UWMN); "The Vagina Monologues," Science Alliance; peer health educator with the UC Merced Wellness Center (HEROES); UC Merced Pre-Professionals Club (which later became the co-ed pre-professional fraternity of Delta Epsilon Mu); and UC Merced Ambassadors Club

Board committees: Nominating