- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Alexa Erickson joined UCCE on Oct. 9 as an assistant community nutrition, health and food systems advisor serving Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
She is passionate about working towards a more equitable and resilient food system. Her interests include food access, nutrition knowledge and well-being in relation to urban agriculture.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Erickson worked as a public health nutritionist for Santa Clara County Public Health Department's Women, Infants and Children program for over five years.
Originally hailing from Michigan, she completed her undergraduate studies in Spanish and brain, behavior and cognitive science at the University of Michigan. She earned her master's of public health at the University of Michigan and became a registered dietitian.
Erickson is based in Concord and can be reached at email@example.com.
Vi Pham joined the ANR Business Operations Center (BOC) on Oct. 3 as a financial services analyst. In this role, Pham will support ANR business partners with relocations, recruitments, travel, PCards, and standard operating procedures. She will also assist in managing the ANR Credit Card Machine Program.
Pham brings to ANR over nine years of industry experience in business administration and management accounting. Before joining ANR, she was an accountant at Solar Roof Dynamics based in Davis and an accountant at Families First in Davis. She also has served as an accounting manager for Integrated Support Systems, Inc., a software corporation based in Seneca, South Carolina, and Paris, France.
Pham earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from California State University, Fullerton.
In addition to her professional work, she has volunteered in various organizations such as the Davis Schools Orchestral Music Association, Davis High School Orchestra Booster and Thriving Pink.
Pham is based at ANR's 2nd Street Building in Davis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Cohen joined UCCE on Oct. 2 as an organic materials management and agri-food systems advisor in Santa Clara County.
Cohen's work seeks to enhance the efficiency of both rural and urban agri-food systems while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. He brings his background in applied research and community outreach to bear in finding means to divert organic materials from landfills for other uses, including as soil amendments and bioenergy production.
Through the implementation of such projects, nutrients from the organic waste sector cycle back into working landscapes and food system supply chains, thereby bolstering the resilience and sustainability of Bay Area food and farming systems.
Cohen holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from UC Davis and a bachelor's degree in biology from California State University, Northridge and has conducted research in wastewater and biomaterials management at universities and institutes in the U.S. and abroad.
Cohen is based in San Jose and can be reached at email@example.com and on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-cohen-a21a7834.
Raymond Mireles joined UCCE on Oct. 2 as the fruit and almond advisor for Fresno and Tulare counties.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Mireles was a research technician with Bayer Crop Science. He gained experience in identifying and controlling common insect pests in California cropping systems while working with Bayer Crop Science entomologists. Mireles also played a key role in the establishment and operation of drone technology used to assess plant health for the Bayer Crop Science UAV Program. Mireles is excited to apply his industry and academic expertise to aid farmers in overcoming existing issues and challenges.
Born and raised in Visalia, Mireles earned his bachelor's degree in plant science at California State University, Fresno. With a fellowship with Bayer Crop Science, he was given the opportunity to continue his academic career at Fresno State to earn a master's degree in plant science. For his thesis, Mireles studied the use of remote sensing technologies for assessing spider mite damage in almonds.
Mireles is based in Tulare and can be reached at (559) 684-3300 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Williams joined the Nutrition Policy Institute on Oct. 2 as a project policy analyst. He will be working on two National Institutes of Health projects: the Childcare Water project and the Milk-Tot study.
Williams completed his dietetic internship program at UC San Francisco Health where he developed in-depth knowledge of medical nutrition therapy, assessment, nutrition interventions, and evaluation of nutrition care. As a dietetic intern, he worked with NPI on a project to assess the barriers to and recommendations for increasing breastfeeding in five counties in California, among those with the lowest breastfeeding rates.
He is also experienced in food service, food production and food service management. His primary interest is in improving the health and well-being of Americans and is interested in projects that broadly can inform nutrition policies in the U.S.
Williams is based at the UC Office of the President in Oakland and can be reached at email@example.com.
Luis Peña-Lévano joined the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Oct. 1 as an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in dairy cattle production, health and management economics.
In 2021, Peña-Lévano joined University of Wisconsin-River Falls as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, and in 2022 became a Dairy Innovation Hub faculty affiliate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Peña-Lévano's research is focused on dairy economics, financial management, agribusiness, mathematical optimization and agricultural and environmental policy.
The International Food and Agribusiness Management Association recently honored Peña-Lévano with its 2023 Rising Star Award, a global annual award given to an outstanding early career professional.
Peña-Lévano is currently the chair of the International Section of the Agricultural and Applied Economic Association.
Peña-Lévano earned a Ph.D. in agricultural economics with specialization on international trade and environmental economics at Purdue University, master's degree in agriculture and applied economics at the University of Georgia, and bachelor's degree in food science and technology from Zamorano University in Honduras. His doctoral dissertation focused on climate change interactions with food security, agriculture, livestock and forestry.
Peña-Lévano is located at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching and Research Center in Tulare and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @drlouispl and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/luis-peña-lévano-phd-768764203/.
Mandeep Riar joined UCCE on Sept.1 as the restoration ecology and weed science area advisor for Kern, Tulare and Kings counties.
As water availability issues cause dramatic shifts in agricultural land use in California, these ultimately cause a shift in the weed flora too. In her current role, Riar is focused on ecological restoration and weed management in fallowed, retired and abandoned agricultural lands and natural areas. Her overall goal is to enhance restoration efforts while minimizing the impact of invasive weeds.
Riar earned Ph.D. in weed science from North Carolina State University in Raleigh and a master's degree in agricultural meteorology and agronomy from Punjab Agricultural University in India. Her dissertation was focused on environmental, cultural and biological factors influencing the growth and geographical expansion of invasive weeds.
As a postdoctoral research associate, Riar worked on abiotic stress evaluation in various field crops including soybean and sorghum and identified genotypes for superior drought tolerance.
Riar is based in Bakersfield and can be reached at (661) 868-6216 and email@example.com.
Esther Mosase began a new role on Sept. 1 as a UC Cooperative Extension urban watershed resilience advisor, serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Previously, Mosase was a UCCE community education specialist focused on climate-smart agriculture for San Diego and Riverside counties. Her work involved water conservation, soil health and alternative manure management efforts. She also supported farmers in securing funding for climate-smart agricultural practices.
In her new role, Mosase will be responsible for increasing the resilience of urban watersheds to secure water accessibility, availability and quality.
A watershed is where water gets stored in nature. “You'll typically have rivers that are connected, with water that flows to the watershed,” explained Mosase. “So, when it rains and the rivers are active, all of that water flows to the watershed and is contained there.”
Concerns that are top of mind for Mosase include pollution exacerbated by urban development and tourism, which threatens the quality of available water. With urbanization comes infrastructure, such as roads that are a lot less permeable than grass, contributing to runoff instead of infiltration. Climate change also continues to produce heavy rainfall and, in some cases, flooding. Mosase is interested in understanding how these factors will impact watersheds and the communities that depend on them.
“My job is also working with communities for equity purposes,” said Mosase, noting that community members likely have reliable insight as to how their local watersheds behave, but are also more vulnerable to negative impacts affecting the watershed. “It'll be interesting to hear and learn from these communities because they see a lot more than we do.”
Mosase earned a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering, focused on modeling water availability, risk and resilience, from South Dakota State University. She also holds a master's degree in agricultural engineering from Botswana College of Agriculture and a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Botswana.
When asked what she is most excited about in her new role, Mosase said that she looks forward to educating and inspiring the younger generation to get involved.
“I realized that I never really talked to my daughter about my work. But she learned about climate change, and she's so obsessed now,” said Mosase. “Her excitement makes me excited about involving kids and teaching them about water and climate change and its effects while they're young.”
Mosase is based out of the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Srabani Das joined UC ANR on Aug. 29 as a UC Cooperative Extension regenerative agriculture specialist at the UC Merced campus. While Das supports statewide UC ANR efforts, she is especially excited about working in the surrounding Central Valley.
Das describes regenerative agriculture as “incorporating collaborative practices that make agriculture more sustainable, nourishing people and Mother Earth.” With her background in soil health, Das is helping farmers adopt practices that not only increase crop productivity, but also sequester soil carbon.
“Regenerative ag is not new; it is only now that it is being labeled and communities are realizing that it can be a powerful vehicle for climate mitigation and environmental justice,” she said.
Before joining UC ANR, Das worked for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis on the Century Experiment, which focused on tracking the influence of different fertilizer, cover crop and irrigation systems on soil health. Prior to moving to California, she worked for The Ohio State University, collaborating with corn, soybean and pasture farmers and Ohio State Extension.
“I was responsible for assessing the soil's physical and chemical properties, and communicating the impacts of on-farm practices on the soil health of prime agricultural lands that have been cultivated for more than 100 years,” Das said.
Practices such as conventional tilling cause erosion so minimum tillage is preferred. “Other practices like covering the soil, increasing crop diversity, rotating crops, planting perennials are also important to improve soil health,” she added.
For California, Das said an immediate need is developing decision-support tools that will aid farmers with tracking soil-carbon buildup from regenerative agricultural practices. She wants to make those resources equitably accessible for all growers, especially those who are marginalized, women and/or members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities.
“My job entails working with different stakeholders and I'm very excited about that,” said Das.
Currently, she is partnering with the Compost Climate Action Plan in San Joaquin Valley, led by UC Merced, which aims to advance the science, education and practice of composting. Das co-leads the outreach efforts of the project, which gives her the opportunity to engage effectively with grower communities, a skill she knows will be instrumental in her role as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist.
Das earned a bachelor's degree in plant biology and a master's degree in environmental sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, India. She also earned a doctorate from Cornell University in biological and environmental engineering, studying soil carbon sequestration in marginal lands.
Das can be reached at email@example.com.
Before joining UC ANR, Swelam was an agricultural research officer of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization Office of Innovation in Rome. Prior to taking the U.N. position, he rose from assistant professor to associate professor to professor of irrigation and drainage engineering over his 17-year career at Zagazig University. For 11 years, he served as a senior scientist and research team leader with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (CGIAR-ICARDA). Swelam began his career working for eight years as a researcher at the National Water Research Center in Cairo, Egypt.
During the World Food Forum, held Oct. 16-20 in Rome, Swelam was recognized by the U.N.-FAO as a “Water and Food Hero” for developing irrigation techniques that save growers about 25% in applied water and boost crop yields an average of 30% across the Nile Delta and beyond.
Being a farmer and a scientist, Swelam feels he is on the same wavelength with both of the RECs' clientele groups – researchers and growers. In his first months on the job, Swelam said he will get to know the needs of the grower community and the researchers at the RECs.
“What I like most about this job is that the REC system, with its research for development approach, supports the scientists, who are in turn supporting the farmers and communities that are on the front line in achieving food and nutrition security,” he explained.
Swelam earned his master's degree in land and water management from the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari in Italy, then returned to Egypt for his Ph.D. in agricultural engineering at Zagazig University.
Swelam splits his time between Kearney and West Side RECs and can be reached at (559) 646-6060 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Swelam's career at https://ucanr.edu/News/?routeName=newsstory&postnum=58158.
Pearl Avari joined UC Cooperative Extension on Aug. 1 as a 4-H youth development advisor serving Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties.
Her research and outreach focus on positive youth development through community development, youth leadership, social-emotional learning and youth engagement. The overarching goal of her research and outreach is to develop programs surrounding positive youth development, ensuring that all youth in the community are served.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Avari worked in Nebraska, where she promoted educators' well-being while serving as a project manager for CHIME (Cultivating Healthy Intentional Mindful Educators), a professional development opportunity offered through extension. She also has extensive experience leading quantitative and qualitative research approaches to address multi-disciplinary issues surrounding children, families and educators.
Avari, who grew up in Mumbai, India, has experience working with adults in the community to support positive learning experiences for children in school and during time spent with their families. In her new role, she continues to use her expertise to support youth-focused programs through community partnerships.
“To serve the community effectively in my role as an advisor, I focus on community development through a culturally sensitive approach, ensuring that opportunities reach underserved youth and families,” Avari said. “I am excited to build new collaborations in my counties and create programs that are representative of the youth in my community – especially bringing youth voices to the forefront and creating opportunities for youth-led engagement and development.”
Avari holds a doctorate in human sciences with a focus on child development, and a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in child, youth and family studies, both from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her dissertation research aimed to understand the impact of a mindfulness-based intervention on educators' psychological and workplace well-being, especially given the key role that educators play in student's learning and developmental outcomes.
Rúbia Branco Lopes joined UC Cooperative Extension on Aug. 1 as a dairy farm advisor for Tulare and Kern counties. She is looking forward to working with dairy producers, consultants, and allied industry throughout Tulare and Kern counties. Branco Lopes aims to develop a research and outreach program that will contribute to the competitiveness and profitability of California dairies.
Raised on a beef ranch in Brazil, Branco Lopes nurtured an interest in agriculture from an early age. She came to the U.S. to work as a visiting scholar at the UC Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center in Tulare. At VMTRC, among other projects, she studied the feeding management of close-up rations in California dairies.
Recently, Branco Lopes finished her Ph.D. in animal biology from UC Davis. Her dissertation investigated the effect of probiotics on growth of dairy calves and assessed the safety of commercial cattle probiotic products. During her academic career, she conducted research mainly on ruminant nutrition and antimicrobial stewardship. She also holds a bachelor's degree in agronomy and a master's in animal science from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Branco Lopes is based out of the UC Cooperative Extension office in Tulare and can be reached at email@example.com.