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Graduate Alumni

Sociology Ph.D. alumna Katie Butterfield

Katie Butterfiled (Ph.D. 2021)

Katie Butterfiled currently serves as the lead data analyst for the CalFresh and Nutrition Branch at the California Department of Social Services. She supports leadership in making data-informed decisions about how best to improve equitable access to healthy food among California’s more vulnerable populations as well as related client outcomes and contractual results. She independently conducts varied research tasks to support data collection and analysis and compile, analyze, and interpret statewide and county data related to CalFresh program areas. She create reports, summaries, and visualizations and communicate findings to department and external stakeholders. To assess program effectiveness, she also monitors trends in CalFresh administrative data and support the development of complex SQL queries to extract new administrative data measures from what will soon be the largest automated welfare data system in the world. Independent from this work, she also maintain my academic research conceptualizing community gardens as localized food and health resources. She focuses on two approaches with this research: (1) understanding participants and organizers by exploring how they describe the values and challenges of community gardening, and (2) evaluating the effectiveness and accessibility of these programs. My work has been published in Agriculture and Human Values, Sociological Perspectives, and Health Education and Behavior. Visit for more information on her research and experience.

Sociology female grad studentYajaira Ceciliano-Navarro (Ph.D. 2021)

Yajaira Ceciliano-Navarro is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Houston-Downtown. She earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Merced. Yajaira also has a major in Psychology and a Master's degree in Labor Psychology from the University of Costa Rica (UCR). She worked at Academic Latin American Faculty (FLACSO) in Costa Rica, where she was a researcher and coordinator of projects on immigration, education, youth, and gender. Her current research focuses on comparing the impacts of incarcerations and deportations on nuclear and extended families.

Link to Publications


Sociology female grad student

Katie Daniels (Ph.D. 2020)

Faculty member in the Sociology Department, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona

Read more about Dr. Daniels






Sociology alumna Maria EscobarMaria Escobar (Ph.D. 2022)

Dr. Maria Escobar is an assistant professor in the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. Grounded in her experience growing up in a Mexican immigrant family in northwest Arkansas, Escobar’s research examines how Latinx, Black, and Marshallese young adults in a “second-generation sundown town” experience safety and unsafety in public spaces as well as institutional settings. Her research and teaching areas of interest include race and ethnicity, immigration, and qualitative methodologies.




Sociology alumna Veronica LermaVeronica Lerma (Ph.D. 2022)

Dr. Veronica Lerma is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at UC Davis. Her research utilizes intersectionality theory and methods to explore criminalization processes and experiences. Dr. Lerma is currently working on her first book, Criminalizing Chicanas: Intersectional Criminalization and Resistance in California’s Prison Alley, which investigates how the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, carceral status, and geographic location condition the criminalized experiences of system-involved Mexican American women living in California’s Central Valley. Her work has appeared in Social Problems, Sociological Perspectives, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, and Ethnic and Racial Studies. Dr. Lerma received her Ph.D. from UC Merced in 2022. Additionally, she earned an M.A. from UC Merced in 2013 and a B.A. from the University of the Pacific in 2011.

Sociology alumna Denise LunaDenise Luna (M.A. 2017)

Denise Luna (she/her/hers) is the Associate Director of Higher Education Policy at The Education Trust—West. The Education Trust—West is committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle the racial and economic barriers embedded in the California education system. Denise leads the higher education policy team at The Education Trust–West and works to expose inequities in higher education systems, highlight equitable policies that advance student achievement, and to build an education system where students of color and multilingual learners, especially those experiencing poverty, will thrive. As a daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico and the first in her family to graduate college, Denise is passionate about educational equity and racial justice. Denise brings a decade of experience in higher education policy advocacy, teaching, research, data analysis, and community organizing. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Denise was the Program Coordinator/Interim Director for Students Making A Change (SMAC). She supervised SMAC’s fellowship program, developed the leadership of students of color, managed policy and advocacy efforts, and monitored campaign goals to institutionalize equity in California Community Colleges. Before that, Denise worked for the University of California, Merced, where she taught undergraduate Sociology courses, carried out quantitative research, and co-conducted research as a graduate research assistant. From an early age, Denise knew her calling was to mentor youth of color and first-generation college students while working for Mission Graduates and Mission Girls. Denise holds a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Merced.

Sociology alumna Ashley N. MetzgerAshley N. Metzger (Ph.D. 2021)

Dr. Ashley N. Metzger is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for Innovations for Youth (i4Y) at the University of California, Berkeley. Broadly, her interests include education (longitudinally), disability, identity, gender, social class, perceptions, and mixed research methodologies. More specifically, her work focuses on understanding how teachers’ perceptions impact student identities and educational experiences, as well as how to utilize research evidence to transform schools to prevent the marginalization and poor treatment of students. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California Merced in 2016 and 2021, respectively, and her B.A. in Psychology from University of California, Merced in 2013.



Sociology alumna Amy MoffatAmy Moffat (Ph.D. 2015)

Director of Assessment, Humboldt State University







Sociology alumna Maria Mora Maria Mora (Ph.D. 2020)

Faculty member in the Sociology Department, California State University, Stanislaus.  

Dr. Maria Mora is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology, Gerontology, and Gender Studies department at California State University, Stanislaus. Her research centers on race, immigration, and social movements. She studies how racialized and immigrant groups mobilize against threats and the long-term organizing outcomes for immigrant rights social movements.

Read more about Dr. Maria Mora



Sociology Ph.D. student Amalia Pérez MartínAmalia Pérez Martín (Ph.D. 2022)

Amalia Pérez Martín is Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at Sacramento State University. She graduated from law school at the University of Havana, completed MA degrees in Political Science and Sociology in Cuba and Ecuador, and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Merced. Her coauthored book "Collective Resistance to Neoliberalism" was published by Cambridge University Press (2022) and CLACSO (2023). Her scholarly works have also appeared in edited volumes and academic journals such as Cuban Studies and NACLA. Professor Pérez Martín's research and teaching address the intersections of law, social movements, and revolutions in Latin America and Cuba from a sociohistorical perspective.


Sociology alumnus Rodolfo RodriquezRodolfo Rodriguez (M.A.)

Rodolfo Rodriguez is a first-generation college student and the proud son of farm-working immigrant parents from Mexico (Tijuana & Guanajuato). He is a Chicano who grew up on the rural West Side of Fresno County, located in California's San Joaquin Valley.

During his time in Merced, Rodolfo was involved in community and labor organizing. His research interests focused on social movements and farm labor organizing in California's Central Valley. He currently lives in his hometown of Coalinga with his family and teaches at West Hills College Coalinga as a tenured Sociology professor.



Sociology male graduate alumnus

Marcus Shaw (Ph.D. 2017)

Dr. Marcus Shaw is an assistant professor in the Criminology Department at Fresno State. He joined the Criminology department in 2017. Dr. Shaw was the first doctoral graduate in Sociology from UC Merced. He earned a Masters in Social Sciences from the University of California, Merced, and a bachelor's degree from California State University, Stanislaus. 

Read more about Dr. Shaw




Houa VangHoua Vang (Ph.D. 2022)

Dr. Houa Vang is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Gerontology & Gender Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. Her main research interests are in education, race and ethnicity, and Asian American experiences.





Sociology female graduate alumna

Chia Xiong (Ph.D. 2019)

Dr. Chia Xiong is an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at California State Univeristy, Stanislaus. She completed her Ph.D. in 2019. Her teaching and research interests include critical refugee studies, immigration and deportation.






Alejandro ZermenoAlejandro Zermeño (Ph.D. 2022)

Dr. Alejandro Zermeño is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP). He earned his B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Multicultural Studies at CPP in 2013, and earned his Ph.D. in Sociology at UC Merced in 2022.

Dr. Zermeño's research areas of expertise include race and ethnicity, stress and coping, health disparities, settler colonialism, mestizaje, Latinx Indigenous resurgence, ritual ceremonies, and qualitative methodologies. His primary research advances a critical Indigenous-based framework to study how European settler colonial histories harm the health of marginalized ethnoracial communities in the U.S., and how those communities fight back to promote healing, resilience, and unity through collective mobilization, ritual ceremonies, and asserting their Indigenous roots.  Publication Link