MERCED — Gov. Schwarzenegger showed up for a short, private lesson at the new University of California at Merced on Thursday, five days before classes start.
Led by Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey and Vice Chancellor for Administration Lindsay Desrochers, the governor took a brief tour of two buildings on the new campus.
He saw the central plant, the energy-efficient heart of the school, and the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library, a 120,000-square-foot building that will house the majority of classes for the next few years.
"It's really amazing," Schwarzenegger said, during a press conference after watching a demonstration on solar energy designed to show off the school's environmental efficiency. "This is the future."
The chancellor said she was pleased to show the governor the campus and some of the research going on there, including the photovoltaic cells that harness the sun's power and are used for a variety of energy needs around the campus.
Schwarzenegger is not likely to be at Monday's opening ceremonies, and Tomlinson-Keasey said she was glad for the chance to show him more than he would have seen during what's sure to be a hectic day.
"I think he was really impressed," she said.
The governor asked a lot of questions, she said, about the campus and solar energy, and about inventions like the photovoltaic cells, the prototypes for which were designed, created and patented by Dr. Roland Winston, a physicist and professor at UC Merced. The prototypes are the school's first U.S. patent, and Winston told the governor he hopes the photovoltaic concentrator unit can turn solar power into a mainstream electricity supply at a reduced cost.
"These are great inventions, terrific — congratulations," the governor told Winston.
School officials chose Marsha Bond, a 31-year-old transfer student from Modesto Junior College, to accompany the governor on his tour. She said her camera battery died as the tour group sat on the shuttle bus that carried people from building to building, but she got to shake the governor's hand.
"He told us to study hard," she said.
Bond said she particularly noticed that Schwarzenegger seemed interested in touching what he saw during the tour — the walls and machinery in the new buildings.
"I think it means a lot," she said of his visit. "It shows that California is behind us. Any questions about (his not being on campus for opening day) are answered. He's here."
Dedication to campus praised
Schwarzenegger said he's still working on the possibility of being able to attend Monday's events, but his office has said his schedule does not allow such an appearance. The office won't specify what other events will keep the governor busy.
There has been speculation that the governor wouldn't attend because of the protests that have plagued him at other school events in recent months. He supports a measure in the November special election that would make it harder for teachers to get tenure, and a separate initiative on merit pay.
Only one protester showed up Thursday at the new UC gates with a sign calling for the defeat of the governor's education plans.
During a press conference with the chancellor after the tour, the governor said he's in awe of the research being conducted at the new university — the first UC to be built in 40 years — and by how much the work can benefit the entire state.
While Schwarzenegger praised the chancellor and the campus, Tomlinson-Keasey lauded him for the state's fiscal dedication to the new school. Schwarzenegger kept the campus funded after he took office in 2003, despite the debilitating state budget crisis.
"Without him, we couldn't have opened on time," the chancellor said after the tour.
Preparations for opening go on
The governor arrived just before 11 a.m. Thursday and rode the shuttle with Bond and three other students; Tomlinson-Keasey; Leo Kolligian, the library's namesake and a former UC regent; and UC regents Odessa Johnson from Modesto and Fred Ruiz from Fresno.
Desrochers, who has overseen the campus construction, told the governor UC officials particularly wanted him to see the large tunnel that holds water pipes, motors and circuit cords, "because this was the first thing we built."
"There's a lot of obstacles down here," Schwarzenegger said after ducking one of the pipes.
Construction and preparations for opening day ceremonies continued all over the campus as the governor took his tour. He stopped outside the central plant to have his picture taken with several enthusiastic plant employees.
Afterward, Schwarzenegger walked out into the quad area in front of the library, to be greeted by applause from 100 or so faculty, staff members and students who stood behind yellow caution tape waiting to see him. He shook hands with some of the people in the front row and stopped for the short press conference.
He wanted to thank those who "helped make this dream into a reality," he said, and remind people what the all work was for.
"It's all about supporting the students," Schwarzenegger said. "We're talking about education for everybody. All we have to do is give people the opportunity."
Merced Sun-Star staff writer Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 578-2366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.