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Letter From the Dean

Heather Bortfeld Headshot Photo

Welcome to the UC Merced School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts (SSHA), a vibrant and diverse hub of academic excellence and interdisciplinary study.

Since opening in 2005, SSHA has rapidly grown to become the largest school on campus, a testament to its dynamic and expansive educational approach. Home to 11 departments, SSHA offers a rich array of 22 majors, 6 emphasis tracks, 19 minors, the Merritt Writing Program, and 7 graduate programs. This breadth and depth of academic offerings ensure a comprehensive liberal arts education, underpinned by courses in both foundational and advanced areas of study. The school's commitment to interdisciplinary learning allows students to delve deeply into their chosen subjects while engaging with a wide spectrum of disciplines across arts, humanities, social sciences/STEM.

The rapid growth of UC Merced (UCM), outpacing other UC campuses, is a reflection of its commitment to reaching and surpassing new educational milestones. Joining SSHA means becoming part of this remarkable journey, where students are encouraged to embrace a well-rounded liberal arts education, regardless of their future career paths. Exposure to humanities, arts, and social sciences is not just an academic exercise; it cultivates critical and creative thinking, skills essential in today's complex world. SSHA stands out for its student-focused approach. The faculty's dedication to teaching and research offers students unique opportunities for close engagement, hands-on research, and real-world connections. This philosophy sets UCM apart from the large UC campuses, it offers an intimate, engaging, and enriching educational experience.

I am a firm believer in a solid liberal arts education, no matter what your career trajectory. Having exposure to humanities, arts, and social science, will allow you to think critically and creatively. In addition, SSHA faculty have a long tradition of student-focused teaching and research opportunities. Thus, while we are a UC campus, our smaller size and philosophy towards students provides for student-faculty engagement, student research opportunities, and community connections beyond what you may find in other places.

Explore the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts further on our website, and feel free to reach out for a visit or more information. Join us at SSHA and be part of an exciting and intellectually stimulating adventure!

Heather Bortfeld, PhD

Interim Dean, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts
Professor of Psychological Sciences and Cognitive & Information Sciences

Heather Bortfeld is Professor of Psychological Sciences and Cognitive and Information Sciences at UC Merced. She served as the Department Chair in Psychological Sciences from 2020-2023. Professor Bortfeld received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at State University of New York, Stony Brook in 1998. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University where she was supported by a National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. Professor Bortfeld arrived at UC Merced in 2015 from the University of Connecticut, having first earned tenure at Texas A&M University

Professor Bortfeld’s research focuses on language development in infants and young children. In pursuing this work, she pioneered the development of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) as a tool to measure changes in brain activation in pediatric populations. She has introduced the use of fNIRS to researchers across multiple fields. The technology is now commonly used to assess brain responsivity and plasticity in both pediatric and adult cochlear implant users to improve device programming and hearing and language outcomes.