Indian-American farmer donated $5 million to UC Merced’s new ag-tech complex

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Buoyed by the donation of $5 million from local Indian American farmer Raj Kahlon, the Merced College in California recently unveiled its new agriculture and industrial technology complex. The college authorities have named the new complex, Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, in honor of its farmer-doner.

The complex presents a new opportunity for local students who are looking for training and education in agriculture and industrial technology fields. Merced College’s new state-of-the-art facility aims to facilitate the next step in the students’ academic journey.

The college held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 15 to mark the unveiling of the 29,000-square-foot Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, the first new building on campus in more than a decade.

“For our agriculture industry to continue to thrive in an uncertain future, we need advanced technology, and we need students who are equipped to use that technology,” Kahlon said. “Merced College plays an integral role in educating and preparing our workforce, and this new building will help ensure a successful future for local students and our entire region.”

Kahlon, the owner of RHM Farms, has become a pillar in the Merced community. Over the last 20 years, this pistachio and almond farmer has steadily built up his family business and reputation. Wishing to give back to the community Kahlon donated $5 million to support the agricultural programs at Merced College and its agriculture and industrial technology complex.

“I believe that Merced College is the foundation of the Merced community,” Kahlon said. “They’ve had strong ties to local agriculture since the school opened and continue to educate the area’s future agriculturists and leaders. This is the reason I entered this partnership. Helping to grow the workforce of Merced County is important to everyone. I want to be a part of that growth.”

The partnership agreement was approved by the Merced College Board of Trustees between Kahlon and the Merced College Foundation. It included developing approximately 100 acres of pistachios, which will generate additional funds for the college as well as provide an agricultural land lab for students to learn production and harvesting practices.

“This is the largest gift in Merced College history and the beginning of big things to come,” Merced College Superintendent/President Chris Vitelli said. “I am proud of the work done by the Merced College Foundation to help make this happen and grateful to Raj Kahlon for his investment in our students and agricultural programs. I couldn’t be more appreciative of his incredible generosity and the long-term impact of this donation.”

Kahlon became the seventh recipient of the President’s Medallion at the 2019 State of the College Address and Luncheon. Executive Director of the Merced College Foundation, Jill Cunningham said, “I’m thrilled that this donation will propel the next generations to come.”

The $25-million complex will house several of the college’s academic programs, allowing them to train even more students for well-paying, emerging, and high-demand jobs in agriculture, industrial technology, and other related workforce programs in the region. Faculty will begin to move into offices this semester, and classes will be held there later this fall and in the spring.

“Merced College has offered robust programs in agriculture and industrial technology fields for decades, and we’re proud to give those programs the home they deserve,” Vitelli said. “This new facility is an incredible addition to the Merced College main campus, but more importantly, it represents a remarkable investment in our students and in the future of our region.”

“On behalf of the Merced College Board of Trustees, I’d like to thank President Vitelli for his leadership and Raj Kahlon for his generous support,” Board President John Pedrozo said. “Agriculture is the lifeblood of our Valley, and industrial technology fields provide countless career opportunities for our students. It’s exciting to see Merced College at the cutting edge of improving education and training for our local workforce.”

Among the dignitaries who attended the event were California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assemblymember Adam Gray, and Dr. T.V. Nagendra Prasad, Consul General of India, and the program included recorded video messages from Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Ambassador of India to the United States, and Congressman Jim Costa. The building includes a conference room named after Gray, a Merced College alumnus whose support helped secure state funding for the construction project.

The new facility will bring together faculty and staff in several academic programs: Agricultural Business, Animal Science, Computer Technology and Information Systems, Crop Science, Electricity/Electronics, Environmental Horticulture, HVAC Technology, and Industrial Technology.

Earlier this month, the college announced the new Agrifood Technology and Engineering Collaborative (AgTEC), led by the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF). The AgTEC initiative will leverage the strength of community colleges throughout the Valley — with contributions from small farmers and multinational companies alike — to revolutionize how agricultural workers learn the skills they need to pursue rewarding careers in the industry.